Some Evanston council members argued Monday that the city should pick up the tab so they can hire consultants to increase communication with their constituents.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said council members should be able to hire people to help them get the message out about city programs.

“I really do not have the time to write a sentence of a newsletter,” Burns said, adding that if he did it “would be taking away precious time that I would rather be spending with my family and preparing for these meetings.”

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) said he has paid out of his own pocket to provide Spanish translation services at his ward meetings. “I’d like to put out more communications,” he said, “I could use help on that.”

But Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said that rather than having council members hire their own contractors to do the work, he’d prefer to have the city hire permanent staff to support the City Council.

He said Burns’ proposal that each alder be allocated $1,250 a month for communications services “seems like a lot.”

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he favored both ideas — adding staff and having a fund that alders could spend at their discretion. “It would allow us the flexibility to communicate with residents in the way that each of us sees is most effective for our particular communities.”

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said the council needs to come to grips with addressing the translation issue. “I’m a little horrified that a colleague should have to pay out of pocket for that,” she said.

But she added that she liked Nieuwsma’s idea of having the communications roles filled by somebody who was permanently on the city staff.

Mayor Daniel Biss raised concerns about creating a pot of money that would be under the spending control of elected officials rather than the city manager.

But Burns claimed that contractors hired under his proposal would still need to request compensation from the city purchasing department for work performed for council members that would have been approved “on the front end” by the city manager.

No action was taken on the proposal at Monday’s Rules Committee meeting, but the issue is expected to come up again during debate over the city’s 2023 budget.

The city manager is scheduled to release his proposed budget next Monday.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. I support adding multiple City staff in this domain, forming a much-needed, ideologically-vetted Ministry of Propaganda.

  2. Burns: “I don’t have time to write a newsletter.”

    If you actually look at the ward newsletters they are usually about 500 words, the bulk of which are just cut-and-paste jobs from city press releases.

    For a normal person it might take 30 minutes tops to put together.

    Burns’ latest newsletter had about 550 words, of which more than half were cut and pasted from city press releases.

    According to Reid, neither he nor Burns are college graduates so maybe this simple task of cutting and pasting other people’s words is difficult for them since virtually every university degree program requires introductory writing.

    It is rich that Reid supports this given he has never even published a newsletter.

    Giving the aldermen a slush fund like this is a really bad precedent, especially with people like Reid on council. We saw that he hired someone when he was clerk without getting the city manager’s approval and tried to hold all of the city’s bill payments hostage to get the city to pay this unauthorized person. Imagine the shenanigans that these people would be up to with a private slush fund.

    The city already has a communications person so if these aldermen need help writing an email they can contact her through the city manager. Having a translator available for ward meetings could also be coordinated through the city manager.

    1. I had to do a double – take when I read Burns’ comment. I’d be embarrassed to say that, as one of his duties is communicating with his constituents – it’s called “due diligence”…

      As for Reid, “the clown show continues”…

      “Oh, well… it’s only taxpayers’ money…” 😐

  3. Communications should be written by City staff only. Previously, Ward newsletters were created by the Assistant to the City Manager and reviewed by senior staff in the City Manager’s office (CMO). The CMO staffing level was reduced a few years ago. If staffing would increase, even part-time, the new person could write the Ward newsletters along with many other tasks. Doing multiple newsletters is quicker, as someone already noted, and info would be correct and standardized! Translations should be professional and paid by the City.

    I do not trust council members to hire independent professionals. Plus, City staff would need to train and oversee 9 new people in the City’s software and style, plus any replacements if they quit. What a nightmare if they all had access to the newsletter software (dozens of newsletters exist including Police and Fire).

    Yes, it would be a slush fund and Mr. Reid has a very bad HR track record.

  4. If you can’t write a sentence or even take the time to write a couple of paragraphs, then maybe you shouldn’t be in the position! I don’t want to pay more in taxes for some lazy alder person who wants someone else to do their job.

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