A long and sometimes contentious campaign season has ended. There are lessons to be learned from looking back, and now it is time to look back on this election season as one that offered lessons to be learned and to look ahead at the many things that still need to be done to make our City peaceful, affordable, and sustainable – in other words, liveable.
We welcome the new Mayor, Steve Hagerty, City Clerk Devon Reid, and returning City Council members Judy Fiske, Peter Braithwaite, Melissa Wynne, Don Wilson, Robin Rue, Thomas Suffredin, Eleanor Revelle, Ann Rainey, and Cicely Fleming.
In many respects, everyone is on the right track. Still we can see areas that could use a boost.
Financially, the City is in pretty good shape, paying its bills on time and delivering services as best it can within a closely watched budget. The City’s portion of the property tax bill hovers at around 20% of the entire bill, and the City has been careful to keep increases as low as possible.
A conservative approach to the unfunded liability in the police and firefighters pension funds – paying a little more than required actuarially – has been, we think, a good move.
Bringing down the City’s debt on bonds by taking advantage of lower interest rates at times and refinancing and by paying for some capital projects from the General (main operating) Fund is another important step toward overall financial health for the City – and for favorable ratings when more bonds are issued.
The enthusiasm shown for the new Robert Crown Center is gratifying. We hope money will follow the enthusiasm.
This is not to say the new Council does not face challenges, few of which are new.
Violence, police-community relations, and striving youth remain significant and long-term problems for our community. We believe, however, that the City, with help from community partners, is attempting to address these issues positively.
Although there remains a gap in trust between the police and parts of the community, the Police Department is addressing this and other problems with policy changes and with training and other oversight by Dr. Gilo Kwesi Logan.
In addition, the City is hosting meetings to facilitate the formation of a citizens police oversight board. We look forward to progress on this issue.
The City’s Youth and Young Adult Division is doing an admirable job of recruiting youth off the street and helping them to acquire job skills, life skills, and more.
Town/gown relations have improved over the past few years, with more cordial relations at the top and more faculty and students participating in the life of the community. This is a benefit for Evanstonians as well as Northwesterners.
We do see room for enhancement in a few areas: First we would love to see Northwestern’s apprentice program for City youth, which seems to have unparalleled success, expand, even if only one or two youth could be added each year.
Second, we think the annual $1 million good neighbor gift to the City should be that – a gift that the City decides how to spend.
Finally, last year we were told that the “Northwestern” beach is in fact now an “Evanston” beach, but few if any knew how to use it. The City should clarify what that means for Evanston residents and should work with Northwestern to ensure that there is access – including free nearby parking – to the beach.
Affordable housing remains a multi-layered problem in Evanston, and, while affordable housing was a goal of the City Council a few years ago, it was dropped in recent years.
We realize there is not a lot that the City can do, given the market forces at work. As Evanston becomes an increasingly popular place to live, rents and housing prices have risen dramatically over the past few years. While we acknowledge the move to hold down taxes, we do not feel that every creative possibility to provide affordable housing has been explored.
Aldermen will likely continue to face tensions in economic development: how to make things equitable or at least fair; how to encourage development and preserve neighborhoods; how to attract businesses and at the same time retain the businesses we have here.
Further, we feel the City should promulgate information about the availability of money and space here, to allow competitive bidding for economic development funds, rather than only deciding on a case-by-case basis when someone asks for funds.
Finally, we urge the Council to determine and make clear the rules for running for City office, taking into account the 1992 referendum and determining whether City elections are partisan or non-partisan. Had that information been clearly available for candidates in this election, perhaps the campaign season would not have had such a rocky start.
This is not a complete list, but we do not believe it is a daunting one.
To keep our City on track, the Council will need help from the community.
We encourage this new Council to reach out to those who put themselves on the line for public service but were not elected and invite them to the table.