Evanston’s Special Ethics Counsel has concluded that two council members did not violate the city’s ethics code when they cast votes in favor of the special use request from Connections for the Homeless to continue to operate the Margarita Inn as a homeless shelter.

Brooke D. Lenneman, of Elrod Friedman LLP, in determination letters issued Monday, said that neither Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) nor Ald. Devon Reid (8th) had “a direct financial interest in, or any contract with, Connections for the Homeless” and that neither one stands “to reap a personal benefit or advantage from the approval of the special use permit.”

More than a dozen residents opposed to the homeless shelter project had filed ethics complaints against the two council members.

Revelle had disclosed that she has been a donor to Connections and supports their programs, but Lenneman said that the provision of the city’s ethics code that requires “impartiality” applies only to city employees and specifically excludes elected officials.

Lenneman said that in November 2022 Connections “provided assistance, through its eviction-prevention program,” to Reid “in the form of a monetary payment” to his then-landlord, but that he was evicted from the apartment in January.

The vote on Connections’ special use request did not occur until May 8 this year.

Lenneman added that conflict of interest laws “are generally established to prevent self-dealing and the conveyance of pecuniary or other tangible beneficial interests to an elected official who is in a position to use their power to obtain financial or other concrete personal advantage.”

Lenneman’s decision closes the ethics inquiry and means the complaints will not be heard by the city’s Board of Ethics.

In a statement after the ethics counsel’s reports were issued, Reid said, “I am here to serve the community with integrity and impartiality.”

“These accusations,” Reid added, “while disheartening, only strengthen my resolve to continue fighting for a more inclusive, prosperous Evanston.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. So it was OK for Reid to vote because, despite the payment from Connections, he was *still* evicted from his apartment?

    And also — despite the payment from Connections, he was *still* evicted from his apartment?

  2. While the votes may have been legal according to the City’s Ethics Code, they certainly weren’t impartial. What this determination letter makes clear is that Evanston’s “Ethics Code” needs to be overhauled. No one who receives a financial benefit from an entity should be allowed to vote on matters pertaining to it. Common sense. Something our leaders are lacking, alas.

    1. Hi Channah,

      What would be unethical would be receiving a financial benefit that was contingent on your vote.
      The special ethics counsel correctly determined that there was no such financial benefit in this case.

      Political decision makers cannot be “impartial” and do their jobs. They have to have opinions about what the city should spend its money on and act on those opinions.
      Of course the voters may disagree with their opinions — and that’s what we have elections for.

      — Bill

      1. Yes, I stand corrected. As soon as you vote you are no longer impartial, that’s what voting is. Nevertheless, one would hope elected officials would not just avoid actual conflicts of interest but also the appearance of conflicts. Not doing so undermines the public’s confidence.

      2. I think you are well off base here, Bill. You are, I think, correct within the strict reading of the Evanston code but I also think the code is lacking. Just the filing of complaints would seem to indicate on the face that there was an appearance of a conflict. I understand your position on elections as the final determination of voters’ positions but elections are infrequent. It would help if Evanston had the ability to hold recalls of the elected officials but Evanston has no such mechanism. Probably unlikely we will get one, though, given that those who might be recalled would be the ones voting on the ability to recall.

        1. Hi Peter,
          Trust me, you really don’t want to live in a world where 10 or 20 people making accusations is taken for proof. Down that path lies burning witches.
          — Bill

      3. Bill,
        That would be not only unethical but outright bribery. The argument is relative to the “appearance of a conflict” which is important as without it, the public trust is further weakened.
        Certainly, elected decision makers are humans and subject to their partialities but they need to be aware of and sensitive to the outcomes from and the “appearances” of their actions. All Mr. Reid should have done is simply not be present for the vote or recuse himself. With Alder Revelle’s vote, his was not even needed for passage.
        His arrogance in voting and thumbing his nose at the citizens of Evanston (“…with two more I’ll have 20 (complaints)” was insulting.

  3. oh contraire—-Devon Reid accepting money from Connections to pay his rent is very much “financial benefit”, for him!—-go ahead and mix the words around anyway you want in legalese, but the bottom line remains obvious from a code of ethics viewpoint—-Reid’s vote can easily be interpreted as bought and paid for—-and that alone is more than enough for recusal

    1. Hi John,
      The money was not conditioned on his vote, and the payment occurred before the vote. And he was entitled to the payment under a pandemic assistance program that was available to anybody facing the risk of eviction.
      He could have voted no on Connections’ request, and it would have had no impact on how much money he received.
      Following your logic, any council member who had ever benefited from any Connections program would have been ineligible to vote. Any council member who ever received a scholarship to attend Northwestern University would be ineligible to vote on any issue affecting the university, and so on.
      — Bill

      1. Very true Bill—-I’m confident my comment is stated as an opinion and what I perceive as common sense ethics—-I’m not an attorney

      2. Hi Bill,

        If Ald. Reid was evicted, does he still live in his ward?

        (I might have a few more questions, if he doesn’t.)


  4. While this current episode involving Reid is deemed ethical, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t show his lack of judgment, character, and intellect.

    Many of his ridiculous ideas and proposals seek to divide versus promote inclusion.

    1. What is particularly galling is that even though Reid was provided rental assistance in the amount of $7050.00, this was not sufficient to forestall his eviction…

      All this while he is claiming he is a member of a “victimized class” – but the *real* victim is somone who could have *really* used that $7050.00 in rental assistance… that money was wasted…

      I sure do hope folks remember this come election time…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  5. I don’t care what anyone at the city says anymore. Common sense has fled Evanston.

    The Margarita Inn is NOT a rooming house. It is a low barrier homeless shelter where 60% of its residents are addicts or mentally ill or both. Putting a low barrier homeless shelter in a residential area reduces property values. The city’s Land Use Commission has twice bent itself into knots (knots that would make Gordius proud) to give the go-ahead on the rooming house strategy.

    In November 2022, Devon Reid asked Connections for rent help, and he got it – $7,040 worth of assistance. Ann Rainey (on page six of the “determination”) states that Reid was told by corporate counsel Nicolas Cummings that he had a conflict of interest (not just an appearance) and was advised that he should recuse himself from voting. Despite this good advice, Reid advocates and votes to support Connections.

    And now the ethics counsel says there was no conflict of interest. So, who was right? Was it corporate council or Elrod Friedman?

    From March 2020 to today the Margarita Inn process has been so mismanaged that we have in Evanston either a gang that can’t shoot straight (very likely) or a gang that serves itself first and Evanston’s citizens last. One of these is true.

    Still, the good people of Evanston have another bite of the apple so I’m rooting for Halim and his lawsuit against the city.

    If Halim’s lawsuit fails I worry not. Why? Elections are coming.

    And, by the way, I’m not paying for anyone’s campaign expenses. That’s just silly talk.

    1. Hi PJ,
      In response to an email from Evanston Now this week, Reid said he does still live in the 8th Ward, but declined to provide his address, indicating he fears harassment.
      — Bill

  6. As a former Connections employee who was somewhat familiar with Connection’s rental assistance program, the fact that Reid received this assistance was a “red flag” for me…

    There were only limited amounts of rental assistance monies available, and there was a “hierarchy of hardship” in determining who received this assistance. First priority generally was families with children; disablity was a high priority, also being a senior or a woman was a higher priority. Young single able – bodied males were very low on the priority list…

    So either Connection suddenly became flush with extra rental assistance cash, or Connections “did him a favor”. He was certainly “eligible” from a technical standpoint, but that does not make him “suitable” for receiving this assistance using the above “need” metrics. Getting approved for this rental assistance was a detailed and cumbersome process, and one *really* had to document their need…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

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