The proposed dissolution of Evanston Township was noticeably absent from the official agenda at Tuesday night’s annual township meeting, but the issue was front and center for many of those who spoke.
At the first township board meeting since Evanston voters supporting township dissolution by a 67 to 33 percent margin, Evanston aldermen -- who double as township board members -- and city staff said they still had no immediate plans for actualizing the public consensus voiced during the March 20 elections.
Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th Ward) said that the city was still “exploring options” of what to do next. Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that the city never created a definitive plan of how to follow up a successful advisory referendum.
City of Evanston officials have explored the idea of dissolving Evanston Township and having the city assume its responsibilities in the hope that reduced office rental and personnel costs could save the city nearly $400,000. The township government currently levies taxes, administers a general assistance program and assists residents with property tax assessments.
The board’s hesitation to act immediately on the 2-to-1 ‘yes’ vote likely stems from its goal to steer clear of any legal ramifications that might accompany township dissolution. In November, Evanston City Attorney Grant Farrar warned that conflicting state laws determining the road to dissolution that could land the city in trouble.
With no clear path to follow and state amendment legislation in the Illinois General Assembly, city officials seem content to sit tight for the moment and brainstorm their next move.
But several citizens and township employees, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, openly voiced their to any move that would change how the township is currently run.
Both of Evanston Township’s elected officials -- Township Supervisor Patricia Vance and Township Assessor Bonnie Wilson -- spoke about the value the township offices brought to the city and its residents, providing examples of the personal and nuanced services they provide.
Evanston resident Brenda Foster supplied a firsthand account of such an interaction, relating how a township employee helped her correct a seven-year old tax problem that no one else could figure out.
“Had it not been for that office, I would probably still be in the same situation,” Foster said. “I would just like to publically say that I am highly appreciative, and I feel blessed that [the township office] was there. And I got money back!”
Longtime residents Albert Gibbs questioned whether the city would be able to efficiently assume township responsibilities.
“The city is having problems balancing their budget,” Gibbs said. “And, from what it appears, the township budget has been balanced. They may even have a surplus because of the efficient way that it has been managed and handled. Because of the expertise of the supervisor that cares beyond it just being a job. So I don’t see how…if you take if over how are you going to do a better job?”
Because Tuesday night was the annual meeting for all Evanston Township electors, any person who could prove they were an Evanston resident and a registered voter had the right to participate.
At the beginning of the meeting, both Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Evanston resident Padma Rao -- best known for her over tree removals -- were nominated to moderate the session. Tisdahl won by a 44 - 8 vote.
The next annual Evanston Township meeting is scheduled for April 16, 2013, but the board will likely convene before that date.