Alderman Robin Rue Simmons faces Evanston ethics board after conflict of interest complaint


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) looks on at a meeting. Rue Simmons faces scrutiny over allegations of issues with conflict of interest.

Christopher Vazquez, Assistant Video Editor

The city’s Board of Ethics announced Tuesday that it will hear a complaint over a conflict of interest claim surrounding grant funding received in 2017 by Chicago nonprofit Sunshine Enterprises, which employs Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th).

Evanston resident Misty Witenberg, who ran for alderman against Rue Simmons in 2017, submitted a complaint with nine allegations against Rue Simmons. The board said at a meeting Tuesday all but one of the allegations fall outside of its purview.

Rue Simmons and Witenberg both faced the board Tuesday, as did Joel Hamernick, the executive director of Sunshine Gospel Industries, the organization that launched and oversees Sunshine Enterprises. Rue Simmons has worked for Sunshine Enterprises — which provides training in business management and development to local entrepreneurs — on small business development.

The accepted complaint brought by Witenberg alleges that by serving on committees that vote on Community Development Block Grant funding, Rue Simmons did not take sufficient steps to avoid conflicts of interest. The board said because Rue Simmons has been “open and honest” about her role at Sunshine Enterprises, members of the city committees she serves on should “come to their own conclusions” about the conflicts.

Similar allegations of potential conflicts of interest due to her involvement with the organization also arose while she was running for alderman — a detail Rue Simmons recalled while addressing the board on Tuesday.

The alderman also said her predecessor, Ald. Delores Holmes (5th), had advised her on which committees to join. Rue Simmons said Sunshine Enterprises has not received any grants since her election.

Witenberg additionally alleged that Rue Simmons received funding from the city’s compensation to the organization, impairing her independent judgment while voting on grant requests. The board declared this allegation to be out of its purview.

In another allegation that the board said fell out of its jurisdiction, Witenberg alleged Sunshine Enterprises used facilities owned by the city that are closed to the public. Rue Simmons said the organization called ahead to reserve space for such activities.

“We are a nonprofit that is serving the community and we have the right to do so,” Rue Simmons said.

Hamernick said Sunshine Enterprises does not currently receive funds from Evanston or the Community Development Block Grant program. He also said the organization would not seek additional funding from the city.

In response, the board declared that conflict of interest claims regarding future grant funding was thus moot.

The board will hear the complaint on May 22.

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