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Aldermen ponder end to late-night sessions

Want shorter City Council meetings? Evanston aldermen are working on that.

At the Rules Committee meeting Tuesday, aldermen discussed several ideas for making it possible to wrap up the city’s twice-monthly Monday night business at an earlier hour.

Want shorter City Council meetings? Evanston aldermen are working on that.

At the Rules Committee meeting Tuesday, aldermen discussed several ideas for making it possible to wrap up the city’s twice-monthly Monday night business at an earlier hour.

The discussion centered on a plan to call the council into session at 5:30 p.m. and then hold back-to-back committee meetings with the main council meeting to start as soon as the committee meetings end.

That would eliminate the sometimes lengthy gaps that frequently occur between committee sessions and the full council meeting now.

Currently the Administration and Public Works Committee meets at 5:30 p.m., the Planning and Development Committee meets at 7 p.m. and the full council session, scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m., often doesn’t end until 11 p.m. or midnight. With the recession-driven sloannwdown in new construction the Planning and Development Committee’s agenda, in particular, has been light in recent months.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, beginning her term as Rules Committee chair, said the council recently "has turned into a very effective deliberative body."

"I’d like to have more of our deliberations when citizens can be here to see it," she added.

The aldermen also discussed whether they still need to read aloud all the items on the council’s consent agenda — matters that are approved in bulk without debate — or whether the availability of agenda handouts at the meeting and copies of the council packet with full details of the proposals online mean that formality could be dispensed with.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she was happy to see the discussion of changes. "I don’t think people should have to live under ordinances passed by a group trying to function at 11 or 12 at night."

She said she’s tried harder to start council meetings promptly at 8:30 p.m., but with group presentations and citizen comment "we frequently don’t discuss anything substantive until 10 o’clock at night."

"My IQ points are just dropping off there at 10 p.m.," Tisdahl added.

Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said they believe that reading the consent agenda is extremely important to inform people about what’s going on.

Rainey suggested that some citizen comment might wait until after the council completes its agenda — an approach used by the District 65 school board.

The aldermen split over whether they should try meeting as a committee of the whole — so all members would participate in discussions now held in the standing committees.

Aldermen Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, who now sit on all the standing committees, said they would favor such an approach. They suggested it would make it easier for all aldermen to stay up to speed on issues.

But aldermen who’ve chosen not to seek membership on some of the committees seemed less enthused about that idea.

Aldermen Rainey and Wynne cited a time over a dozen years ago when the council operated as a committee of the whole. "That was awful," Rainey said.

"Historically the abolishment of standing committees came at a very politically divisive time in Evanston," Wynne added, "so it has very negative connotations."

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said, "Anything we can do to move the meetings earlier will serve us well" by tending to improve community participation.

The aldermen asked city staff to do more research on the legal and practical implications of restructuring their meetings and are likely to consider the issue further at next month’s Rules Committee meeting.

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