Resident Board of Ethics to disband, be replaced by Special Counsel

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Evanston’s five-person Board of Ethics will be replaced by a single Special Counsel following a vote by City Council.

Alex Harrison, Reporter

City Council passed an ordinance Monday to disband the city’s Board of Ethics and replace it with a single Special Counsel.

The current Board of Ethics consists of five residents, appointed by the mayor, who investigate and prosecute violations of the city’s Ethics Code. The new Special Counsel position will be filled by a practicing attorney, appointed by the mayor as well and confirmed by City Council.

The ordinance was approved for a council vote on April 12 by the Rules Committee. In that meeting, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said consolidating the board into a single administrative position resolves issues around impartiality and quorum, or the minimum number of members that must attend a meeting.

Resident Misty Witenberg said during public comment that the issue doesn’t lie with the structure of the board itself.

“We don’t have to have an inspector general, it’s much more cost effective to have a board,” Wittenberg said. “You just have to train them and you have to not interfere.”

Resident Jeff Smith said while he agrees with some of the changes being made, he believes the issue should be left for the next council.

Monday was the final meeting for the current city council, as newly-elected aldermen are set to be inaugurated during the May 10 council meeting.

“The illumination of the entire commission itself is too big a change for this council and this mayor to make,” Smith said. “It should be held and taken up by the next council and mayor.”

Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings said during council discussion that utilizing a Special Counsel will help deter avoidable lawsuits against the city, since its expertise will ensure that the rights and due process of all parties in ethics cases are respected.

“The model proposed just makes this cleaner for the city,” Cummings said. “Instead of my office fighting due process claims in circuit court, all the hearings and process go through properly.”

The ordinance passed on an 8-1 vote, with Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) opposing without comment at Monday’s meeting. The task of filling the new Special Counsel position falls to the next mayor and city council.

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Twitter: @alexhairysun

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