Council says goodbye to Jean Baptiste

Ani Ajith

Two days ahead of a Q-and-A session with the Associated Student Government, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she anticipates students will be asking her to address their concerns regarding the three-unrelated housing ordinance.

“I’ll be there to tell them the city fights against eviction, that cities work to prevent evictions of their citizens,” Tisdahl said after the City Council meeting Monday. “I’m going to explain the purpose of city government to them.”

At Monday’s council meeting, aldermen and city staff also bade goodbye to Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd), who will become a Cook County Circuit Court judge Friday after 10 years as a council member.

During the Call of the Wards, Jean-Baptiste’s colleagues took turns reflecting on their professional and personal relationships with the three-term alderman, whose wife and daughter were also present at the meeting.

Alderman Jane Grover (7th) praised Jean-Baptiste for his “supreme civility and diplomatic touch,” sentiments echoed by other aldermen. Council members highlighted his work with at-risk youth, crime, job creation and “international commitment” with regards to his efforts to organize local support for the victims of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Tisdahl presented him with a copy of a council resolution commending Jean-Baptiste for his service and a plaque; City Clerk Rodney Greene presented the Haitian-born alderman with a framed picture and poem. Jean-Baptiste also received gifts from staff in various city departments, including many traditional gifts for a departing city leader – a gym bag from Parks & Recreation, a “standard mug” from Public Works and a full-sized green street sign marked “Ald. Jean-Baptiste Blvd.”

The departing alderman also received several bags, shirts, hats and a pair of sweatpants – city staff said he “made them sweat” with penetrating questions and detailed inquiries – in addition to standing invitations to fire station dinners and storytelling sessions at Evanston Public Library.

The council passed an ordinance amending the city’s rules on “green buildings” to allow new buildings between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet to either gain Leadership in Energy and Environment Design Silver certification or meet 15 requirements hammered out in a hastily arranged midday meeting last week between city staff and representatives from Evanston environmental groups.

During the citizen comment session, several residents who have participated in the negotiations over the Green Building Ordinance spoke in support of the 15 alternative requirements, which would apply to the 16,000-square-foot store family-owned Gordon Food Service has expressed interest in constructing on a plot of land Alderman Ann Rainey (8th) called an “environmental mess.”

The company has indicated it would not be able to meet at least five of the 15 alternative measures; aldermen urged the city staff to draft additional rules for new buildings that would allow developers to substitute environmental cleanup efforts for some of the 15 requirements.

Earlier in the meeting, Evanston Fire Chief Greg Klaiber addressed City Council to present the department’s annual report and present an ordinance amending the process of hiring new firefighters.

The Evanston fire department received more than 8,900 calls for service in 2010, the second-most calls in the history of the department, Klaiber said. In the last 25 years, calls to the fire department have increased 32 percent.

Klaiber also announced that the risk management agency, Insurance Services Office, improved its rating of Evanston fire services. The latest ISO ratings place Evanston in the top 1.3 percent of communities nationwide in terms of emergency response.

“This is a huge deal,” Klaiber said. “Those ratings directly affect property insurance values.”

City aldermen also reviewed an ordinance that would reduce the age requirement for new fire department hires from 21 to 20 years of age and award Evanston residents extra points on the civil service exam. Unlike Chicago, which requires its public workers to reside within city limits, many Evanston emergency workers live in other communities, Klaiber said.

“It’s really part of the long campaign that we have all waged to try to make sure that we diversify the force,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I appreciate that, even though it’s happening at my last meeting.”

Klaiber said his department will launch a community outreach program to attract more applicants to better represent the diversity of Evanston’s population.

“Our department does not reflect the demographics of our community,” Klaiber said.

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