Rules committee votes to appoint subcommittee to evaluate Code of Ethics

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) at a city meeting. Rainey’s ethics violations revealed loopholes in the Code of Ethics.

Sneha Dey, Assistant City Editor

Aldermen decided at a Rules Committee meeting Tuesday to appoint a subcommittee that will re-examine the city’s Code of Ethics.

At a previous Rules Committee meeting in December, aldermen discovered loopholes in the Code of Ethics while reviewing a report from the Board of Ethics regarding Ald. Ann Rainey’s (8th) violations of the code.

In October, two ethics complaints were filed against Rainey, based on her support of Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, a group of private donors that proposed the demolition of the Harley Clarke Mansion — a historic landmark on the lakefront in north Evanston.

Though aldermen voted to go forward with the Harley Clarke demolition in July, City Council unanimously reversed their decision in December, sparing the mansion.

In a memorandum submitted to City Council, the Board of Ethics recommended that Rainey recuse herself from any future discussion involving Harley Clarke. While Rainey did recuse herself from discussions about the board’s findings at the December Rules Committee meeting, she ultimately voted with other aldermen to place the report on file — breaking a tie in her favor and effectively stopping any future action on the subject.

According to the City Code, employees and elected officials face different penalties when they violate the Code of Ethics; suspension and higher-level disciplinary action is typically reserved for employees.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said elected officials face “very different circumstances” and recommended two separate codes, one for staff members and one for elected officials.

“(Revising the code) isn’t just a good idea, but something we need to do,” Wilson said. “Clearly, the Ethics Board was put in a situation that is not fair to them.”

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) agreed that subcommittees are a “much better forum” for identifying mistakes and revisions in city code.

The proposed subcommittee will most likely be comprised of three alderman, city attorney Michelle Masoncup and Mark Sheldon, a former chair of the Board of Ethics. The chair of the subcommittee will be announced at the committee’s next meeting in April.

Aldermen also altered the city code to prohibit residents from ceding time to other speakers during public comment at City Council meetings. Current city code limits citizen comment to 45 minutes at City Council. The 45 minutes is evenly allocated to the number speakers; however, commenters may speak only for a maximum of three minutes.

Wynne described her experience at meetings without any time limits.

“Citizen comments would go on for two and a half hours. People had to leave because they had to get up and go to work the next day,” Wynne said. “We exhausted everyone in the room, including us.”

Resident Betty Ester said she rejects aldermen connoting long citizen comments as negative. She expressed her frustration when citizens “get up and leave.”

She asked the aldermen to encourage residents to stay for the debate during city meetings instead of leaving after public comment concludes.

“I know we talk about time, (about how) we need to go home,” Ester said. “That’s kind of insulting. The people (chose to come) here and spend their time here.”

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) proposed allowing residents to give presentations to aldermen and other city officials outside of the time allotted during citizen comment. However, Mayor Steve Hagerty cautioned putting forward special interest groups when committees have already put in the time. Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) suggested that those who want to make presentations should contact the chair of the specific committee “well in advance.”

The formal process for requesting presentation time will be discussed at the next Rules Committee meeting in April.

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Twitter: @snehadey_

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