Here’s a recap of our live coverage of tonight’s Evanston City Council meeting. The aldermen discussed the 2021 city budget and approved Erika Storlie’s contract as city manager.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. A packet with information on the agenda items is available online.

Meeting called to order at 6:05 p.m.

Mayor Steve Hagerty says COVID numbers have been increasing across the country and here in Evanston. The seven-day positive rate in Evanston is 2.03%, still good, but heading up — the wrong direction. Urges vigilance — wearing masks, social distancing, etc.

Says the demographics of the new cases are pretty broad — no clear cut group most impacted — although there has been an increase at senior care facilities recently.

City Clerk Devon Reid says a lot of voters showed up for the start of early voting today. Wait was one to two hours today. As of now, 730 people have early-voted, with about a half-hour left to go. Drop-box for mail ballots right inside of downstairs doors and can walk straight in for that. (It’s not the big blue “drop box” that’s used for paying parking tickets that’s at the edge of the parking lot.)

Public Comment
Starts at 6:26 p.m. 24 people signed up, the mayor says, so time per person is 1:50 to finish in 45 minutes.
Public Comment ends at 7:21 p.m.

SP1 – 2021 proposed city budget
Interim City Manager Erika Storlie says she anticipates another challenging year because of the pandemic.
Doing best to balance needs with available resources.

Hitesh Desai, chief financial officer, starts presentation on budget.

As previously reported, says anticipates $8 million revenue loss for 2021.

Related story.

Mayor Hagerty suggests that — if there’s more pandemic aid from the federal government it could be used to start to beef up the city’s general fund fund balance. (But depending on the outcome of the election, that may be very unlikely.)

Storlie says first batch of budget memos will be released on Friday on the budget section of the city website.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, suggests taking the property tax increase off the table.

Storlie says the city is cutting about 45 people from the budget already. To eliminate the $3M property tax increase would have to cut another 50 positions. Existing cuts have almost completely done from vacancies, she says. Additional cuts would require layoffs.

Suffredin says property tax increases impact housing affordability which is one of the main factors driving people out of Evanston.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, says Suffredin should propose other revenue sources or spending cuts if he wants to eliminate the tax hike.

Suffredin says it’s not his budget, so staff should come up with proposals.

Suggests could do video gaming — but won’t generate much revenue during a pandemic. Could discuss asset sales. A lot of people don’t think our headcount as is tight as it could be.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, says he can’t recall a budget that Suffredin has voted for in the past four years. No one likes to raise taxes, Braithwaite says. But they don’t like increased parking fees or a reduction of services. Challenges Suffredin to come up with $3 million in revenue. Says has residents who are employed by the city and they don’t want to lose their jobs.

Property tax increase, he says, would amount to $135 for somebody who owns a $500K home.

Suffredin suggests imposing a storage unit tax, which the Council had rejected in the past.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, suggests perhaps not rebuilding the fund balance this year. That would save $1 million.

Hagerty asks what impact that would have on the city’s borrowing costs.

Desai says rating agencies very concerned about general fund fund balance and police and fire pension funding.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says wants to get more feedback from the community and will be looking for budget memos on the various suggestions.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says for people to understand the elimination of 50 positions need to explain what things would be cut — does that mean garbage will only be picked up once every two weeks? Or what other service cuts?

Storlie says would shy away from putting together some dramatic list of cuts. Says have tried to listen to people about what they appreciate about the city. Closing a community center would not be popular, she says, by way of example.

Braithwaite says have to be clear on which city employee families are going to be impacted by more cuts.

Separate presentation on capital development plan, from Lara Biggs, city engineer.

Says proposed capital improvement fund budget — $45M … is down from over $60M this year.

SP2 – Appointing Erika Storlie as city manager

Rainey moves approval. Wynne seconds.

Hagerty says there was not a roll call vote taken in executive session regarding the city manager. Says never know whether will be able to reach a contract agreement with the chosen person, says general consensus was reached to move forward with Storlie.

Rainey says process — except for lack of travel — is the same as past city manager searches.

Says she’s worked with five city managers and three interim managers who did not become managers. Says she voted on four prior city managers. Says Erika is as qualified as any of those other city managers and more qualified than three of them.

Says Storlie has such a firm grasp of city finances and departments and is sensitive to racial and equity issues the city faces. Says she’s sorry Storlie has suffered through some really unfortunate accusations. Says knows she will do great.

Wynne says all the candidates were qualified. Was open to looking at other candidates and looked carefully at them. Says Storlie has led the city through the toughest problem that any city manager will face. “Erika has been through a trial by fire,” she says, and demonstrated that she can lead the city like no one else.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says stepped into manager role and has done such a fabulous job with it. Says has never know anyone who has such a clear moral compass as Erika does.

“Everybody knows she speaks the truth and is going to be fair,” Fiske says.

Fiske says she’s really been disappointed in the actions of a couple of council members. Says Storlie owed an apology.

Braithwaite quotes extensively from an Evanston Now story in June about what residents were looking for in a new manager. Say he could have worked with any one of the three finalists, but tonight he’s going to be voting for Erika.

Rue Simmons says had one candidate that would have been her first choice, and it wasn’t Erika. But says the consensus was to move forward with Erika. Says Storlie has done a great job during leading during the COVID crisis. Says discussion outside the executive session has been disappointing.

Revelle says had three strong candidates as finalists. Two were especially strong, she says. Says with Erika have the additional benefit of direct experience with her performance this year. Says Storlie has been an excellent leader of staff and inspired them to provide a high level of service to residents. She’s also able to make tough decisions — based on her actions during the pandemic. Saved roughly $10 million in expenses, cutting the general fund deficit to $2 million. And has been impressed with Erika’s long-term thinking for the city, and ensuring that we’re in the financial position to achieve those goals.

Need to be in a good financial position to make progress toward racial equity and other goals, Revelle says.

Hagerty says we wouldn’t be Evanston without a controversy. Reality is disagreements in town are not because we’re a corrupt government or council. We just have disagreements, he says.

Too often when someone is not on the winning side claim conspiracy.

Hagerty says he favors Storlie because of her deep understanding of the operations of the city and her commitment to climate, racial equity and affordable housing.

Vote is 7-3. Rue Simmons, Suffredin and Fleming vote no.

Storlie says she’s extremely humble and honored to take on the responsibility. Say seeks to make the lives of everyone who lives here the best they can be. Says looks forward to implementing the vision the City Council has for Evanston.

Says staff is amazing — and the credit always goes to them.

Says will continue to listen to all the residents and implement everything can to become the most livable city in America.

Hagerty says, to Storlie, whether we voted for your didn’t, you have the full support of the City Council to make this city as successful as possible.

Call of the Wards

Rainey — suggests trying to find TIF dollars that could help struggling businesses.

Fleming — 3:30 p.m. alternative emergency response subcommittee meeting tomorrow.

Wynne — town hall meeting Thursday on Zoom at 7 p.m.

Wilson — Asks law department to review city code regarding the use of the word “servant” — looking to make changes. Joint 1st and 4th Ward meeting on 27th.

Suffredin — Asks for report from economic development regarding next steps for recycling center. And seeks info on costs related to NUPD demonstrations.

Meeting adjourned at 10:04 p.m.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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