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.