Evanston aldermen will take another look at the process for naming volunteers to city panels after a controversy erupted this week over appointments to the new landlord licensing committee.
Landlord Joshua Braun complained at Monday’s City Council meeting that he was told by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl that he’d been selected for the committee, but then informed that his appointment had been withdrawn.
The City Council decided to set up the committee to address the issue of whether Evanston should license landlords after aldermen rejected a proposed licensing ordinance developed by city staff.
Tisdahl told Evanston Now Wednesday that Braun’s appointment was withdrawn after one alderman, informed of the selection, objected to the choice.
She refused to say which alderman raised the objection or what the basis for the objection was.
Two of Braun’s properties were included on a list the city provided to NU officials last fall of 52 properties said to have unresolved building code or overcrowding issues.
The mayor says the current appointment procedure, in which she selects people to be appointed to committees, but gives individual aldermen the opportunity to object and have names removed before they are formally brought before the City Council for approval, has been in place for years.
It was adopted several years ago after some residents and aldermen objected to the proposed appointment of a Northwestern University official to the city’s Plan Commission.
His appointment ultimately was rejected in a public vote by the full City Council.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asked Monday for the review by the council’s Rules Committee of what it takes to disqualify someone from appointment to a board or commission.
Referring to the previous controversy, she asked whether affiliation with Northwestern should always be a disqualifier for being on a committee.
She said she was concerned that letting a single alderman block an appointment undermines the fairness of the selection process.
Tisdahl said the current process seeks to avoid having negative things said — at least in public — about people who have offered to serve as unpaid volunteers on city committees, to avoid discouraging people from applying to serve.
“We very much want people to serve on boards, but we also want the aldermen have confidence in the people appointed, so they’ll have confidence in the decisions committees reach,” the mayor said.
The new committee has 15 members, and Tisdahl identified three of them as landlords or property managers.
Braun says none of the landlords on the committee have property near Northwestern University, but all the homeowners chosen do live there.
Dan Schermerhorn, a landlord who was named to the panel, said that for too long the licensing issue has been discussed without involving all the stakeholders.
Schermerhorn said he’s worked with Braun over the years and was disappointed that he wasn’t appointed.
“I can’t think of a reason why he shouldn’t be part of the committee,” Shermerhorn added.
The committee also includes two NU students and three aldermen.
Many concerns abound…
The events surrounding the Landlord Licensing Committee has been very concerning. First, the Committee has not been given a scope or charge. Discussions among several Adlermen and the Mayor reveal that the purpose of the Committee, other than to explore rental licensing, remains completely unknown. Some Alderman are under the impression that the Committee will explore other concerns, such as Evanston's "Brothel Law", while others, including the Mayor have indicated the full purpose behind the Committee remains undetermined.
In a telephone conversation, the Mayor confirmed what this article relays, that potential nominees to the Committee are pre-vetted in secret among the Council. While it is a nuanced issue, if not an outright violation, such practices teeter on the edge of violation Illinois' Open Meetings Act. While the City may have good intentions in protecting the feelings of potential nominees, such practices do not allow the community to judge the decisions of Evanston elected officials, thus protecting their political self-interests. The Mayor "refused to say which alderman raised the objection or what the basis for the objection was" — this practice and statement is contrary to a democracy where the citizenry gets to judge the decision of their elected officials. How can the community judge the decision making and motives of the Alderman that rejected Braun when the City has designed a system to politically protect certain Aldermanic decisions.
The selection of this Committee has proven once again that many (not all) City officials provide lip service that they are interested in working with the landlord and real estate community on housing issues but continuously refuse to substantially engage Evanston landlord and real estate leaders. For years, Braun has been actively attempting to work in a professional, pro-active manner with the City — his efforts have been completely ignored by City leadership. I can say the same for myself (who was also rejected from the Committee) and others that have attended meetings, reached out to Aldermen, put forward policy suggestions, and the like. Those most active and vocal about wanting to work with the City to address ongoing concerns are constantly rebuffed by the City, including the inclusion on this Committee.
Howard Handler, Government Affairs Director
North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS
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