Several aldermen expressed dismay Monday night over negative comments about the city included in a newly released survey of Evanston public safety workers.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she “found the comments pretty disturbing, in terms of opinions about the schools and community.”

“I thought we were pretty supportive of both departments and would like to figure out how we can do that better,” Holmes added.

The survey, as reported by Evanston Now Monday, showed that most police and firefighters say they’re not interested in living in Evanston, although perhaps three times as many as do live here now are open to the idea.

Most open-ended comments workers offered focused on housing costs, taxes and family safety issues regarding potential retaliation from people arrested as barriers to living here.

But nine employees — five cops and four firefighters — gave negative reviews to local schools.

“Concerned about chidren attending District 65,” said one police officer. “The schools are not attractive at all, as far as quality,” said another.

And a firefighter said he’d  said he’d “never allow my children to be in the area of ETHS after dark.”

Top: Delores Holmes. Above: Ann Rainey.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she “objects to bashing of schools, and bashing the City Council that has supported raises and equipment.”

Matt Smith, the new president of the firefighters union local, said it is important to remember that “we get called when people are having a bad day.”

Firefighter Matt Smith.

For schools and other institutions, he said, “We’re not there on a day-to-day basis to see all the great things going on. That may skew the overall perception that we may have of things that happen.”

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward, also expressed dismay with the employees’ comments

But Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said, “I thought the comments were honest and on target.”

Burrus noted comments from three officers who criticized aldermen who offered apologies last fall to a Northwestern University professor who objected to the brief detention of her 13-year-old son as a burglary suspect before the department had conducted its internal investigation of the incident.

One officer wrote  “The city needs to show more support to the police, especialy when there is a complaint against us, the city should not side with the complainant before a complete investigation is made.”

“I understand where the police are coming from,” Burrus said. “I heard hurt, not feeling appreciated.”

Holmes said the apologies made that night last fall “were not for the actions of the police,” but for the inconvenience to the citizen.

But Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said, “I was the odd man out that evening and did not join in the chorus of apologies. I think it was premature that night to offer that apology.”

The professor later filed suit over the police stop, and the police internal investigation ultimately cleared officers of wrongdoing.

The survey was initially conceived as a vehicle for assessing whether financial incentives that have sometimes been discussed as a way of persuading more public safety workers to live in the city would be effective.

But there was no discussion Monday night of whether the city might move forward with actually offering any such incentives.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he was “thrilled” that employees felt comfortable enough to participate in the survey and be honest in their comments.

“A smattering of negativity and attitude — I thnk these days that comes with the territory,” Bobkiewicz added.

But he added, “It’s important for me to work with all employees — not just police and fire — to see how they can have better exposure to our schools” and other aspects of the community. “All our employees would benefit from that,” Bobkiewicz said.

“I’ve worked in four communities, and never found a workforce that felt the council recognized them enough., he said. “I think we’re ahead of the game, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do more.”

Related story

Most public safety workers don’t want to live here

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Evanston aldermen don’t care

    This is the sorry state of our leadership today. Rather than consider if any of the surveyed Evanston public workers might have a point, aldermen simply attack them because they disagree with the comments.

    Many people in Evanston think our property taxes are too high. Many others believe as I do that Evanston public schools are inferior compared to neighboring school districts. In an example, foreign language isn't a requirement at D65 as it is in many other places. Despite the down economy in the past several years, enrollment at our local private schools have increased.

    Last year there were three shooting fatalities, all gang related. There is a gang presence in Evanston that few of our leaders are talking about or are even willing to acknowledge it.

    Aldermen Holmes, Grover and Braithwaite apologized to Ava Greenwell before the Evanston Police Department's investigation was complete. The apology was premature and will likely be ammunition in Greenwell's lawsuit. Other aldermen like Mark Tendam stood by mute and didn't speak up for the police department as the apologies to Greenwell flowed.

    No aldermen, including Tendam, EVER issued an apology to the burlgary victim.  Who cares about her, right?

  2. Honesty is hardly ever heard.

    This is a typical response from the city that continually champions “tolerance” and “acceptance”. That is of course, as long as you agree with them. I am sorry your feelings are hurt by honest statements about your beloved Evanston Ms. Rainey. Furthermore, your comment about the “ …bashing of schools, and bashing the City Council that has supported raises and equipment” sounds like a veiled threat. Can the Police and Fire Departments expect less now that they have “bashed” the city?  That would truly be disgraceful, as they were only participating in an honest survey of their opinions. Lastly, Alderman Holmes said she would like more Police officers living in town in order to improve the officer’s ability to distinguish law-abiding residents from criminals. Is she kidding? 

  3. Corporate employees take note

    When they send out an employee opinion survey, your execs do not want to know what you really think.  They just want a response that all is good.  No good will acrue to employees from negative comments.  The reactions of the city council to its public safety employees' negative comments illustrates this well.

    Maybe there never was a possiblity of getting incentive pay to live in Evanston, but they are certainly not going to get it now.  The ideal reponse would have been for them to say they love Evnaston, but can't afford to live there.

  4. Survey nets “unwarranted” negative comment, really?

    Why does our city council show themselves to be such idiots? If you don't want honest feedback you should include in bold letters on the top of the page "Only Positive Comments, Please!"

    Instead of feeling hurt or bashed, why don't the alderman come up with ideas to make the city of Evanston more attractive to its workforce. All of its workforce, not just police and fire personnel.

    Most Evanston residents say housing and property taxes are too expensive. Then tack on to that the ridiculously high fees for everthing such as sewer rates, vehicle stickers, yard waste collection, security alarm permits just to mention a few.

    Now they're talking about adding a fee for vacation rental properties. Pretty soon it will cost us to walk on city sidewalks.

    I encourage the city to solicit all city workers and you will find that those who live in Evanston have lived here for most of their life. Which should be a strong indication that if they weren't "Evanstonians" they, too, would live outside of Evanston for many of the same reasons the public safety workers gave. Don't be dismayed at their comments…be ashamed that you've put them in this situation.

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