Board of Ethics reviews jurisdictions of complaints against mayor, alderman


Jacob Fulton/The Daily Northwestern

Board of Ethics acting chair Carrie Von Hoff. Hoff will remain on the board in a temporary role until other board members are appointed to serve a full term.

Jacob Fulton, Assistant City Editor

Evanston’s Board of Ethics decided the jurisdiction of a complaint against Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) and took under advisement the jurisdiction of a complaint against Mayor Steve Hagerty and former corporation counsel Michelle Masoncup during a Tuesday meeting.

Fifth Ward resident Misty Witenberg and city clerk Devon Reid filed the joint complaint against Hagerty and Masoncup, alleging that in the spring of 2019, the defendants abused their power as mayor and corporation counsel, respectively, and failed to act impartially.

By taking Witenberg and Reid’s complaint under advisement, a jurisdiction decision was delayed to a later meeting. The complaint alleges that Hagerty and Masoncup retaliated against Reid after he attempted to sue the city to gain access to more documents in his role as Evanston’s Freedom of Information Act officer.

The complaint cites an attempt to censure Reid after multiple city employees filed claims of harassment against him as the basis of the allegations against Hagerty and Masoncup, because the city has not pursued censure against other employees for similar cases. The potential censure was tabled during a July 2019 City Council meeting, but Witenberg said the defendants’ actions leading up to the meeting and recommendations in favor of Reid’s censure should be considered biased actions and an abuse of power.

In a memorandum sent to the board, the board’s counsel Yordana Wysocki, who is not a city employee, said the board has jurisdiction over some of the allegations of a violation of impartiality based on some of the evidence provided against both parties. She did not recommend that the board adopt the complaint of abuse of power related to either defendant.

While presenting more information, Witenberg said neither claim should be deemed outside the board’s reach at the meeting.

“Until you have an opportunity to actually go through and digest it, which I intended to present when the other parties were present so they could argue them, no claims should be dismissed,” she said.

The board’s acting chair Carrie Von Hoff said at the next meeting, they would decide whether the matter fell in the Board of Ethics’ jurisdiction, and that there would be a written consensus declaring whether the board planned to act on the complaint.

Resident Dan Coyne filed the complaint against Rainey, alleging that Rainey’s statements in the City Council and Rules Committee meetings on April 1 were in violation of the city’s Code of Ethics.

According to the complaint, Coyne said Rainey engaged in “prohibited political activity during ‘compensated time’” the night before the election for the board of commissioners for Ridgeville Park District by making disparaging comments about Coyne and Rob Bady, who were both candidates in the race.

Coyne’s complaint also included an incident that occurred during public comment for a meeting of the board of commissioners. Rainey attended the event as one of Coyne’s constituents and said he had “no business running for public office.” The complaint argued that in Rainey’s role as an alderman, she abused her authority by campaigning against Coyne and Bady.

The board has agreed to take up the case at its next meeting, where it will deliberate and announce a decision.

At the end of the meeting, Evanston resident Albert Gibbs called on the board to consider what he felt would be the most honorable path forward as new members.

Throughout the meeting, both complainants and attendees emphasized that the board’s new membership represented the possibility of a fresh start.

“As a city and as representatives of city government, to move forward, united and collective, it can’t be that whoever appoints you can dictate to you how you’re supposed to conduct yourself,” Gibbs said. “I would like to see that the way you’re going to handle this and the way you do it shows that truth and law will be the order of the day.”

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