Evanston Township plans next steps after supervisor resigns

Patrick Svitek, City Editor

Evanston officials began plotting the immediate future of the township this week, hoping to restore order following the abrupt resignation of embattled supervisor Gary Gaspard.

The township board turned the first page Monday, appointing city manager Wally Bobkiewicz to temporarily replace Gaspard. The trustees picked Evonda Thomas-Smith, director of the city’s health department, to handle the day-to-day duties of the job.

On Thursday, Bobkiewicz said the township rehired office manager Rod Mitchell, one of two employees fired by Gaspard. The township will continue to function without the position held by the second worker who Gaspard let go, the interim supervisor said.

Gaspard’s resignation was effective Oct. 18, less than five months after he was elected. In a brief letter to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and city clerk Rodney Greene a day earlier, Gaspard wrote he could no longer handle the time commitment of the part-time position.

His departure came after a series of his decisions left township trustees with the impression he did not understand the full scope of the job. Aldermen also serve as trustees of the township, a separate entity with the same boundaries as the city. It administers general assistance for the needy and provides tax advice for residents.

On Thursday night, Ald. Jane Grover (7th) applauded Gaspard’s positive attitude toward the job but said the township board had “significant issues” with his stewardship of the office’s finances. In August, the Human Services Committee refused to approve Gaspard’s proposed township budget, which called for a 29 percent increase in spending.

“We have a fiscal problem in this community, and to present a budget like this — I think it’s insulting to the township trustees,” Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) told Gaspard at the time.

Gaspard further drew the ire of the trustees when his office asked them to approve a more than $17,000 bill for newspaper advertisements for township job openings, one of which they had not yet approved. Gaspard attributed the eyebrow-raising invoice to a misunderstanding he had with a staff member.

Meanwhile, the city has moved closer to abolishing the township. The council is expected to vote Monday night on asking Evanston voters as soon as March whether they want to get rid of the township. Bobkiewicz said he will detail the potential transition and address similar issues raised by the Evanston League of Women Voters.

Grover said she would like to see the health department absorb the township’s responsibilities if Evanston residents vote to eliminate it in March. The department already offers similar services and is “closely connected to our most vulnerable residents,” she said.

Grover added that Thomas-Smith would be the ideal candidate to lead the township, though she lives in Chicago and cannot formally hold the position under the law.

On Thursday night, township assessor Bonnie Wilson was unfazed by Gaspard’s exit, stressing that it does not affect her work. Wilson has vocally opposed dissolving the township, telling the council it remains a necessary form of government for the neediest members of the community.

“Our goals have not changed. Our goals are the same,” she said, referring to her township colleagues. “I am going to continue doing what I’ve done.”

Gaspard declined to comment on his resignation last week, saying he was preparing a statement for reporters. He said Thursday night he will return a request for comment Friday.

Asked about Gaspard’s next step, Grover said, “I really hope he’ll use his enthusiasm to continue to serve our community.”

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