Evanston Township issue fades a year after referendum

The two top Evanston Township officials announced their retirement at the annual township meeting at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center Tuesday night. Township Supervisor Patricia Vance, who decided to not run for re-election after 12 years in office and will step down next month, is applauded after giving an impassioned speech on civil service.

Oliver Ortega/The Daily Northwestern

The two top Evanston Township officials announced their retirement at the annual township meeting at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center Tuesday night. Township Supervisor Patricia Vance, who decided to not run for re-election after 12 years in office and will step down next month, is applauded after giving an impassioned speech on civil service.

Oliver Ortega, Reporter

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Though the topic was absent from the agenda, Evanston residents voiced their support for maintaining Evanston Township at the annual township meeting Tuesday night, more than a year after residents voted by a 2-to-1 margin in favor of pursuing dissolution in an advisory referendum.

Township officials delivered an annual report on the township’s activities and financial standing at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center to an audience of about 50.

The generally lighthearted meeting starkly contrasted with last year’s contentious discussions on dissolving the township, which shares the same borders as the city of Evanston. Township opponents argue dissolving the township and having the city assume its responsibilities could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, but supporters say the township provides essential tax-related services.

The push culminated in an advisory referendum last March in which 67 percent of voters indicated they wanted to see the township terminated. But the city never created a definitive plan on how to follow up, and the issue fell by the wayside.

Tuesday’s meeting took an emotional turn as both top township officials, supervisor Patricia Vance and assessor Bonnie Wilson, announced their retirement and remembered their time on the job.

“I’ll take with me memories with the rain, it’s so good to say,” said Vance, who has been at the post for 12 years and decided not to run for re-election. “Thank you, my fellow electors.”

Wilson said she believes she is leaving the township in a much stronger position than it was in when she started three years ago.

“Not many people understood what we did,” Wilson said. “Today, we serve all the wards in the city, and when I go to community events, I have somebody who stops me and thanks me.”

Wilson and a few residents took the floor to speak out in favor of the township, which operates on a $1.5 million budget primarily to administer the city’s general financial assistance program, aid Evanston residents with tax-related services such as filing property assessment appeals and run an employment program.

“The elimination of this township could be a huge disservice to the people it now serves,” area resident Priscilla Giles said.

In Springfield, state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) has picked up the ball on the township issue, introducing a bill that would allow Evanston residents to vote on township dissolution, although it was originally intended as a broader measure.

Last February, former state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) put forth a similar bill that was eventually defeated following lobbying by the Township Officials of Illinois group.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said the state’s ongoing pension crisis had greatly diminished the urgency behind the topic of township dissolution. Though she supports dissolving the township, she said she predicts Biss’ bill will fail due to the current focus on pension reform and the lobbying power of township officials.

“Pensions are just such a major issue right now,” Tisdahl said. “I don’t see Sen. Biss’ bill going anywhere.”

Bryan Smith, executive director of the Township Officials of Illinois group, sent a memo to township officials across the state last week urging them to oppose Biss’ bill, which has already cleared a state Senate committee.

In an effort to save money, the township’s offices will be moved to the basement of the civic center in September.

The next township meeting is scheduled for April 8, 2014.

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