City chock full of bureaucracy

Breanne Gilpatrick

In case they haven’t figured it out already, Associated Student Government members are about to learn the hard way that they don’t have a monopoly on bureaucracy in Evanston.

If they haven’t done this already (and I’m sure some of them have), it might benefit ASG members to sit down and learn the ins and outs of the Evanston City Council. It will be pretty important if you want to push through an amendment reinstating student group bar nights. And it will help all of you (not just your City Council liaison) to stay involved in Evanston government in the future.

In fact, it wouldn’t hurt a non-ASG student to learn some of this either, because knowing the rules of the game makes watching a council meeting or reading an article about that meeting (because who wants to go to one of those if they don’t have to?) a lot simpler. Otherwise it’s kind of like watching football when you don’t know the difference between a field goal and a first down.

So, how does an idea become an ordinance anyway? The quick and simple version: Most ordinances start in one of the city’s four standing committees, made up of some or all of Evanston’s nine aldermen. It is then passed to the full council, who vote on it at two separate meetings. (yes, two), once to introduce it, the second time to make it law.

The kicker? Generally, because these meetings only happen every other week, it this takes at least a month for all of this to happen. And if an ordinance or amendment needs to be held to clarify wording to make sure the city doesn’t get sued (because aldermen have enough people doing that already) it could take even longer, months if a public hearing needs to be set. (Knowing this might have been helpful to know BEFORE the midnight ban was passed, but I’m sure ASG has been mocked enough already.)

And don’t forget there also are committees, commissions and boards covering site plans, preservation, arts, taxi cabs, liquor, libraries, parking – the list goes on – who sometimes weigh in, depending on the issue.

Sound complicated? Sound absurdly bureaucratic? You betcha. Welcome to American government. You honestly thought Evanston city government would be any more efficient?

And the board/committee/council hierarchy is complicated, you should see the meeting protocol. Maybe it’s just a matter of organization, but it seems like the council, mayor and city staff spend at least 20 minutes of every meeting figuring out who can introduce/second/table what.

And any time more than 15 residents show up for citizen comment, it’s a nightmare. How much time does each person get? Can people cede their times to other speakers? How do we keep all this straight, anyway?

And parliamentary procedure seemed so simple when you learned it in high school.

Luckily, the government officials know this city and the issues in front of them inside and out. They just get tripped up by the details.

But before you lose hope, here’s the good news: If all of this still doesn’t make any sense, there is an entire city staff of people willing to help explain it all to you. Your alderman probably would be willing to do the same.

And once you know the rules, following city council can be as easy as watching football. Easier actually, because I still don’t understand football.

City Editor Breanne Gilpatrick is a Medill senior. She can be reached at [email protected]