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 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.”