City makes plans to consolidate committees

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

Evanston officials are developing plans to consolidate the city’s many committees, commissions and boards to reduce bureaucratic delays.

The process, which began in January, is set to reduce the number of these groups from 45 to 34. The committees are being consolidated to make processes easier for both Evanston residents and committee members, said Kimberly Richardson, assistant to the city manager. The process is being overseen by the Rules Committee.

“Having this many committees is difficult for both the public and us to keep track of what’s going on,” said Ald. Brian Miller (9th) at last month’s Rules Committee meeting. “I’m in favor of consolidation for better process, more efficiency, et cetera.”

Staff proposed a tentative plan to combine several committees under larger groupings, such as an Equity and Empowerment committee, which would include the Housing and Homelessness Commission and the Human Relations Commission, among others. However, several aldermen at the Rules Committee meeting expressed concern that committees pulled into these larger groups were not compatible.

The Rules Committee recommended several committees that have similar missions or serve overlapping needs be combined into pairs, Richardson said.

“You pick the mission and you try to work together and create one complete mission that would encompass all the responsibilities of those individual committees,” she said.

Richardson said the original number of proposed committees, 27, was increased to 34 after the Rules Committee meeting in March, where aldermen decided to keep several committees unchanged, including the Zoning Board of Appeals. Richardson said the city manager’s office will have a more defined plan for the consolidation process at the Rules Committee meeting in May.

The Rules Committee discussed combining the Design and Project Review Committee and Sign Review and Appeals Board, as well as the Transportation and Parking Committee, the Environment Board and the Ladd Arboretum Committee.

Additionally, it is considering combining the Human Relations Commission, the American with Disabilities Act Advisory Board and the Housing and Homelessness Commission, as well as the Mental Health Board and the Housing and Community Development Act Committee, which Richardson said usually deal with the same applicants and have already combined some of their processes.

The Housing and Community Development Act Committee handles the city’s Community Development Block Grants, which are federal funds used to provide more opportunities to low- and moderate-income residents. The Mental Health Board works to improve mental health services in the city and also distributes funds to Evanston agencies. The two have combined some aspects of their grant application process.

“There’s a great deal of common purpose of those two bodies in that they in some cases have been funding the same agencies,” said Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants administrator.

Flax, whose department includes both the Mental Health Board and the Housing and Community Development Act Committee, said consolidation would make processes simpler for the agencies.

Additionally, making things easier for city staff and committee members is the primary aim of the consolidation process, Ald. Donald Wilson (4th), who sits on the Rules Committee, told the Daily.

“It’s harder to keep people engaged who are in these boards committees and commissions that meet more infrequently,” he said. “If you have something that meets on a more regular basis, you’ll really feel like you’re engaged.”

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