City panel rejects giving money to west side group

Economic Development Committee members this week rejected a city staff plan to give $50,000 to the Evanston Community Development Corporation to hire a temporary manager to help the non-profit reorganize.

Instead the committee decided Wednesday night to have city staff come up with an alternative proposal under which the city would hire a consultant to do the job.

ECDC, which was formed in 2003 to stimulate business development on the city's west side, has struggled in recent years with organizational issues after receiving several grants from the city for various programs.

The projects have ranged from providing micro-loans to startup businesses to a urban gardening program that provided career training for ex-offenders.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the latest proposal from ECDC provided no financial statement or evidence of what fundraising the group's done or what money is available for the group's micro-loan or other programs.

"I can't imagine how we can give money to an organization without knowing their financials," Burrus said.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the new proposal had been developed at his urging and that there weren't financial reports because city staff knew that the group's "coffers are largely empty."

"I think this is an opportunity for the city to be supportive and help them get back to doing good work for the community," he added.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she saw the proposal more as a request for startup funds — but with a board in place that has a history of doing some work.

ECDC Chair Bill Smith said the group has been working with a consultant on a rebranding and renewal process over the past couple of years.

Smith conceded that "We were tring to do too many things and not doing them so well, so we decided to focus more on depth and less on scope."

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested that the city hire a consultant for the group and supervise the person's work.

"I think I would feel comfortable with that," Wynne said.

After some further discussion Bobkiewicz agreed to revamp the proposal along the lines Wynne proposed and bring it back to the committee for its April meeting.

Disclosure: As far as either of us know, the Bill Smith who heads ECDC and the Bill Smith who publishes Evanston Now are not related.

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