Ethics reform deferred to Nov. 25 meeting


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th). Wilson suggested the Rules Committee rule on potential ethics violations, instead of City Council.

Joshua Irvine, Reporter

City Council deferred its verdict on ordinance revising the city’s ethics code after parties both on and off the council raised concerns at Monday’s meeting.

Aldermen voted 9-0 to table the ordinance after residents and elected officials raised a bevy of concerns over the proposal’s compliance with state law. The ordinance would have constituted a total rewrite of the chapter of city code pertaining to the Board of Ethics.

Evanston resident Misty Witenberg first raised issue with the ordinance during public comment, asserting the ordinance violated multiple provisions of Illinois’ State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.

Witenberg pointed to the statute’s mandate barring city employees and elected or appointed officials from accepting gifts or engaging in “prohibited political activities.” Witenberg said the ordinance, which currently proposes a maximum fine of $750 for elected or appointed officials and prescribes no fine for employees, falls afoul of the state’s requirement of a minimum $1,001 fine for violation of the gift ban.

In addition, the ordinance contains no reference to the Class A misdemeanor incurred per state law by practice of prohibited political activities.
Witenberg also suggested City Council’s role in ruling on ethics violations violated portions of the Illinois Municipal Code restricting councils to a legislative role.

“This ordinance makes council the final decision-maker, and somehow its own board of appeals, and levier of fines, but fails to provide any procedure affording parties due process,” Witenberg said. “This ordinance reassigns the only executive and legislative oversight we have in our government into the hands of those officials.”

City Attorney Michelle Masoncup did not answer when asked by The Daily if the current ordinance was compliant with state law.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) acknowledged Witenberg’s concerns with the proposed scope of the council’s authority.

“I do understand from the citizen’s point of view if you are taking out an ethics claim against someone on city council and it needs to come back to city council for approval,” Fleming said. “I can understand how people can think that is not the best checks and balances.”

However, Fleming said she would maintain the “huge assumption” that city attorneys were aware of the legal concerns raised by Witenberg.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) acknowledged that many changes to the ordinance had been suggested since it was last discussed, and called for a “red-lined” revision that included acknowledgement of compliance with relevant state law.

“It’s intuitive and obvious, but it’s better to have it clearly set out,” Wilson said.

Wilson also suggested the Rules Committee should rule on potential ethics violations in lieu of the council.

The council amended the ordinance to state that a simple Board of Ethics majority could rule on an ethics violation, but deferred further changes to the ordinance to a subsequent meeting.

City Council will continue to discuss the ordinance Nov. 25.

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