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Open meetings rule to keep public in dark?

Evanston aldermen are scheduled to vote tonight on policy recommendations from the city attorney that would bar them from taking straw votes on budget issues until after a Nov. 8 public hearing.

Evanston aldermen are scheduled to vote tonight on policy recommendations from the city attorney that would bar them from taking straw votes on budget issues until after a Nov. 8 public hearing.

City Attorney Grant Farrar says the state Open Meetings Act requires that the council not take any binding votes on the budget until after the public hearing, and, in a memo to aldermen for tonight’s Rules Committee meeting, he says that straw votes "are not in good order under Robert’s Rules."

The net result of the new policy would appear to be to leave the public guessing about which way aldermen are leaning on specific budget issues until no more than two weeks before they’re scheduled to take final action on the new budget Nov. 22.

The current schedule for the budget debate, after the city manager’s scheduled delivery of his proposed budget this Friday, includes the following meetings:

  • Budget discussion – 9 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 23.
  • Budget discussion – 9 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 6.
  • Budget public hearing – 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 8.
  • Optional budget discussion – 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 15.
  • Optional budget discussion – 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 17.
  • Budget adoption – 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 22.
  • Tax levy adoption – 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 15.

Depending on whether the optional meetings are held, the public might get no clear indication of where aldermen stand on various proposed budget cuts and tax hikes until the night the budget is finally adopted.

In the debate on the current year’s budget, straw votes on what to do about library funding switched outcomes repeatedly from one meeting to the next and the consensus about what to do regarding other hot budget topics also shifted as aldermen received more feedback from their constituents.

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