Evanston aldermen Monday introduced without debate an ordinance calling for a binding referendum on abolishing Evanston Township and turning its responsibilities over to the city.

Assuming the ordinance is adopted at the council’s next meeting Oct. 14, the issue will be on the election ballot next March.

The township provides general assistance to the indigent and tax appeal advice to homeowners — tasks which advocates of dissolution say could be handled more cost-effectively by the city.

Evanston’s aldermen already serve as the township’s board of trustees — but the township, which has the same boundaries as the city, has two part-time elected officials of its own — a supervisor and an assessor.

Townships were the earliest form of local government in Illinois and the entity now known as Evanston Township can trace its history to almost a decade before the creation of what’s now the City of Evanston, which itself is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

But the township’s total budget of about $1.7 milllion would be little more than a rounding error in the city’s budget that totals more than $250 million.

While two aldermen — Peter Braithwaite and Delores Holmes — have said they don’t support ending township government — they didn’t ask to have the measure taken off the consent agenda Monday night.

In public comment at Monday’s meeting, Priscilla Giles said the wording of last year’s advisory referendum, in which voters favored dissolution by a 2-1 margin, was confusing.

The wording for the new referendum is set by a state law authorizing the vote. It will ask voters to respond “Yes” or “No” to the question “Shall the township organization be continued in Evanston Township?”

Another resident, Betty Ester, said she wanted to debate people who support dissolution.

But City Attorney Grant Farrar said that under state law the aldermen and city staff can’t “electioneer” on referendum questions — can’t advocate one way or the other on them — so they wouldn’t be able to participate in debates, although city officials could distribute purely informational material about the question.

Some aldermen have long complained about what they see as inefficiencies in township operations and claim that township officials have been unresponsive to direction from the board.

Just last month aldermen sharply criticized a budget proposed by newly elected Supervisor Gary Gaspard that called for large spending increases. Monday night they adopted a township budget that holds the line on spending at last year’s level.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.