Evanston aldermen this week started considering a plan to consolidate eight of the city’s 36 advisory boards — but didn’t get very far.

Evanston has roughly twice as many such appointed panels as some nearby communities and, with the current budget crunch, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has suggested the city could reduce costs involved in having city workers staff the boards if they were consolidated.

At the Rules Committee meeting Monday, the aldermen seemed to agree with Bobkiewicz’s that the Arts Council and the Public Art Committee should be combined.

“I’ve never been able to quite distinguish them myself,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward.

The Public Art Committee was supposed to have been a subcommittee of the Arts Council,” Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “but it just went off on its own.”

The aldermen seemed split about combining the Housing Commission and the Housing and Community Development Act Committee, though it appeared a majority favored that.

Alderman Coleen Burrus said she thought the expertise of some of the members of the community development group would “add a lot of value” to what the Housing Commission is doing.

And Holmes called the consolidation idea “interesting.” But Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he “was not comfortable with the merger.” He said he struggles with what the Housing Commission does and noted that the community development group’s scope is broader than just housing.

The aldermen seemed reluctant to embrace the manager’s plan to fold the Taxicab Advisory Board into the Parking/Transportation Committee.

Wynne, who chairs the transportation committee said she “doesn’t see how this fits together,” and suggested the city might not need the taxi panel. “For a long time it was kind of non-functional,” she said.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she’s “very unimpressed with the cab situation in Evanston right now.”

And Bobkiewicz suggested putting the issue aside — that he’d come back with a separate discussion about taxis after the review of other boards was completed.

At that point the committee ran out of time and postponed its consideration of other consolidation ideas until its April 5 meeting.

Whatever the aldermen decide in the Rules Committee will have to be adopted at a full City Council meeting to take effect.

Bobkiewicz is also proposing consolidating:

  • The Playground and Recreation Board, the Ladd Arboretum Committee and the Lighthouse Landing Committee.
  • The Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee and the Sign Review and Appeals Board.

And he is also proposing:

  • Reviewing and restructuring the Human Relations Commission.
  • Eliminating the Board of Examiners of Stationary Engineers.
  • Replacing the Energy Commission with a more broadly defined Utility Commission.

The proposed changes are in part an outgrowth of a three-year study completed last year conducted largely by the Evanston League of Women Voters. It reviewed operation of the city’s mostly citizen-volunteer-staffed panels and proposed a somewhat different and more limited set of modifications.

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City eyes shrinking advisory boards

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Cutting the boards takes away volunteer opportunity
    It’s my understanding that those serving on the advisory boards are volunteers.

    So, how much money will the city save a year by cutting some of these boards? In my opinion, all that is happening here is that the city is taking away opportunity for Evanstonians to volunteer their time to make a difference.

    I would love for some curious member on the Council to ask Wally B. to compare the city’s cost to staff the advisory boards to what it will cost the city to manage the $18 million stimulus grant for affordable housing in two Evanston neighborhoods.

    After reading Evanston NTSP2 application grant, it is clear the city is going to use a lot of staff to run this affordable housing program. So, how much does Wally B. think the city would save by cutting the boards? I bet it’s a pittance compared to the current and GROWING budget deficit.

    Enquiring minds would like to know.

    1. If you do the work you want an outcome
      If they are unpaid and replace city employees that is good. But paid or unpaid they will want to show they did something so they will pass something, no matter how ill advised, to show they were “useful.” That will mean money will be spent.
      If there charge is to eliminate duplicate committees or find where to save money by reducing departments, fine. But as the saying goes “nature abhors a vacuum” and they will find a way to fill it [with money].

  2. Advisory Boards
    There is no good reason for Evanston to be so out of line with other comparable cities. It’s good to see some objective analysis. Change is difficult, but once done, things return to normal or better. Just consider ‘American Idol’as a wonderful example.

  3. Advisory Boards
    Are the city workers currently so lacking in things to do that they have time to take on these new responsibilities? If so, perhaps they should be made redundant themselves. If the committee workers are unpaid, what’s the harm? The goal here, with the budget in such disarray, should be to trim costs, not to move workers around in some sort of shell game. It’s tough to cut people but if they are not serving a useful function, well – move them to a department where they actually have to work, or let them go.

    1. Miss the point
      Kit,
      I think you’re missing the point. The idea is that each of the advisory boards — composed of citizen volunteers — needs some city staff support to operate.

      If there are fewer advisory boards, the theory goes, less staff time will have to be devoted to the task of managing them.

      — Bill

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