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Evanston’s township board tonight is scheduled to give the indigent a 25-percent benefit hike, decide what to do next after residents voted 2-1 in favor of dissolving the township and adopt new rules for conducting meetings.

The maximum benefit increase — from $400 to $500 a month– is the first in three years. It’s part of a budget that will draw down the township’s fund balances, which now would be sufficient to cover more than a year of town spending — a level many town board members, who also serve as Evanston city aldermen, consider to be excessve.

Township Supervisor Pat Vance says she believes the township should maintain reserves equal to at least six months of town spending because general assistance caseloads can vary and the township is limited by tax caps in its ability to increase revenue.

The benefit increase may also be designed to allay fears among general assistance recipients, some of whom were vocal in opposing the township dissolution referendum, that their interests would be ignored if the city succeeds in taking over the township’s functions.

By drawing town the fund balances, the budget manages to provide for the benefit increase while also reducing the town’s property tax levy.

Beyond the budget, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz is seeking guidance from the trustees on what to do about the dissolution issue. In a memo he outlines four options:

  1. Continue so far unsuccessful efforts to get state lawmakers to adopt legislation that would let Evanston hold a binding referendum on dissolution.
  2. Draft an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the town that would have the city provide township services including the geneal assistance program and property assessment assistance.
  3. Continue informal intergovermental cooperation between the two bodies.
  4. Do nothing.

The intergovernmental agreement, Bobkiewicz says, would likely under state law require approval of the township supervisor as well as the town board. Supervisor Vance, in her budget message, asserts that state statutes “do not allow the city to administer the general assistance program.”

The informal discussions so far have failed to yield any substantial cost reductions, although Bobkiewicz says there have been preliminary talks about moving township offices into the Civic Center when the lease on the township’s current rented space expires over a year from now.

He noted that the informal talks have not involved any reduction in township staffing. He previously has suggested that more efficient staffing could be the biggest way of saving money for township taxpayers.

The proposed new procedural rules for town meetings provide that the mayor serves as moderator of the meetings and that the city manager has the right to participate in discussions at the meetings.

The rules also set a 20-minute limit on citizen comment at the meetings and give the mayor the power to preserve order and decorum at meetings.

Under the rules, in the case of disturbance or disorderly conduct the mayor could remove offenders from the meeting, clear the council chamber of all spectators or suspend or adjourn the meeting.

Top: Catching the show. At last week’s City Council meeting, resident Padma Rao, who frequently comments on township and other issues, came with her attorney Douglas Cannon, seen speaking here, and a videographer and camera to record the scene.

Related document

Town meeting packet (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. Increase because of need or politicians gaining support ?

    "The maximum benefit increase — from $400 to $500 a month– is the first in three years. It's part of a budget that will DRAW DOWN the township's fund balances, which now would be sufficient to cover more than a year of town spending — a level many town board members, who also serve as Evanston city aldermen, consider to be excessve."

    ==================

    If the people are really in need that is one thing but to just 'draw down' is the way the city/state got into its problems.  It makes it sound like when a political campaign is done they find ways to spend money on getting favors from contributors.

  2. Time for new leadership in Evanston

    We all know that the Township Board is not going to dissolve itself because the Township assessor, supervisor and their lawyer last year publicly hinted they would file a lawsuit against the City of Evanston if aldermen decided to dissovle the Township.

    That threat of a lawsuit prompted aldermen to vote for a toothless non-binding referendum rather than a binding referendum.  

    In 2010, Evanston aldermen voted for an 80 percent budget increase for the Evanston Township. Aldermen recently voted for a pay raise for the deputy assessor this year. And now the Township most likely will approve a 25 percent pay increase for about 90 township recipients.

    Meanwhile, city taxes rose double digits in the past two years, water rates, fees, fines and other services again increased and we now have a new library tax from an unelected Library Board.

    Our aldermen have no backbone and have shown timid leadership in these troubling economic times.

    Time for a change next April. I only hope we get sensible and talented aldermen candidates to choose from.

     

    1. Face the facts.

      The truth is that the Illinois Township Code is very clear that individual townships cannot dissolve by referendum — it must be done countywide.  So you can beat  your chest all you want, but the City was merely following state statute.  Now if you want to argue that it should be easier to disolve townsips, I would agree, but you can't blame the City for lack of options available to them. 

      1. Armed with referendum, city would win in court

        As I understand it, the Illinois Township code requires approval of countywide townships to dissolve an individual township. Whether a voter referendum especially a binding voter referendum can dissolve a township is unclear. 

        Aldermen should have given voters a binding referendum and accept the challenge by the Evanston Township attorney and take them to court.

        I believe most judges would consider the voter referendum more powerful than some township code and declare the Evanston township dissolved. I think even the city's attorney told aldermen that Evanston would probably win the battle in court if they were armed with a voter referendum.

        The Evanston Township is a government entity. Voters not other governmental bodies should decide the fate of a governmental body. Evanston is a democracy and you'll be reminded of that this November and next year's city and school board elections.

        The Better Government Association is one of many advocacy groups fighting to eliminate wasteful governments such as townships. Remember, Illinois has the most government entities in the nation and the state is flat broke. We need less government not more. 

        Evanston aldermen, pass a binding referendum and let voters decide the fate of the Evanston Township – a duplicative service that Cook County already offers. Then take the Evanston Township to court. Once you win, not only would the Evanston Township dissolve, saving taxpayers money, but it would clear the path for other cities and towns to dissolve other townships.

        Be bold.

        1. You don’t have to sell me

          You don't have to sell me on dissolving the Townships — I would like to see all Illinois townships go away.  However, to clarify a few of your points:

          1. You say, as you "understand it, the Illinois Township code requires approval of countywide townships to dissolve an individual township."  The Township code requires a silmutaneous referendum in every township in a particular county and that that the voters must approve to rid the township system in the county entirely or not at all — there is no provision for individual township dissolution. 

          2. You say you "believe most judges would consider the voter referendum more powerful than some township code and declare the Evanston township dissolved."  Likely not.  You are suggesting a Judge is going to rule from his or her gut rather than law.  Not to mention, if even a circuit court Judge ruled that way, there would surely be appeals to higher courts.  That is very tough battle.

          3. You say you "think even the city's attorney told aldermen that Evanston would probably win the battle in court if they were armed with a voter referendum."  From what I recall, the City attorney was not quite that confident, although he did in fact argue that theory.  Nonetheless, his theory has been completely untested in court, and attorneys, even confident ones, lose in court each and every day.  I believe the attorneys argument was a giant stretch — not to say the City would surely lose — but it would be a stretch.  Moreover, I don't even know if the City would have standing to bring a lawsuit such as this.  

          4. Yous say "Evanston Township is a government entity. Voters not other governmental bodies should decide the fate of a governmental body."  It is important to remember that local governments are a creature of the state — local governments, including townships, exist only because the state allows them to, and every power granted to local government is granted by the state.  The state and local governments are not co-equal forms of government — the state is the Mama/Papa, Evanston Township is their child.

          Again, I'm with you — I think the Township is wasteful, duplicative form of government — but you are over-simplifying the hurdles to dissolution.

  3. Just a few thoughts…

    1. Why would state law require an intergovernment agreement to be approved by the Township Supervisor if the Township Trustees (the City Council) vote in favor?  

    2. Why would the Mayor preside at the Township meetings when she is not the duly elected chief executive of the Township?

    3. I would think Wally Bobkiewicz could not regularly participate at the Township Board meetings unless he is formally approved as a staff person or consultant to the Township, as I would think he has no more legal role in the Township than any other Evanston staff person or resident.  However, I would think if the Township Board hired him as a consultant for $1 a year that might solve the issue.

    4. The City should be very, very careful about exercising any options to remove all members of the public from the Council Chambers.  If one or person is particularly disruptive, they can be legally removed, but to clear the whole chamber when not everyone is disruptive is very close to teetering on any an Open Meetings Act violation.  Furthermore, the City needs to be very cautious about distinguishing between true disorderly conduct and vocal displeasure of elected officials' actions. 

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