Aldermen threaten to dissolve commission

Megan Crepeau

Aldermen held a special City Council meeting Monday night to discuss the Evanston Plan Commission’s “dysfunctional” behavior at a previous meeting Wednesday night.

That meeting ended when three commissioners walked out of the room to protest an impending vote on a segment of the city’s downtown plan.

“When I read the news report of this, I think it’s fair to say I was appalled,” said Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd). “I have really serious concerns about the function of the Plan Commission. I don’t think it’s acceptable. A plan commission has to function.”

The Commission’s May 14 meeting was scheduled to review a section of the downtown plan involving height restrictions on buildings in the central core district, which Commissioner Johanna Nyden proposed be limited to 25 stories, down from the current 42. Limiting the height of buildings in the district would exclude the proposed 38-story tower at 708 Church St.

Chairman James Woods, who is in favor of the tower, was not present at the meeting. Some members, including Vice Chairman Stuart Opdycke, felt that the anti-tower contingent of the Plan Commission intended to take advantage of his absence by forcing a vote on the issue. Opdycke wrote a letter to aldermen saying that when he saw what was happening, he felt he had to somehow stop the meeting from proceeding. He left the meeting and two other commissioners followed.

“It dawned on me what was happening and I did not want to be party to it,” Opdycke said in the letter. “I did not want to preside, as vice chair, over a carefully choreographed parliamentary stunt. With that, I left the building, went home and had a beer.”

Aldermen also addressed accusations of other unprofessional behavior from commissioners, including alleged verbal slights.

“(This is) a very clear signal that there was a poison element to the Plan Commission’s charge, given their membership,” said Ald. Edmund Moran (6th). “(There is) a poison element with respect to the deliberations and the work of the Plan Commission.”

No specific decisions were made as to how to handle the commission’s behavior, but more than one alderman recommended that the city disband the group or ask its members to resign.

“If Plan Commission members cannot live up to our expectations of civil behavior, I think they should resign,” said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th). “This is a very dysfunctional group.”

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) told the council not to abandon the commission.

“In the city of Evanston, we rely very heavily on (the commission’s) expertise to inform us,” he said. “To the extent that you think you can work out these differences, I think we ought to do that … when we run into a problem we don’t just flush it away.”

Mayor Lorraine Morton spoke in the middle of the meeting to express concern that she had not heard anything about what had gone on with the commissioners, who the mayor’s office appoints.

“I think I could have resolved it. I have that much confidence in myself,” she said. “I’ll see if I can’t bring about some niceness … I am willing to work with them if they wish to do so.”

Ald. Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th) said she would accept Morton’s offer.

“I support the mayor’s plan to fix everything,” she said.

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