At its Aug. 5 meeting, the Human Services Committee grappled with a combative Gary Gaspard, the new Evanston Township Supervisor, elected just this April, over a Township budget that Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes called “embarrassing” and Ninth Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus labeled “insulting.” The Township has been operating without a budget since April, despite the fact that legally a budget must be passed by the end of June, and will continue to operate under 2012 numbers as a stopgap.
An ordinance that would extend the 2012 budget through the end of calendar year 2013, then change the Township's fiscal year to a calendar year, was introduced a week later during a special Township meeting. The City Council and Mayor serve as trustees of the Evanston Township, the borders of which are the same as the City’s.
Also at the Aug. 12 Township meeting, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz announced that an ordinance calling for a special referendum to dissolve the Township would be introduced during Council's Sept. 16 meeting. If the issue is placed on the ballot voters could choose to approve or disapprove the dissolution.
Dissolution is possible under a new state law signed by Governor Pat Quinn on Aug 2. If the Township is dissolved, the City would take over its functions. These are primarily the distribution of General Assistance (GA) funds and the operations of the Township Assessor's office.
The Human Services Committee of City Council oversees the Township, approving its bills and budget.
The agenda for the Committee's Aug. 5 meeting included a seemingly neutral two-word item: “Township Budget.” At that meeting, though, committee members took turns expressing anger, dismay, embarrassment, disappointment and bafflement at the budget presented.
A parade of representatives of not-for-profits spoke, decrying the elimination of funds for mental health agencies in the City. Other residents spoke about confusion engendered by the mingling of City and Township business before the committee.
Through it all, Supervisor Gaspard defended his vision for the Township. While admitting that the budget contained errors, he initially blamed his staff for them. “The Township is not really well recognized for what it has been doing,” he said in response to criticism of a line item paying for a Township Outreach Coordinator. “I just want the Township to do more than just signing checks,” he continued.
“The budget presented to us is completely out of line,” said Ald. Burrus. “It is insulting to the Township Trustees; it is insulting to the not-for-profit community” because it cuts out funding they have received from the Township for years, even decades.
“I'm just sort of baffled by this all,” said Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward. “Mr. Gaspard, I get the sense that you have not gotten out of campaign mode... By your own admission you have no oversight of the Township Office” and its main function, the distribution of GA funds. “Immediate supervision and an understanding of your staff's roles are imperative.”
The budget has been in the works for months. Ald. Holmes said that she and Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, met with Mr. Gaspard on at least two occasions in an effort to assist Mr. Gaspard in creating a budget that could be presented to the full Council. Ald. Holmes said that Mr. Gaspard did not follow any of their suggestions.
Mr. Gaspard disagreed. “This is your budget,” he said. “These are your numbers.”
“My budget?” replied Ald. Holmes. “Are you kidding me? Mr. Gaspard, I had two meetings with you because the budget was so embarrassing I asked that it be held. I did not want to go there, but I will go there.” When Mr. Gaspard said the budget numbers were hers, Ald. Holmes shot back, “I will not allow you to lie on me in public.”
“That was an illegal meeting, by the way,” said Mr. Gaspard.
“Clearly, we've lost our way,” said Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward.
The Committee determined that it could not improve the budget sufficiently to present it to the full Council. “It's sort of like eating an elephant – I don't know where to start,” said Ald. Braithwaite. “I don't feel like we're going to hash this out tonight.”
The Committee ultimately voted to hold the budget in committee while Matt Swentkofske, the City's Intergovernmental Affairs Coordinator, works with Mr. Gaspard on it.
By Aug. 12, the budget discussions appeared moot, at least until year's end, as the Township Trustees introduced a resolution under which the 2012-13 fiscal year budget would apply to calendar year 2013. Thereafter, the Township would proceed on a calendar-year basis.
It may be a short run, however, as the dissolution referendum will in all likelihood appear on the April general election ballot. Residents voted overwhelmingly to dissolve the Township in a non-binding referendum just last year.