Some aldermen left in the dark on ‘Brothel’ violation list

Patrick Svitek

Even as they weighed removing from the city’s website a list of 52 properties under investigation for code violations, several aldermen at Monday night’s council meeting said the controversial index was a new concept for them.

Some said they first heard of the list only after an article about it was printed in the Oct. 4 edition of The Daily and later by other Evanston publications.

The property listings were officially handed over to Northwestern officials at a Sept. 29 meeting involving a joint University-city committee, which includes Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) and Ald. Jane Grover (7th).

Holmes on Tuesday night confirmed all three aldermen were present at that gathering and fully knowledgeable of the list’s disclosure to the University.

As for the council’s six other aldermen – she declined to comment on their knowledge of the more than 50 properties described as “open building and/or overcrowding cases under investigation by the City of Evanston as of Sept. 28, 2011.”

“I have no idea how they found out or didn’t find out about it,” Holmes said of her council peers.

During Monday night’s planning and development committee meeting, that knowledge level took center stage as some aldermen questioned why they had not received the news release attached to the property listings.

In that news release, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and director of community and economic development

Steve Griffin clarified the city’s over-occupancy enforcement strategy in response to an Oct. 3 article in The Daily.

Planning and development committee chair Ald. Don Wilson (4th) told council members he felt blind-sided after spotting the property directory in The Daily last week.

On Tuesday night, Wilson said he was relieved his committee eventually voted to take the contentious listings off the Evanston website. But he added he was more concerned about the attached news release posing greater transparency issues.

“I was disappointed the press release was not shared with the rest of us,” Wilson said, referring to the aldermen outside the NU-city committee and local reporters.

At Monday’s council meeting Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) called the council’s lack of awareness “embarrassing,” adding elected officials “should know about these things.”

One building owner, Rebecca Mati of ANG Management, echoed Rainey’s sentiments, recalling what she said was an ignorance among some aldermen.

“It was obvious there were aldermen who had no idea about that list,” she said. “They were as caught off guard as the landlords.”

The list was an even fresher revelation to Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th), who said she was not fully familiar with it until stepping into the council chambers Monday night.

“I heard that there was a list out there, but I didn’t exactly know where or who it was from,” she said Tuesday.

But because Burrus works in the University’s Office of Corporate Relations, she said she always distances herself from “anything to do with NU” leading up to council discussions.

With the property listings officially retracted, some dispute remains among the several landlords who showed up at Monday’s council meeting.

Mati said the city’s faulty methodology in curating the list is similar to another council debate – new development along Central Street.

She said some complaints on the original index were as many as three years old. Mati added some listings were reported by anonymous observers and never followed up on by city personnel.

Such negligence would be like complaining about stumbling upon a mouse in a Central Street cafe’s bathroom two years ago, Mati said.

“How does that work?” she said Tuesday night. “If the list is antiquated? Or a fraud? Or not up to date?”

Aldermen declined to comment on the index’s credibility but Wilson said he was mostly satisfied with Monday’s outcome.

“I definitely believe I was heard and things will change going forward,” he said.

The Daily was unable to reach other city officials, including Evanston spokesman Eric Palmer, on Tuesday evening.

Kimberly Railey contributed reporting.

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