City questions tuition for leadership program

Mike Cherney

At a time when Evanston is facing millions of dollars in new expenses for the next year, some aldermen are questioning whether public funds should be used to pay the bill for seasoned employees to attend a civic leadership training program.

Evanston has been paying for city employees to attend the program, called Leadership Evanston, since it began in 1991.

Aldermen expressed support for the program’s mission at last week’s Evanston City Council meeting. But some said paying $900 for a 20-year veteran of Evanston Police Department to attend the program was “the hugest waste of a small amount of money,” as Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) called it.

“For a 20-year employee of the police department, we have already spent tens of thousands of dollars in training,” Rainey said. “I don’t think Leadership Evanston is going to add much to that person’s knowledge base.”

Participants in the 10-month program, sponsored by the Evanston Community Foundation, include municipal employees and local residents who meet monthly to learn about civic leadership through seminars and hands-on experience.

City Council approved the $900 for the police officer’s tuition last week, but some aldermen called for a policy review of how the city subsidizes employee participation.

Others said last week that the money is a small price to pay for the skills employees learn at the program, regardless of their current experience.

“We should always be interested in nurturing and developing leadership in Evanston,” said Ald. Edmund Moran (6th). “It’s a program the city should foster and encourage.”

Judy Kemp, chairwoman of the program’s steering committee, said she was “disappointed” that some city officials were second-guessing the program’s benefits. She said the program gives participants a broad perspective of how the community functions.

“We offer a valuable program and I’m pleased that they did finally see fit to honor the expense,” Kemp said. “It gives important insights into the city and how it works and how different aspects of the city interact with one another.”

The city, which usually sponsors one to three employees yearly, is not the only employer to send workers to the program, Kemp said. Other companies subsidize their employees’ tuition or give them time off so they can attend the program.

“They see it not only as something that will enhance that particular employee, but (as) what they bring back to the workplace in both the leadership skills and networking capability,” she said.

Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) said the issue was not whether Leadership Evanston was a good program but whether the money for the police officer could be used for police training in a more beneficial way.

“This is about how we spend precious police training funds,” he said at last week’s meeting. “I just find it as far as a use of training funds, it’s not appropriate.”

Kemp wouldn’t say whether she was concerned that the city might stop subsidizing employees — only that she looked forward to continuing an open dialogue with city officials.

“We have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said. “Obviously I’m going to continue to support the program and continue to be enthusiastic about what we have to offer.”

Reach Mike Cherney at [email protected].