Mayor Daniel Biss will ask the City Council’s Rules Committee Monday to give the Referrals Committee power to block any alder’s bright idea that doesn’t have support from at least two other council members.

Under the Council’s current rules the committee serves only as a traffic cop — deciding which committee to send a proposal to. It has no power to consider whether the proposal is worth consideration.

In a memo, the mayor’s rationale for the change to require two co-sponsors to assure an idea advances is expressed as trying to “ensure that the referred items have some meaningful support before they consume a lot of staff and committee time.”

Since the Referrals Committee was created following the April 2021 City Council election, the referrals process has been dominated by Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who has made nearly 43% of all referrals to the committee.

Two other alders newly elected in 2021, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) and Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), are a distant second and third in the referrals count — Burns with 18% and Kelly with 8%.

With nine alders, the mayor and the city manager eligible to make referrals, an average share would be 9%.

Many of Reid’s proposals — including keeping parks open overnight and permitting toplessness in public places — have proven controversial, and his flood of proposals has tended to dominate committee and City Council agendas.

It’s not entirely clear how effective the new measure, if adopted, will be in limiting consideration of proposals that don’t ultimately win Council approval.

During committee debate on many proposals from Reid, some other alders — frequently Burns or Kelly and sometimes Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th), have shown a willingness to give Reid’s ideas a full hearing. That may indicate they would be willing to sign on as co-sponsors of many of his proposals.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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12 Comments

  1. Spending time on matters that matter is important. Voting matters. Folks who are out of town on spring break and don’t bother to arrange to vote seem ignorant of the fact that Council Member Ward races are almost all decided by a handful of votes, sometimes as few as 5-10 votes. Your individual vote really matters. When your council member fails to respond to your concerns about rats in the alley or a fallen tree, remember that when it comes time to vote. If your council member was voted in by a few NU students who do not care about the other races on the ballot or your taxes, remember to vote. If your council member has failed to live up to their own campaign promises, such as “making NU pay their fair share”, vote for a change.

    Further, when a Council Member brings an issue forward ask them “how many Evanstonians” have asked for this measure or change. If your council member is chronically absent from council meetings, vote and get a better, more engaged representative. Finally, all the council members, no matter their ward should be reminded that they work for all of us; the job is hard, generally thankless and time consuming, but there are folks standing in line to run for those slots. Those standing in line see the crumbling sidewalks, buildings that are not being built by developers who have worked hard to accommodate all the whims of the city and its residents and the petty bickering that breaks out amongst those in the community and on the council.
    We have 2 1/2 more years of the current council group; lots of good could be done in that time if we stop looking for problems to fix and start fixing the problems we all face in our home town.

    1. Well said Mimi. I also find it interesting that the STP (Same 30 People) who complain about everything and always show up for public comment are radio-silent when it comes to discussion of certain council members and their absurd proposals. Or that 1 council member who was definitely going to “make NU pay” but whoops… what happened? Hmmm.

    2. Thank you Mimi! Well stated and I 100% agree with everything you said!!! Evanstonians need to wake up and start paying attention to who gets elected to council and school board!!!

  2. It depends who is on the Referrals Committee. If Devon is, why not let him just take over as King of Evanston? Another alternative is to allow each member 9% of floor time, or some such, so that all wards get equal representation time. Another alternative is that Council members can only bring up recommendations and suggestions that the citizens of their ward have alrwady agreed are worthy of discussion. I am in Devon’s ward and have never once yet received any form of communication from him, not by email, paper mail, or phone call. Ann Rainey paid for her own chatboard where we citizens of her ward could write in and hear back from her, and the other citizens of the ward could also read those comments and add their responses. That is representative government.
    By the way, allowing 24-hour open parks paves the way for homeless camps which have been proliferating throughout Rogers Park and the rest of the northside of Chicago. This will only increase the exodus of taxpaying citizens out of Evanston.

  3. The amount of time, energy, and resources that get devoted to Devon Reid’s nonsense is astounding.

  4. Good for Mayor Biss. Time-wasters, wheel-spinners, and grandstanders are not helping our community deal with the challenges it already faces. Sometimes I read stories about Mr. Reid, and I want to say, “Oh, just stop.” I don’t know what drives him, whether he means well or not, but I can report that from where I sit—admittedly on the sidelines—he sure does suck all the air out of the room sometimes, and it’s really not helpful! Seriously? 24-hour parks? There’s a really good reason we don’t do that, so can we please address—oh, I don’t know…gun violence? Homelessness? Inclusion? Parking? Development? Our struggling downtown? This is such a great city with so much to offer and so many opportunities to serve and contribute. Let’s not allow ourselves to get bogged down with silly stuff!

  5. I am concerned that the amount of staff time spent on referrals is terribly imbalanced. Researching information the topless proposal has been going on since the early spring. It makes me wonder what might have been done that could benefit the city in that time. I would implore voters to make an investment in educating themselves on what their council member has done to make Evanston a better place to live. I am glad Mayor Biss is trying to curb the frivolous referrals. I hope it will prove helpful. Common sense should tell us we need to fix the problems that are obvious rather than looking to fix an imagined problem that there is no evidence anyone has asked for.

  6. Praise our Mayor and all who speak up, standing up to remind us all that Evanston has real issues to work on – safety and security in our neighborhoods, assisting the homeless with housing and job training, caring for our new neighbors and old friends, showing all of us, young and older, that we can all work toward making a difference in this wonderful, beautiful place we call home. We all need to contribute in good, intentional ways.

  7. Thank you, Mayor Biss, and all the other people who would like to see our city council engage on issues that affect the well being of all our citizens rather than waste time on grandstanding by one alderman.

  8. I’m for anything that might put a rein on Ald Reid’s proposals, because he seems to be intent on undermining the order and safety of the Evanston community. His push for making equipment used for home invasion legal is particularly telling, and makes one just wonder about his motives. I’m not saying that he is aligned with criminals, but why do so many of his proposals open the door to criminality? Why do we not see anything from him that would actually make Evanston better and safer?

    It must be a real problem for Mayor Biss, since enacting Reid’s proposals will ultimately impact him, if Evanston’s reputation plummets under his watch. Some seem afraid to stand up to Reid, and they must be somehow afraid to vote against him. Why else would a council member vote for Proposals that are a detriment to the community they serve?

  9. My experience of the last 40+ years as a community activist is that the best legislators get as much information and viewpoints as possible from their constituents before entering a legislative proposal into the public record.

    Two Evanston events, both around 2007, come to mind:

    1. When a resident made a complaint about a neighbor’s beekeeping, the knee-jerk reaction by then-City Manager Julia Carroll was to ask staff to draft an ordinance outlawing beekeeping in Evanston. For a short time, Evanston was the laughing stock of the nation, as cartoonists drew “Stop Bees” signs at the Evanston city limits. This was a patent waste of staff time.

    2. Around this time, I had the pleasure of working with our former State Rep. Julie Hamos, one of the most professional and savvy legislators I know. We were working on what came to be a 2-bill initiative, the Illinois Food, Farms, & Jobs Acts (2007, 2009). Early in our work together, I attended a presentation that Julie made about getting legislators’ attention on issues. Her simple advice was: “Keep talking to me and show me it’s a large coalition.” I took that to heart and the IFFJA still stand as highly successful pieces of legislation (one passed unanimously, the other unanimous minus one vote on a technicality).

    I think Evanston City Council members would do well to put that advice into practice before they make a referral. Ward meetings are a great forum for getting public reaction before making Evanston a laughing stock on beekeeping or any other issue. Plus everyone benefits from a broad discussion.

    Think of how the U.S. Constitution might read today had we had a broader discussion and had the founding fathers really been committed to participatory democracy.

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