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The City Council Rules Committee asked the city’s legal staff Monday night to prepare a rewrite of Evanston’s conflict of interest rules.

Mayor Steve Hagerty, who has to recruit members for city boards and commissions, said the code of ethics now bars members of appointed boards from appearing on behalf of a private party before their own or any other city panel.

That, he said, makes it too difficult for architects, attorneys and other self-employed professionals to do their jobs and also volunteer to serve on city committees.

An architect who serves on the Preservation Commission might have a client who wants to take an issue before the Zoning Board of Appeals. “Those are real issues that I’m confronted with,” the mayor added. “But clearly you can’t represent a client before the board that you’re on — that would be a real conflict.”

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, agreed that the current language is too broad.

He suggested that some situations could more appropriately be addressed by disclosure of potential conflicts and recusal from casting a vote, rather than a complete bar to being a member of the board.

Assitant City Attorney Mario Treto said the ethics code doesn’t mention those options now, although in practice they have sometimes been used.

“My kid was a lifeguard at the YMCA,” Wilson said. “The YMCA seeks funding of programs from the city. Does that mean I’m off the Council because my family shares a financial interest with the Y?”

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said that she didn’t believe a member of one board representing a client before another board should be considered a conflict. “There’s not a nexus of a financial benefit to the lawyer from service” on one panel when representing a client before a different one, she said.

Wilson added that the city’s rules should not deal as harshly with the appearance of conflict as with an actual conflict.

The revised language to be drafted by the Law Department is likely to be up for debate at the Rules Committee’s next meeting in December.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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