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Ethics panel rejects three claims

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Evanston’s Board of Ethics Tuesday night rejected three claims of violations of the city’s ethics code made against incumbent aldermen and an aldermanic candidate, affirmed one and postponed action on two others.

The board said that the distribution of a candidate endorsement message through the city’s email system violated the ethics code and called for improved staff training to avoid the problem in the future.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said the message went out during a transition of the city’s email system from Microsoft Outlook to Google Mail. She said she was confused about the operation of the new system and asked city staff for help in locating a private list of email contacts she used to send messages to her supporters.

Instead of having the endorsement message sent to that list from her private email account, Holmes said, the staff created a much larger list — apparently of everyone she had ever exchanged email with on the city system — and ended up sending out the endorsement message to that list using the city’s distribution system.

Ethics Board members Vincent Thomas, Mark Shelton, Karena Bierman, Jennifer Billingsley and Kelda Harris-Harty.

The board said a complaint that some aldermen and the mayor had violated the ethics code by endorsing Robin Rue, the winning candidate in the 5th Ward aldermanic race, was “without merit.”

Robin Rue, speaking to the ethics panel.

It rejected a claim that Rue had violated the ethics code by sitting on the Aldermanic Compensation Committee.

And it rejected a claim that the registration status with the state of Rue’s former business, Signature Construction Services Inc., violated the ethics code.

Betty Sue Ester, reading from her complaint at the ethics board meeting.

All four of these charges were contained in a complaint filed by Betty Sue Ester, a 5th Ward resident who finished fourth in a five candidate race for alderman in 2005 in which Holmes was first elected to the City Council. Another 5th Ward resident, Madelyn Ducre, had filed a separate complaint indicating support for Ester’s charges. 

The board said it would convene again at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2, to discuss a fifth issue raised by Ester, whether Rue’s involvement with the Sunshine Enterprises entrepreneurial training program partially funded by the city represented a conflict of interest.

Misty Witenberg addressing the ethics board.

Also scheduled for further review at that meeting, a complaint from 5th Ward aldermanic candidate Misty Witenberg that Holmes violated the ethics code by forwarding email messages Witenberg sent her to Janet Alexander Davis, a leader of WEST, the neighborhood group Holmes had established to help organize activities in the ward. Davis was supporting Rue in the election.

The board was meeting at full strength Tuesday for the first time in months after two new members were appointed by the City Council last week and a third member was reappointed to an additional term.

The board was unable to address the complaints about the 5th Ward election at a scheduled meeting in March because it lacked a quorum after one member was unable to attend the meeting.

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