A proposal from Ald. Devon Reid (8th) to shift $5 million from Evanston’s general fund to its reparations program has run into opposition from Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings.

Evanston Now reported last week that Reid wants to divert the funds because the city’s cannabis tax has so far failed to generate the projected $1 million a year for the reparations program, and because he anticipates the general fund will end this fiscal year with a substantial surplus.

But Cummings, in a memo prepared for Thursday’s meeting of the Reparations Committee, says, “It is not advisable to use funds set for mandatory spending,” such as the general fund, for discretionary spending like reparations.

He says, “Use of those funds specifically for what the United States Supreme Court calls a ‘suspect class’ could violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and could widen the scope of individuals with standing to challenge the city’s reparations program.”

Cummings says the city has more discretion about spending home-rule taxes, like the Real Estate Transfer Tax, and that the transfer tax “is likely the best home-rule tax” to consider because, as a tax on housing, it relates to the restorative housing program developed by the Reparations Committee.

He noted that the Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled that Cook County and other local governments must use transportation-related taxes on actual transportation projects, and not on general government operations.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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8 Comments

  1. I fear for the future of this city when we have such uninformed and capricious alders like Reid who have the potential to have even a bit of influence on policy in Evanston. Good thing there are five or six others who seem to at times at least possess common sense. The mayor with his magical thinking and wish list including policies he’d love to latch on to including modern monetary theory is another story. At least we can rest assured knowing these guys won’t be able to attain office anywhere else at any level after their terms here. We elect these people who make all of us reasonable Dems look bad and make us a poster child for repubs criticism of liberal places.

  2. This attorney agrees wholeheartedly with Corporation Counsel Cummings’ opinion that Devon Reid’s proposal to transfer $5 million from the general fund to the reparations fund would expose the City to additional litigation. Reid’s proposal should be rejected for the reasons provided in Mr. Cummings’ June 2, 2022 memorandum to members of the Reparations Committee.

    Having reviewed a number of Ald. Reid’s poorly thought out proposals over the years, I conclude that he is the definition of a gadfly, “an annoying person, especially one who provokes others into action by criticism.” I certainly hope he will not be re-elected.

    1. You are spot on! I think he suffers from Dunning- Kruger syndrome and sees himself as the smartest guy in the room.

  3. Next up, Reid will attempt again to place the City Attorney under control of the City Council and not the City Manager, as it’s currently mandated in the City Charter. Reid made the referral last summer that the Council, not the City Manager, have the power to hire and fire the City Attorney.

  4. I would be curious if some of the lawyers chimed in on this, but as a layperson it seems like the whole reparations policy is on shaky legal ground even without Reid’s proposed shift in funding source.

    While it is clear that redlining occurred in Evanston, the entities responsible (and hence, potentially liable) do not include the city. The redline maps had nothing to do with the city and the city wasn’t involved in loaning money, underwriting mortgages, etc…

    If you read the document that the whole program is based on by the Shorefront folks, they seem to argue that the city is culpable because they wrote a zoning law and that somehow zoning was inherently discriminatory. There certainly were racial zoning laws implemented in municipalities in the South. However, the Supreme Court made such zoning laws illegal in the 1917 Buchanan v Warley ruling. Evanston didn’t initiate zoning until after that decision and there is no objective evidence to suggest that it was city policy to engage in discriminatory zoning.

    The only ‘evidence’ Shorefront provides are some second-hand interviews of community members in a long-forgotten graduate thesis found in Northwestern’s library. The research was never even published under normal scholarly peer review. You would think that if there were actual racial discrimination from zoning that it would have been litigated at the time given the Buchanan decision. The fact that Shorefront doesn’t mention any contemporaneous litigation suggests that city policy wasn’t perceived of as being discriminatory. Such court records would be much more persuasive evidence.

    There is way more evidence to suggest that zoning was originally initiated–not for racially discriminatory purposes–but to mitigate disputes against neighbors and reduce uncertainty in terms of urban development and land use. The Supreme Court decision of 1926, Village of Euclid vs. Ambler Realty, made this quite clear.

    I would think that the city is a sitting duck if the issue ever gets litigated. It seems from the article that Cummings may agree with this as one of his concerns is that using the general funds for the programs expands the possibilities for more residents to claim standing in court to litigate the policy.

  5. If folks don’t agree with Corporation Council Cummings opinion, then maybe a legal opinion should be sought from appropriate diversity-focused outside council (as opposed to relying on legal opinions from gatherings around the water cooler to overrule corp. council).

    Not everyone agrees with the Evanston reparations program and if Evanston creates a situation where individuals have sound legal standing to contest this, some will, by partnering with national organizations who have an ideological interest in contesting this program, and who will offer free, well-funded legal resources (as has happened with Evanston’s CRT initiatives).

    So if you want to tank the Evanston reparations program, go ahead and follow Reid’s lead.

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