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Branchers, minority contractors share beefs

United by their alienation from the city’s leadership, a dozen branch library backers met this afternoon to exchange complaints with a similar number of advocates for minority contractors.

Mary Rosinski speaking at the Lake Street Church gathering.

Mary Rosinski of the Friends of the Evanston Public Library told the group at the Lake Street Church that the city "keeps moving the goal posts" for their effort to save the branch libraries. And noting the proposed 2011 budget released by the city manager Friday, she said "now they want to take away the branches completely."

Lori Keenan of the group said, "Kids and families from the city’s west side are just not going to go to the downtown library."

She added, "The City Council and the manager seem to have their fingers in the gears" trying to obstruct the group’s goals.

And Ellen Newcomer said the Friends board will meet Wednesday to plan "for starting a storefront library on the west side with books from the Friends."

Wilfred Gadsden of the Citizens’ Lighthouse Community Land Trust spoke for the contractors’ group.

For their part, leaders of the Evanston Minority Business Consortium expressed deep distrust that minority contractors who live in Evanston will benefit from the $18 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant won by the city from the federal government.

Told that the city manager says 40 percent of the work done so far has gone to Evanston businesses, organizer Wilfred Gadsden said that didn’t mean that minorities were getting any of the work — which so far mostly has involved architects, appraisers and attorneys.

Another organizer, Bennett Johnson, said in an interview that he expects much of the work rehabilitating 100 housing units under the grant will go to Hispanic contractors that the city’s private partner in the program, Brinshore Development, already works with in Chicago.

Listening to speakers at the meeting.

Johnson also claimed that the program would ultimately reduce the black population of Evanston.

Asked whether local contractors shouldn’t have to submit the lowest bids to get the work, Johnson said the city has the ability to manipulate bid awards by deciding which bids are "responsive and responsible." A minimum of 85 percent of the subcontracting work on the project should be awarded to minority, women-owned or Evanston-based firms because, he said, minorities make up 85 percent of the population of the 5th Ward, where much of the work will be done.

The city has promised to award at least 25 percent of the work to minority- or women-owned or Evanston-based firms, and city officials have said that the proportion could be much higher if the local firms submit the lowest bids. City-wide, roughly a third of Evanston’s population is non-white.

Some contractors at the meeting also objected to the requirements set to qualify for the program, including liability insurance and other rules. One said he couldn’t successfully apply for the jobs because he pays his workers in cash.

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