On a night when the Human Services Committee approved the 2014 Township budget, a special Township meeting of Township residents called by petition gave Township clients a chance to tell the Township Board of Trustees – all but two of whom were present – what the Township meant to them. The meeting took place on Dec. 2 after the City’s Human Services committee meeting.
Clerk Rodney Greene said Evanston resident Jackie April – a newcomer to Council chambers – had gathered the signatures required for the special meeting. She was apparently assisted by Township client Kevin Johnson. One alderman noted that Council Chambers and the foyer were full of people Council had never seen before. Township clients, sympathizers and community activists presented their views.
All residents of Evanston Township, which is coterminous with the City of Evanston, are electors of the Township, and the Township’s Board of Trustees is composed of the nine aldermen and the Mayor. All but Alderman Ann Rainey, whose Eighth Ward includes a large number of Township clients, and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl attended the special meeting. Aldermen/trustees did not sit on the dais, per the instruction of Clerk Greene, as this was an elector-called meeting and not a Board meeting.
Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne was elected moderator of the meeting.
When the non-binding Township dissolution referendum was debated two years ago, a similar meeting devolved into a circus atmosphere of recrimination and shouting. The Dec. 2 meeting could not have been more different, as residents respectfully implored trustees to reconsider placing a dissolution referendum on the ballot, while singing the praises of the Township and its staff. No one spoke in favor of Township dissolution.
After the citizens spoke, Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, asked City Manager (and acting Township Supervisor) Wally Bobkiewicz to deliver a report as to the City’s plan for taking over Township services. In response, Mr. Bobkiewicz read from his Oct. 22 response to questions submitted by the League of Women Voters.
Initially, he faced the dais, but upon a request from Ald. Braithwaite, Mr. Bobkiewicz turned to face the crowd before delivering his report. The plan, as currently configured, calls for the continuation of nearly all Township services, performed by most probably the same employees. Savings will be realized in consolidation of certain administrative functions such as payroll. Rent savings were realized already when the Township moved to the Civic Center in September. When rent savings are taken out, the total savings to taxpayers appears to be $90,000 or less.
The report prompted local activist Madelyn Ducre to ask why, if all services remain the same, the Township should be dissolved. Highlighting her point, the Human Services committee approved the 2014 Township budget, which mirrored recent budgets.
More than 15 residents spoke about what the Township meant to them and the community. Ron Captor said that if the Township moves to the City, clients will become numbers rather than humans. “You will be taking away the human aspect of what these people do for us,” he said. “You will never be able to meet a counselor who cares about you and knows your name.”
Several residents said that elimination of the Township might result in an increase in crime. “We’re just trying to survive out here,” said Christopher Robinson. Without assistance, people will be forced to turn to “things we don’t want to do” just to survive.
Tammy Seals said, “If you take [General Assistance] away, there’s going to be a lot of robberies.”
Doray Stein of Hinman Street in the Third Ward said that the Township stepped in when CitiBank failed to apply a mortgage payment and threatened foreclosure. She said she did not have the resources to make an extra mortgage payment, and the Township stepped in and made it for her. “They saved me,” she said.
Bruce McClain said of the Township, “They were there in my hour of need.” He called on voters to preserve the Township, to help others in their hours of need.
Many residents spoke of the difficulty of getting a job in the current economy. They consistently and glowingly praised Township counselor Henry Colquitt for his dedication and humanity. “Colquitt went out of his way to help me. A lot,” said Barbara Hyde.
Albert “Peter” Gibbs said the dissolution referendum showed that “the welfare of the people is in the basement of government concerns.”
On the whole, the meeting remained positive, with residents calling on the community to exercise their power and vote. “We can control whether or not this happens,” said Donald Tenant. “We need to take it upon ourselves to have a [voter] registration drive.”
The referendum will be on the ballot in March unless the City Council instructs Clerk Greene to ask the County to remove it from the ballot.