Alderman claims bias in administrative hearings

Robin Rue Simmons.

Evanston Alderman Robin Rue Simmons claimed at Monday's Human Services Committee meeting that there's been discrimination against black people in city administrative hearings.

Without mentioning a specific hearing officer or the date of the alleged activity, Rue Simmons said that at least on one day "about a month ago" there were "some rulings that were discriminating against black residents" who'd received parking violations.


Kimberly Richardson.

Deputy City Manager Kimberly Richardson responded that city staff plans to propose amendments to the city code that would make changes to how candidates for the position of hearing officer are qualified and trained.

The hearing officers are required to be attorneys and are hired as contractors paid on an hourly basis, rather than as full-time city employees.

Richardson said the city has used the same three hearing officers for over a decade, but is planning to reduce that number to two.

She said the staff plans to provide training for the hearing officers on "implicit and explicit biases, filters and microaggressions."

She said the hearing officers also need to be able to explain why the outcome of one case was different from another, "if someone asks a question, versus to shut them down and not give the opportunity to respond to their concerns."

The hearing officers are also scheduled to receive additional training as the city expands the proportion of juvenile cases handled in the administrative hearing system starting in July, as a result of ordinances recently adopted by the City Council that will permit the diversion of more juvenile issues to city's administrative adjudication system from the county's Circuit Court.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she wants the city to track the rulings by hearing officer. "That's the way for us as a city to know that people are getting judged fairly," Fleming said.

"When a citizen tells us" they've been discriminated against, she added, "We don't know how much of that is necessarily factual or the citizen is mad about the outcome."

Rue Simmons said the data could help the city take enforcement action against hearing officers "that are a problem."

"These academic words -- implict bias, diversity, equity," Rue Simmons said, "at the end of the day black folks are in a room and they're getting a fine and white folks aren't. So that's what the concern is."

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