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Ethics board dismisses most of Witenberg complaint

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Misty Witenberg.

Evanston’s Board of Ethics Tuesday night dismissed most issues raised in a complaint filed by losing 5th Ward aldermanic candidate Misty Witenberg against Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward.

The complaint alleged that Rue Simmons violated the city’s code of ethics through her role as an employee of Sunshine Gospel Ministries and Sunshine Enterprises, which operates an entrepreneurship training program in Evanston.

Sunshine launched its training program here in 2015, and was approved for grants from the city to operate the program in 2016 and 2017, before Rue Simmons was elected alderman in April 2017.

Rue Simmons has run Sunshine’s program in Evanston from the start, initially as a contractor and more recently as a full-time employee, currently making $54,000 a year.


Robin Rue Simmons.

A previous complaint against Rue Simmons regarding her rule with Sunshine Enterprises brought by Betty Sue Ester was dismissed by the ethics board last year. The board said there was an appearance of conflict, but no actual conflict, when Rue Simmons, as an appointed member of the city’s M/W/EBE Development Committee, presented a request for grant funding for Sunshine to the city’s Economic Development Committee.

Once she was elected to the City Council, Rue Simmons would have — at minimum — had to recuse herself from voting on any grant requests from Sunshine.

But as Sunshine’s executive director, Joel Hamernick, told the ethics board, Sunshine currently receives no funds from the city and has committed to not seek any funding in the future as long as any Sunshine staff member holds a leadership position in the city.


Joel Hamernick.

Hamernick also said Witenberg’s complaint contained a variety of false and defamatory charges against the organization.

The Board of Ethics decided that some issues Witenberg raised were outside of its jurisdiction and that others were moot.

But members decided to hold a follow-up hearing on one aspect of Witenberg’s complaint — regarding the City Council’s approval of the city’s 2017 contract with Sunshine — at 7 p.m. on May 22.

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