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Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, should learn to night whether anyone else on the City Council agrees with her that separating the Evanton Public Library from the city would be a good idea.

The City Council’s Rules Committee will receive a report from the city’s Corporation Counsel tonight on the legal options for switching library governance from the existing appointed semi-autonomous library board within city government to an independent library district controlled by an elected board.

Rainey has objected to recent large increases in library spending adopted by the board, which so far have been rubber-stamped by the City Council, despite exceeding a library spending cap imposed by referendum. She, alone among the aldermen, has pushed for forming a separate library district, which would relieve aldermen from any responsibility for the library.

Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar’s memo says there are two possible paths to establishing a separate library district:

  • The library board could adopt a resolution calling for conversion. If that resolutions was approved by the City Council within 60 days, the conversion could be done by a Circuit Court order.
  • Alternatively a binding referendum on the conversion could be placed on the election ballot if at least 10 percent of the city’s registered voters, roughly 4,500 people, signed a petition calling for the referendum.

Farrar said other issues including property transfer, liability for debts and establishing the tax rate for the new district were beyond the scope of his memo.

Were it established, a new library district, like most local government entities in Illinois, would be subject to a tax cap and would require referendum approval to exceed it.

Under the current system the library the library benefits from the city’s home rule power to impose property taxes without limitation and can exceed its tax cap without voter approval if aldermen agree to the higher spending level.

Illinois has more local government entities than any other state in the union — which many observers believe contributes to inefficiency and overall higher tax rates. Evanston just went through a years-long process to abolish one of those local government entities — Evanston Township. That may make other aldermen reluctant to support creation of a new government entity.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. Not a good idea.

    What kind of turnout can one expect for a library trustee election? What kind of candidate would be motivated to run? Presumably, people who are passionate about the library. Are they likely to be "responsible guardians of taxpayers money"? The current system at least provides some corrective feedback because the Council and Mayor do receive more attention. If Ald. Rainey really wants to affect the library board, she and her fellow aldermen would either nominate their own trustee candidates- or vote down one of the Mayor's. Or possibly change the appointment process altogether.

    1. Bad idea

      Privatization does not work. How many more examples do we need from cities around the country? If this goes through we will see cutbacks in services at the library, cuts in staff, the whole predictable set of consequences. How about raising taxes in a progressive way–on the richest in the city, so we can enjoy our precious public resources like the libraries–for years to come.

  2. Something needs doing

    Something needs to be done about an out-of-control library. Rainey's proposal needs to be done. The library leader and board members need to be elected representives of the people. Presently they are acting as the unelected tax man, which I thought was unconstitutional. I was wrong. "Taxation without representation is tyranny" is only in the Declaration of Independence.

    The library is under the protection of the Home Rule of Evanston and this needs to end. It is time to hold their feet to the fire and make them act in an accountable manner to Evanston taxpayers.

    1. You gonna run?
      You gonna run as the candidate to “rein-in” the library? Are there enough EvanstonNow malcontents to elect you? Or is it more likely a “Friend of the Public Library” will win on a platform of enhancing and adding to the branch libraries? Careful what you wish for.

      1. John,

        John,

        I don't think you understand. The library is now operating under Evanston's home rule power. They can do just about anything they want, tax wise.

        If removed from Evanston's umbrella, they will be limited in raising taxes to the legal limit. They have exceeded that limit for the last 2 years by huge percentages. In the future they will require a referendum. The voters will have more control over their tax increases. Right now, they have a rubberstamp city council that has never seen a penny of taxpayer money they didn't want to spend on some wingding project, like waffle & chicken or a patio on Howard.

        By the way, I have always considered you one of those malcontents from Evanston Now who would vote for me. I'm also counting on the other malcontents, like myself.

        Have a nice day.

        1. Where and When Petitions ?
          I am all in favor libraries but those running EPL have been making a lot of bad decisions in the last few years—and more than that.
          The budgets and overspending have taken off. They give in to the romance novel readers and keep/open branches with no evidence that they are needed—Evanston is a pretty small town with good transportation—and take on a lot of things not part of a library’s charter.

    2. My EPL experience

      All I know is that my patronage of EPL has increased significantly over the last 12 months.  Lectures and book clubs are more interesting and topical than every before.  A knowledgeable staff has helped me borrow audio books, select texts for the 2nd graders and made me aware of connections to resources at Northwestern.   I am not sure about the out-of-control part you reference.  The library is more valuable to me now than it has ever been.

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