A comprehensive guide to Evanston City Council meetings


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta.

Confused about city councils and processes? We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of documents, terms, committees and other tools for your reference.

Avani Kalra, Assistant City Editor

To the average Evanston resident, the terms and procedures used at City Council meetings can seem inaccessible or confusing. But The Daily is here to help.

We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of documents, terms, committees and other tools for you to reference before, during, or after you attend a local government meeting. This is a living document. If you have any questions about City Council our guide doesn’t cover, please reach out to [email protected].

To search for a specific word or term, use the ⌘f symbol. 


Agenda: Lists that anticipate what may occur in City Council in chronological order. You can find a breakdown of agenda items later in this glossary. 

Memorandum: A written message in diplomacy sent usually to support or reject an ordinance. 

Minutes: Recap of a meeting describing what was passed and discussed. Minutes are approved at the following meeting.  

Ordinance: A piece of legislation enacted by City Council. 


Call of the Wards: The mayor calls on councilmembers to announce or provide information about any ward or city matter that an alderperson desires to bring before the council. 

Call the Question: When a motion is made to “call the question,” that usually means a vote will be taken without debate. 

Closed Session or Executive Session: City Council meetings that are not open to the public. The Illinois Open Meetings Act says though actions and deliberations of public bodies should be taken openly, public bodies may enter Executive Sessions to discuss specific instances such as compensation, discipline or employment.  

Consent Agenda: Routine, procedural and self-explanatory items found in the agenda. 

Initiative: A petition signed by a certain number of registered voters can force the local government to either enact a law or hold a public vote by placing a question on the ballot. Direct initiatives go directly on the ballot, whereas indirect initiatives are submitted to the legislature. The legislature can approve the measure or it will be placed on a ballot for the public. 

Motion: An action item introduced by a councilmember. Must be seconded before it is put before the council.

Public Comment: Members of the public can speak for a designated amount of time during a City Council session. Anyone interested may sign up to speak for up to five minutes, depending on the amount of public commenters.

Referendum: A vote by the council to rule on a single question referred for a direct vote or decision. 

Resolution: A written motion (usually proposed by a councilmember) adopted by City Council. Formal expression of the opinion or intention of a legislative body. 

Robert’s Rules of Order: Parliamentary procedure, a manual the council uses to guide conversation and processes. 

Roll Call Vote: Required on all ordinances, expenditures, items requesting an extraordinary majority or when requested. 

SP: Special orders of business. Usually, the majority of debate during a City Council meeting will involve these items. They are listed in the agenda document before the consent agenda.

Special Session: A session called to meet in addition to those already scheduled. Special sessions are held to address time sensitive issues and immediate events. 

Quorum: The rules for quorum differ depending on the meeting in question. Six members of the Corporate Authorities for a City Council meeting and the majority of the members appointed to any City Council Standing Committee. A quorum is necessary to enter a session and approve most matters.  


Standing Committee: A permanent committee that meets regularly. 

Administration and Public Works: Oversees matters relating to bills and purchases; budget policy; finance; fire; legal; licensing; personnel; public works, including: streets and alleys, lighting, refuse disposal, water and sewers, traffic control and parking; public buildings, public transportation; public utilities; safety (including civil defense); liaison with the police and fire pension boards and capital improvements. The committee meets before regular City Council meetings at 6 p.m. Mondays. 

Finance and Budget Committee: This committee considers matters relating to bills, budgets, financial reporting and management, investments, rating agencies, police and fire pension boards, funding of capital improvements and other long-term obligations. The committee meets 6 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month. 

Human Services: The duties of this committee include matters relating to the Department of Health and Human Services (including public health, mental health, general and emergency assistance); community purchased services, aging, youth, liaison with the human service-related boards and commissions, private and public organizations funding or providing human services within the city, and matters relating to the arts, recreation, library, environment, unemployment, unified budgeting, the Farmers’ Market, and police services; Americans with Disabilities Act Grievance Appeals relating to Title II of the ADA. The committee meets 6 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. 

Planning and Development: This committee addresses matters relating to planning, physical development, zoning, building conservation, preservation, housing, and relocation. The committee reviews and advises City Council on the use and planning of all city park land. The committee meets in the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center Council Chambers before regular 5 p.m. City Council meetings. 

Rules: Assignment of alderman to committees including the Budget Committee, Parking Committee, Economic Development Committee, and Housing and Community Development Act Committee which recommends to the council expenditure of Federal funds. 

Referrals Committee: This committee considers referred agenda items made by the mayor, a councilmember, or the city manager based on a transparent and established set of criteria. The committee will refer them to a board, committee, commission or the council with instructions as to the action the item will take. The Rules Committee meets as needed, though Evanston residents can tune into the meeting online at cityofevanston.org/tv

Reparations Committee: The council’s Equity and Empowerment Commission held two community meetings to gather public input on reparations in July, and summarized input and recommendations in a report to City Council. In September 2021, the council accepted the commission’s report and authorized the creation of a subcommittee to begin the planning process. The new Reparations Committee expands the number of the members on the committee to include non-aldermanic members, along with updated roles and responsibilities that reflect the work being completed by the subcommittee. 

Special committees of the council

City-School Liaison Committee: Allows city and school board officials to confer on a regular basis to achieve community financial coordination and better coordination in other fields of community concern. The committee meets three times each school year at 5:30 p.m. and meetings rotate between the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, Evanston Township High School and the District 65 Joseph E. Hill Education Center. 

Joint Review Board: Meets annually to discuss a proposed Tax Increment Financing District. A JRB is initially established when a new TIF is under consideration and makes a recommendation to City Council on each district. 

Northwestern University/City Committee: Meets on a regular basis, or as needed, to discuss and make good faith efforts to resolve issues relating to planning, land use, building and zoning pertaining to the University’s Tl, T2 and Ul District properties. 

Alternative Emergency: This subcommittee, which meets virtually, is responsible for developing a non-police response to members of the community who are in need of immediate support (not including life saving medical situations).

Alternative Emergency Response Subcommittee: The subcommittee is responsible for developing a non-police response to members of the community who are in need of immediate support (not including life-saving medical situations). The committee meets virtually. 

Acronyms you might hear in committee

ARPA: American Rescue Plan Act: Emergency relief under the American Rescue Plan Act will support lending, grants and investment to small businesses so they can rehire and retain workers or purchase necessary health and sanitation materials. 

BCC: Boards, committees and commissions: There are more than 30 active boards, commissions and committees in Evanston that discuss and shape Evanston’s community. 

CLFRF: Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds: Part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the CLFRF provides additional funding to aid coronavirus response.

D202: Evanston Township High School District 202 is a four-year public high school established in 1883. The high school has about 3,500 enrolled students. 

D65: The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is headquartered in Evanston, though it serves Skokie as well. The system includes elementary schools, middle schools and K-8 schools. 

TIF: Tax-increment Finance District: A TIF calls for local taxing bodies to invest in the development of an area. Short term gains are reinvested and leveraged to ensure larger financial gains later on. 


You can always find the agenda for City Council meetings at the city’s website, if you’re interested in looking ahead at what the council will discuss. It is organized in eight sections, A-H. 

The council will spend most of its time in session debating the first two Special Orders of Business, unless it hears significant public comment on a particular issue. Items listed under the consent agenda will likely not hear any debate.

    1. Mayor Public Announcements and Report of the City Manager
    2. Communications of the City Clerk
    3. Citizen Comment
    4. Special Order of Business
    5. Consent Agenda and approval of the minutes of the preceding meeting
    6. Report of Standing and Special Committees
    7. Call of the Wards
    8. Executive Session 



Funds: Sources of revenue for the city of Evanston. 

General: The city’s largest fund. Its resources primarily come from property taxes, but also sales tax, income tax, and local taxes like the wheel tax. 

Northwestern Good Neighbor Equity Fund: Under an agreement between former Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and University President Morton Schapiro, the University agreed to donate $1 million annually to the city for the “Good Neighbor Fund” for a period of five years, which began in 2015. Proceeds from this donation will be spent on projects and services agreed to jointly by the mayor and the president.

Special Revenue and TIF (tax increment finance district): The city has five active TIFs designed to leverage private sector growth by providing a funding mechanism for infrastructure improvements, workforce development and property revitalization.   

Tax Levy: A tax levy is the amount in Evanston property that is being taxed by the state of Illinois that Evanston will receive to factor into its yearly budget. 

Transmittal Letter: A short cover letter that explains the purpose or importance of an attached document. It provides context and purpose around whatever it is describing.

How to participate in City Council

    1. Reach out to your councilmember directly and attend ward meetings and/or office hours if your councilmember has them–more info here: City Council | City of Evanston
    2. Attend City Council meetings (usually twice a month) and committee meetings, sign up to speak
    3. Attend Town Halls. Town Hall info is posted to the city’s website and on Facebook. 


City Tools

Evanston City Calendar 

A list of events hosted by the City of Evanston 

Evanston City Website

All of the information you might need about the City of Evanston. Has sections for residents, on business, visitors, government, and “How To’s.” 

Evanston Chamber of Commerce

A Comprehensive list of Evanston businesses and other commerce related information. 

Evanston Public Library

Events, catalogs, and other resources provided by the Evanston Public Library. 

Community Alliance for Better Government Explainers and Forums

The Community Alliance for Better Government has hosted two recorded explainers/forums that they’ve posted to their YouTube channel. One explained “How an Idea Becomes an Ordinance,” and hosted Mayor Biss, while the other explained Tax Increment Finance Districts. 

Community Alliance for Better Government Council Recaps

The Community Alliance for Better Government also posts “meeting summaries,” “breakdowns on proposed legislation” with “remarks made by City Councilmembers.”  

Community Alliance for Better Government Councilmembers and how they Vote

This database allows you to search for by council member and scroll through their votes in council meetings. Though results are organized by council meeting and date, votes are specific by ordinance and action items. 

Organizational Charts

A list of visuals to help you break down who reports to whom in different offices and departments.

School Tools

Staff Directory

A searchable directory of those employed by D65. 

D65 Calendar

A list of events pertaining to D65

D202 Calendar

A list of events pertaining to Evanston Township High School/District 202 

Helpful Daily Articles and Explainers on Current Events


A lot is changing every day with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of our most recent articles and explainers on the topic. 

City COVID-19 positivity rate reaches below 1% free KN95 distribution to take place next week 

— NU profs create their own contact tracing systems to ensure COVID-19 safety in the classroom

— Students discuss challenges of fewer virtual learning options for those in quarantine and isolation housing

City Manager: 

Evanston is currently on the hunt for a new city manager. 

The Daily Explains: What is a city manager?

Michael Jasso and Daniel Ramos announced as city manager finalists

City manager candidates field questions, address residents in virtual town hall

ARPA Funding:

The city is looking into where to allocate its American Rescue Plan Act funding, though it doesn’t have an exact plan for how it will be spent. 

City Council floats $867,500 youth services funding increase to support violence prevention programs

City Council votes to allocate ARPA funding to ASPIRE-Evanston Community Healthcare Workforce Development Program

“My City, Your City, Our City” violence prevention program receives ARPA funds for expansion


Evanston is home to the country’s first reparations program for Black residents. 

“Moving forward with tangible repair”: First recipients selected for Evanston reparations program

Reparations Committee discusses prioritization and selection process for Restorative Housing Program

TIF District: 

A tax increment finance has been established in the 5th ward to reinvest property taxes into specific city areas.  

The Daily Explains: What’s going on with the 5th Ward TIF?

District 65, city officials react to IGA snub in final TIF vote

City Council approves TIF district in 5th Ward, denies D65 IGA

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avanidkalra

Related Stories: 

City Council votes to allocate ARPA funding to ASPIRE-Evanston Community Healthcare Workforce Development Program

— Rapid Recap: City Council votes on testing, vaccination requirements

— City Council to restart city manager search after finalist drops out