Proposed staff addition met with questioning from Evanston aldermen, Mental Health Board member

Manuel Rapada, Assistant City Editor

After Evanston aldermen questioned last week the need to create a new crisis intervention coordinator position, at least one member of the city’s Mental Health Board expressed similar concerns.

“For me, they never documented a clear need to have that position,” board member John Barfield told The Daily on Wednesday. “It’s not clear why the city manager wanted the position.”

At last week’s budget presentation to the Evanston City Council, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the proposed budget set aside $85,000, or 10 months of funding, for a new crisis intervention coordinator. Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said Wednesday the new position would help connect residents to the services they need in the community.

However, at last week’s meeting, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) called the funding, which represents less than 0.1 percent of the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, “one of the few mistakes in this budget.” The city already funds 10 to 20 organizations that are all somehow involved in crisis intervention counseling, Rainey said.

Barfield said he agreed “wholeheartedly” that nonprofits can handle the responsibilities of a crisis intervention coordinator. Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) asked Bobkiewicz if the city explored reaching out to nonprofits on a contract basis similar to how the city works with the Youth Job Center.

The addition to the city’s budget came from discussions between Bobkiewicz and members of the Mental Health Board, the city manager said during last week’s presentation. Bobkiewicz said the board had requested a three-member team, but Barfield said Wednesday there was not a clear consensus from members that this position was necessary.

Other members of the Mental Health Board could not immediately be reached.

Although aldermen agreed there was a need for helping residents access services, the questions they raised centered on whether this should be the responsibility of the city or nonprofits.

Grover asked Bobkiewicz at the presentation to provide aldermen information on what a crisis intervention coordinator would do, with Burrus adding a request for a list of area nonprofits that provide crisis intervention counseling services in some capacity.

Grover told The Daily on Wednesday that she didn’t have enough information about the position to say what her opinion of the budget provision is.

Bobkiewicz said he wanted to get 10 months of funding for the position factored into the budget but is willing to consider how the job can be accomplished in a different way.

“Once I have a dollar amount and am able to go back to the Mental Health Board, they may have some other ideas,” he said at last week’s meeting. “The question I asked was a very broad one, initially. Now, with a specific dollar amount, I may get a more specific answer.”

The city will hold a special city council meeting Saturday morning at the Morton Civic Center. A public hearing on the proposed budget is on the agenda.

Although Grover declined to speak on the proposed position specifically, she said the funds allocated through the board have an impact on thousands of Evanston residents.

“My sense though is that the city’s funding of human services through the Mental Health Board does indeed reflect the values and priorities of Evanston residents, that we do place a priority on funding services for those who need them,” Grover said.