The City Council gave final approval Monday to an ordinance extending for 12 years the special taxing district that supports downtown marketing efforts, but postponed action on a contract with EvMark to run the district’s programs.

Travis Marlatte, chair of the Downtown Evanston Merchants Association, said the contract would give EvMark “the ability to do whatever it wants without public comment and without oversight.”

“Where are the checks and balances for the spending of over $500,000 of our money?” he asked.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, picked up on those objections, saying the proposed 12-year contract was far too long.

He said the agreement would permit termination for cause, but provides no standards or performance goals, so there’d be no way to prove the city had sufficient cause to terminate the deal.

Ald. Bernstein said, “I’m absolutely pleased with EvMark’s performance and the people who are serving on its board are wonderful people, but I wouldn’t vote for myself for 12 years.” He proposed that the contract term be limited to one year.

Mr. Marlatte, who owns The Things We Love at 614 Davis St., also criticized the non-profit organization for its practice of promoting itself when it advertises downtown businesses.

“As a PR firm for downtown,” he said, “they should be invisible to the general public.”

He said if a major corporation’s ad firm trumpeted its own name in ads for the business, “That would be their last ad campaign.”

Les Shindelman of 1572 Maple Ave., treasurer of the Downtown Residents Association, said downtown residents should be added to the EvMark board and that key metrics should be established to measure EvMark’s performance.

He said EvMark’s operations should be more transparent to all in the city with board meeting minutes, the annual budget and periodic performance reports posted on the city’s or EvMark’s web site.

Daniel Kelch, the owner of Lulu’s restaurant at 804 Davis St., said he is the new chair of EvMark and that the organization has members who represent a broad spectrum of downtown interests, including independent merchants, property management companies, and large developers. He said the residential management companies provide some representation for downtown residents now and that EvMark leaders plan to add residents to the group’s board this fall.

But Ald. Bernstein said there have to be more downtown residents on the board. “In fairness, I don’t think landlords represent the same interests as their tenants,” he said.

“We have to know how the board gets to be the board. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request for $500,000 a year of our money,” Ald. Bernstein added.

Update 7/11/07: The original version of this story failed to mention that EvMark leaders say they intend to add community residents to the group’s board this fall.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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