As Evanston Township continues its multifaceted transition, interim Township Supervisor Wally Bobkiewicz, who is also Evanston City Manager, attempted to bring some clarity to the process during the Nov. 4 Rules Committee meeting. A three-page memorandum and Mr. Bobkiewicz’s comments came in response to an Oct. 1 letter from the League of Women Voters of Evanston (LWVE) seeking transition details.
The Township transition comes in three separate stages. First, in August, the Township relocated its offices from Dodge Avenue to the Civic Center. Second, the City Council, which also sits as the Township Board of Trustees, recently approved, a ballot initiative that, if passed, will result in the dissolution of the Township. The initiative is made possible by a new state law passed for the purpose of allowing Evanston to hold such a vote.
Third, the Township’s two leaders, elected last spring, must be replaced. Township Supervisor Gary Gaspard resigned last month, citing the time commitment required by the part-time position. Township Assessor-elect Sharon Eckersall died in August, leaving the Township without an assessor when Bonnie Wilson’s term expires Jan.1.
While the LWVE questions focused on the results of Township dissolution, the fact that Mr. Bobkiewicz has taken over on an interim basis for the departed Mr. Gaspard appears, effectively, to make the transition immediate – at least on an interim basis. What the LWVE, and Evanston residents, will get is a sort of trial run: This is how the City will handle Township functions, because the City right now handles Township functions, except for those of the Township Assessor.
At the Rules Committee meeting, Mr. Bobkiewicz said the Township’s central function is the distribution of General Assistance funds to the neediest Evanston citizens, those who cannot get assistance from any other source. Identifying and counseling those in need is a necessary component of aid distribution, he said.
Those functions will shift to the City’s Department of Health. Since Mr. Gaspard’s resignation, Health Director Evonda Thomas-Smith has been conducting all day-to-day operations, assisted by the remaining Township staff. Ms. Thomas-Smith told the RoundTable that she believes in the core function of the Township, and that the City must not neglect or forget its neediest residents.
Mr. Bobkiewicz’s memo said, “It is my plan that General Assistance and Emergency Assistance will continue at the same level as provided by the Township.” He proposed the creation, or rather, the re-creation, of a Human Services division within the Health Department.
The Township Assessor’s functions, according to Mr. Bobkiewicz, would be placed within the City’s Administrative Services Department Finance Division.
Many current Township employees will be absorbed into the City’s payroll, said Mr. Bobkiewicz, either in a similar role or in another position. If a suitable job cannot be found, he said, an “appropriate severance” will be provided.
Mr. Bobkiewicz’s memo proposed a series of public meetings with Ms. Thomas-Smith, Community Development Director Mark Muenzer and Interim Parks Director Joe McRae to “review the re-creation of the Human Services Division and potential existing City services which may join General Assistance and Emergency Assistance in that Division and report back to the City Council in January, 2014.”
Some members of City Council, chief among them Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, questioned the issue of holding public meetings prior to the March dissolution referendum. Such meetings, she said, “could be seen as campaigning,” which is illegal under Illinois law. “I feel it would be very difficult, knowing how some people would respond, to avoid electioneering,” she said.
“We certainly don’t want to do any electioneering,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz. He proposed revisiting the issue at upcoming Council or Committee meetings.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, called upon the League of Women Voters to provide guidance as to how to approach community meetings in the face of a proposed dissolution resolution. The City held such meetings prior to the non-binding dissolution referendum in 2012.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said the transition of Township function from the Township as separate entity to the City will result in a savings of about $225,000 per year. The bulk of that savings, about $160,000 in annual rent, has already been realized as of Sept. 1, he said. Therefore, actual savings to the City will be about $65,000 per year, or less than $1 per Evanston resident.
If the referendum to dissolve the Township passes, the current two Township levies – 0.45 percent of a property tax bill for the General Assistance Fund and 0.12 percent of the bill for the Town Fund – would be combined into a single General Assistance fund levy, said Mr. Bobkiewicz. The Town Fund portion, which covers Township overhead, would be absorbed into the City’s General Fund, he said.