Evanston aldermen approve ballot question on township dissolution


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Wally Bobkiewicz, acting supervisor of Evanston Township, discusses the potential dissolution of the township Monday night. Aldermen voted 7-2 to ask voters about the issue in the spring.

Patrick Svitek, City Editor

Aldermen voted Monday night to ask their constituents to determine the fate of Evanston Township, their final say on an issue they have been weighing for years.

The 7-2 decision came after City Council unanimously agreed to tweak the wording of the binding referendum question that will appear on the March 18, 2014, ballot. Instead of asking whether the township should be “continued,” voters will now choose whether the township should be “discontinued and abolished.”

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) and Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) opposed the measure. Both council members have expressed concerns about how prepared the city is to absorb the township’s duties, which include general assistance for the needy and tax advice for all residents.

Outgoing township assessor Bonnie Wilson argued her office’s efforts “could not be duplicated if the city takes over” its responsibilities. Wilson evoked Sharon Eckersall, the assessor-elect who was found dead in her home in September.

“If Sharon Eckersall were here today, she would join me in not supporting this ordinance,” Wilson told the aldermen, who also serve as trustees of the township.

Despite Wilson’s plea, the aldermen made up their minds with little discussion, passing on the opportunity to hear more information from acting township supervisor Wally Bobkiewicz about the potential transition. In a city memo dated Oct. 22, Bobkiewicz responded to several questions about the issue raised by the Evanston League of Women Voters. If handled by the city, the township’s services would generally remain unchanged while saving taxpayer money, according to the memo.

Wilson specifically objected to Bobkiewicz’s forecast that one staff member would be assigned to property tax assessment, saying her office “always needed two people” during its busiest times.

Last year, Evanston voters favored dissolving the township by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in a non-binding referendum. In more recent months, the township saw Eckersall’s sudden death and the abrupt resignation of supervisor Gary Gaspard, who had been widely criticized by trustees for how he managed his office’s finances.

The township board picked Bobkiewicz as Gaspard’s temporary replacement at its last meeting. On Monday, Bobkiewicz assured trustees he would neither accept nor seek additional benefits or pay for taking on the interim role.

At the past several council meetings, a small but vocal group of Evanston residents has shown up to oppose the binding referendum. One of them, Priscilla Giles, said the township’s services may decline in quality if they are folded into the city.

“The people deserve a specialty,” she told the aldermen.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PatrickSvitek