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‘You’ve got mail’ — from your alderman

Evanston aldermen got good news and bad news Tuesday night about communicating with their constituents.

The good news — city staff can set up free e-mail lists for each alderman to use in communicating meeting announcements and other news to constituents.

The bad news — the city budget only allocated $500 for postal mailings by aldermen to constituents this year — a sum a single mailing by one alderman could exhaust.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, test-drove the e-mail list system, and in three months she’s only sent out one message.

But several aldermen at Tuesday’s Rules Committee meeting seemed interested in the new service.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, asked whether the e-mail addresses of residents who signed up for such a list would remain confidential, and Alderman Wynne said there could be an issue of whether they are subject to disclosure under the state’s freedom of information act. She also noted that state laws would bar aldermen from using city resources, including the e-mail list, for election campaign purposes.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, for several years has used a commercial message board service to communicate with her constituents — and let them post messages as well.

As currently configured, the city’s system only allows the alderman to post messages.

Residents can subscribe to the Third Ward list and other city newsletters on the city’s web site.

Ald. Wynne said she has often used fliers distributed door-to-door by volunteers to announce meetings, but said it’s difficult to get the handbills into condos and apartment buildings.

Other aldermen also said they’ve had trouble getting fliers out to the community.

The cost of mailings frequently arises when aldermen want to hold a community meeting on an issue and ask the city staff for help in getting news out about the upcoming event.

Alderman Steven Bernstein, 4th Ward, suggested meeting notices might be sent with the city’s water bills, but City Manager Julia Carroll noted that the water bills are only sent out six times a year, and sometimes aldermen have requested that fliers be distributed on very short notice.

The city also distributes a quarterly newsletter to residents which could include ward meeting notices.

The aldermen have widely varying styles about holding community meetings. Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, says he never schedules ward-wide meetings because his ward spans a wide area in which issues are very diverse. Instead he holds neighborhood meetings as different issues arise.

By contrast Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, holds a ward-wide meeting on the same night each month at the same location, which is routinely announced in city newsletters.

The aldermen didn’t reach consensus on how much to budget for mailings to constituents next year, but Ald. Tisdahl suggested a figure of $2,000 per alderman.

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