After three months in which the Evanston City Council’s three-member reparations subcommittee held not a single public meeting, the city today issued a press release announcing a schedule for a reformulated subcommittee to develop a reparations plan for submission to the City Council next year.

At various times this fall members of the subcommittee that was appointed on Sept. 9 — Aldermen Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward; Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward — announced at City Council meetings that they had been meeting and developing plans, but no meeting notices were posted on the city website.

If the subcommittee actually met, that would appear to be a violation of the state Open Meetings Act which requires government agencies and their committees and subcommittees to meet in public for discussion of public business and sets notice requirements for the meetings.

The act covers any gathering in person or by electronic means of a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body. For a three-person subcommittee that would include any gathering of members of the group.

At the City Council’s Dec. 9 meeting, Mayor Steve Hagerty announced that Alderman Fleming had asked to resign from the subcommittee. He said he’d ask the City Council to decide whether to name additional persons to the group at the Council’s first meeting in January.

Today’s news release says that at an unspecified point next year the reparations subcommittee “will be expanded to include subject matter experts and additional members of the community.”

It says the subcommittee “will work with residents, city staff and experts to explore and identify programs and opportunities to be supported by the Reparations Fund, including initiatives related to workforce development, entrepreneurship, home ownership, education and infrastructure.”

It adds, “The process has just begun to consider many important issues, including the scope of funding opportunities, criteria and qualifications for participation and level of funding.”

It predicts that a reparations plan will be proposed for City Council consideration later in 2020 with distribution from the fund to begin “possibly in early 2021.”

The news release, and the chart distributed with it, also recap city actions on the reparations issue this year:

The Equity and Empowerment Commission is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Civic Center to plan is activities for the coming year.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. The Dark Side of “Equity”

    This entire process has been rushed, secretive, unprofessional and unacceptable.  A case could be made for Reparations — but the City hasn’t even bothered.  There has been zero effort to declare which specific actions the City of Evanston took or which specific Evanston residents were harmed.  No attempt to calculate what that harm was in $$ terms.  No discussion of the past 50+ years of civil rights laws and federal/state/local money spent on the black community in Evanston.  So…what are the reparations for?  Slavery?  White flight?  Redlining?  The mere existence of racism?

    And why the rush?  The marijuana money isn’t coming in until September.  There are no plans to spend it until 2021…and yet it was so important to do it this budget year?  Well played, Alderman Rue Simmons.  So much easier to push it through before there are specifics.  Before the pot money gets placed somewhere else.  Before income taxes go up.  Before people even know what their new assessments will really mean.  And now that it’s been approved, it can’t be taken back because that would mean that Evanston is actually racist.

    Is the City of Evanston really going to use the color of someone’s skin to determine how much they pay in taxes?  Is the City of Evanston really going to use the color of someone’s skin to determine whether they get taxpayer dollars to buy their house?  Is the City of Evanston really going to use the color of someone’s skin to determine whether they deserve taxpayer dollars to start their business? 

    This is the dark side of “Equity.”  The concept of Equity is based on the premise that we live in a white supremacist society and that our laws, institutions and culture are infected with racism.  Equity ignores all issues of class by merely saying that class and race are so often entwined.  To even suggest that there are class issues at play in things like the education gap is a denial of our racist history and is, in itself, a racist act.  Equity states that treating people equally under the law is no longer acceptable because the very idea of “Equality” is rooted in racism and has been historically used to deny Black America the funds and resources needed to thrive.

    So, here we are.  Committed to a plan we’ve never seen.  Wading into ethically and legally murky waters.  But, hey, we were first!  People were in awe!  I guess that’s what really matters, right?

  2. Under-the-Radar Process Used to Establish Reparations Fund

    The process by which Evanston established its reparations fund (capped at $10.0 million) was neither fair nor transparent.  I agree wholeheartedly with “School of Speech’s” description about the rushed and secretive nature of the process by which the reparations fund was created, which was passed without adequate public input on November 25, 2019.

    Evanston is the first and only municipality in the country to enact reparations legislation.  Because this issue is both timely and controversial, Evanston residents should have had ample opportunity to express their views on this topic before a reparations fund was established by Council on November 25, 2019

    Two community meetings on reparations did occur in July 2019, but they were not sufficiently well-publicized to garner citywide awareness and participation. 

    In addition to the transparency issues, an issue may exist about the legality of the Evanston reparations fund.  Ald. Wynne stated in an August interview with Evanton Now that “the city’s legal staff will need to address issues about what legal limits there may be on racially targeting the benefits of city programs.” Interestingly, I have been unable to find a single document on the City’s website which addresses Ald. Wynne’s concerns about the legality of Evanston’s reparations program.

    Indeed, a reader commenting on the Dec. 2 Washington Post article about Evanston reparations states, “Nowhere can I find any authority granting the federal, state, or local governments any power to gift public resources to private parties based solely upon their race.”

    Reparations in Evanston appear to have been largely driven by the efforts of a small Council subcommittee composed of only three aldermen:  Ald. Simmons, Ald. Rainey, and Ald. Fleming (who recently resigned from the subcommittee).  Certainly, the topic of reparations deserves a more thoughtful, eductional, well-publicized, and open process than that advanced by this subcommittee of three.

     The City issued a press release on Dec. 19 which seems to tacitly recognize that the subcommittee of three did not function in an open and inclusive fashion.   The press release states that the subcommittee will soon be expanded “to include subject matter experts and  . . . members of the community.”  

    Obviously, this open and inclusive process should have occurred  before the reparations fund was established.  Those that backed the speedy establishment of a reparations fund may think they got what they wanted; in fact, the ill will created by their under-the-radar process has likely had a detrimental effect on interracial understanding in Evanston.

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