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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Alderman: Amending ‘brothel law’ a possibility

At a ward meeting Sunday afternoon, Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) told Northwestern students that amending the “three unrelated rule” remains a possibility.

In a room of mostly NU reporters, Fiske emphasized the law was meant to protect student residents, and the council will look to change it only if it proves to be ineffective at keeping people safe.

“This rule is focused on the landlords rather than the tenants,” Fiske said. “There are situations where people are being held hostage by the landlords. There’s no way that we have to control the landlords other than through an ordinance and through enforcement because we don’t have the staff to inspect each residence.”

Six students, including Ethan Merel, Associated Student Government external relations vice president, attended the meeting, held at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. Seven student reporters and one Evanston resident were also in attendance.

At the meeting, one student told Fiske the ordinance is “scary” to students. Fiske said she would work with fellow council members to make the ordinance less threatening to students.

However, the amendment process can take longer than six months, she said. With a council “very focused on process,” change to any legislation will not be pushed through easily. Fiske is open to working on an amendment in the future if the ordinance was deemed ineffective at keeping people safe, she said.

Merel said he was pleased to hear the alderman is willing to consider changing the law but was critical about whether or not the meeting was really helpful for students.

“Overall, I’m not sure how productive it was moving forward,” he said. “It was a nice gesture, though, for her to reach out to NU students. She seemed to be open to the idea of discussing an amendment with other aldermen, even if repealing the law isn’t possible.”

Fiske also reiterated the city’s stance that officials were not going to change how they enforce the law, commonly referred to as the “brothel law.”

“The city’s stance on the enforcement of that ordinance has never changed,” Fiske said.

A story published Tuesday in The Daily included interviews with several University and Evanston officials who said the city was planning to increase enforcement of the law on July 1, a stance Jeff Murphy, the city’s top official for building inspection, reiterated at a town hall meeting Tuesday night. Officials have since said they never planned enforcement changes.

Fiske stressed the need for the ordinance to protect the safety of residents as well as hold landlords accountable. Landlords can legally rent a residence to more than three people, she said. They must first attain a lodging house license for about $66 a year, she said.

After the meeting, Fiske expressed frustration with Tuesday’s town hall meeting. She said the aldermen and the city manager should have been invited, and Jeff Murphy should not have been the point person for the city at that time.

“The meeting was really poorly designed,” she said. “I don’t know why Jeff Murphy was asked. It would have been like asking one of the lower department heads to come in. Had we known about that meeting, I would have said to Betsi (Burns) and Burgie (Howard), ‘You’ve got the wrong person going.’

“This is a guy that deals with furnaces. This is not a guy that goes out and does public speaking,” she said. “He shouldn’t have been put in that situation.”

Fiske added she wants everyone to work together to change the perception that NU students are unwelcome in the Evanston community. She said last Tuesday’s meeting was counterintuitive to that effort.

“This to me was doing the exact opposite, and I have absolutely no patience for that,” she said. “The larger goal is to get everybody feeling like they’re part of a community. The city has bent over backwards to try to accommodate the perceived needs of NU students.”

After the meeting, Merel said the low turnout of students at the ward meeting could either be a good or bad indication of what will happen with the ordinance.

“On one hand, that’s regrettable, because it’s hard to implement change if students no longer care about the issue,” he said. “But it could also be a good thing, because we need to be calm in order to make actual change.”

As for Fiske, she said there must be better communication between the University, the city and the residents as the issue moves forward.

“We’re not Big Brother,” she said. “We’re trying to keep everybody safe.”

Kris Anne Bonifacio contributed reporting

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Alderman: Amending ‘brothel law’ a possibility