Everything Evanston: City Council Rapid Recap talks Harley Clarke and funding plans

Mika Ellison and Angeli Mittal

This week, Everything Evanston’s Rapid Recap of City Council covers their discussion of Harley Clarke Mansion as well as other proposed amendments and ordinances. Angeli Mittal also spotlights a story on ETHS’ disproportionate suspension of black students.



MIKA ELLISON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison. This is Everything Evanston, a podcast about the people, business and goings-on in Evanston, Illinois. Today, we’re doing a recap of the Feb. 13 City Council meeting. Then we’ll take a look at one of this week’s leading stories in Evanston.

MIKA ELLISON: This week’s council meeting started with congratulations, as Evanston Own It, a local faith-based organization, made a donation to city council in service of the rebuilding of Ryan Field. Pastor Monté Dillard read aloud the letter the organization submitted to the council.

PASTOR MONTÉ DILLARD: We want to lend our support as decisions are made to ensure equitable outcomes for all those in our city and for our community to have significant consideration. In many ways, our decision to support Rebuild Ryan Field is a way in which we can stick to our mission of owning it.

PASTOR MONTÉ DILLARD: I was gonna say ‘let the church say Amen,’ but I forgot where I was.

MAYOR BISS: Pastor, I think that’s the first time that this room has ever been confused for sanctuary. I will take that compliment and it will lift me up for a long time to come.

MIKA ELLISON: The council also recognized Evanston Public Library Interim Innovation and Digital Learning Manager Elacsha Madison for winning the 2023 I Love my Librarian Award. She is one of only ten librarians in the country to do so. She gave her acceptance speech in front of the council.

ELACSHA MADISON: This award makes me feel seen in the world where at times I feel invisible, like my work matters. And although we have a long way to go, I’m happy to say that my coworkers are along for the ride. I love my job and I love being out in the community and truly making a difference. The library is more than just four walls, and I’m proof of that and so are my dynamic colleagues that I get the pleasure of working with every day.

MIKA ELLISON: Moving on to public comment, many Evanston residents spoke to recent points of contention including the Margarita Inn, a former hotel that now functions as a homeless shelter and is run by Connections for the Homeless. The primary concern of opponents to the Margarita Inn continuing to act as a shelter is its proximity to downtown and other residences. Participants in public comment included Evanston resident John Cleave and Executive President of Connections for the Homeless Paul Kalil.

JOHN CLEAVE: Please let the process play out when it comes to both the zoning changes at the Margarita Inn … The fast tracking thing has horrible optics, and moreover, it feels as if there are insider tracks that are going on, and it isn’t open to the light of day.

PAUL KALIL: If we talked about this as a rushed process, I think that’s a bit of a misnomer. Every delay costs money. Every legal fight or hearing requires legal support and staff time that costs money. That’s money that can be spent providing services to find somebody permanent housing, that’s money that could go to prevent someone from experiencing homelessness in the first place.

MIKA ELLISON: Residents and participants at public comment also talked about the rebuilding of Ryan Field and the ongoing debate about Harley Clarke Mansion.


MIKA ELLISON: First on the council’s agenda was the approval of an amendment to city code that would change the requirements for operating agreements for shared housing situations in the city. Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) spoke in favor of the amendment.

ALD. NIEUWSMA: I think this is really an elegant and creative solution to what is really kind of a thorny problem. How do we regulate a really diverse and complex array of potential housing structures as simply as possible?

MIKA ELLISON: Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) expressed the need for further insight into how this proposed amendment might affect constituents.

ALD. KELLY: I don’t think that our residents are given a fair chance to really understand this. I don’t think this is fair to put this through as a special order.

MIKA ELLISON: The motion to introduce the item passed 7-1.

MIKA ELLISON: Next up on the council’s schedule was a discussion of the Harley Clarke Mansion lease, an issue that has been on the council’s radar since 2011. The City of Evanston owns the mansion and has been searching for an organization to lease it to since 2015. Most recently, Artists Book House, which was in the process of negotiating a lease agreement with the city and Jens Jensen Gardens, withdrew their petition. The council’s discussion went in several different directions, such as Ald. Eleanor Revelle’s (7th) suggestion of looking at potential new buyers for the Harley Clarke Mansion.

ALD. REVELLE: I would like us to have a conversation about the whole property and not move forward yet with a bifurcated proposal for a separate lease with Jens Jensen. I think it sounds, certainly from the interest of a couple of the groups, that Jens Jensen would be part of how they would move forward. But I would like us to take some time to hear more from — for example, Lake House and Gardens and the conservancy, if they really are going to put together a joint proposal, I’d like to see what that’s gonna look like.

MIKA ELLISON: Councilmembers also discussed whether or not to grant Jens Jensen Gardens a lease.

MIKA ELLISON: The final special order of business was covered in the last council meeting: it was a vote on an increase in freedom to carry open containers of alcohol in Evanston. The amendment passed 8-0.

MIKA ELLISON: The council also encountered a tie vote on a motion to send item SS1 back to committee. The item concerned the approval of funding allocations for Case Management, Safety Net and Support Services, programs that focus on financial aid in crisis management, among other things. Interim Community Development Director Sarah Flax informed the council that the funding had fallen short of around 478,000 dollars. Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) suggested adding funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, also known as ARPA, which provided relief funds to cities impacted by the pandemic. Mayor Daniel Biss broke the tie vote:

DANIEL BISS: I slip out of irrelevance for a brief moment. I am going to break the tie by voting no.

MIKA ELLISON: and the item was not sent back to committee and later passed with a vote of 8-0.

MIKA ELLISON: Make sure to tune in for the next City Council meeting during the week of February 27, 2023. Up next, Angeli Mittal brings us a story about suspensions at Evanston Township High School.


ANGELI MITTAL: Walking through the Evanston Township High School doors, students are told “All Are Welcome Here” with a sign conveying the message in over 25 different languages. But ETHS senior Amira Grace says the environment doesn’t feel so welcoming when walking through the school’s hallways. I’m Angeli Mittal, and we’re going to learn more about Assistant City Editor Divya Bhardwaj and reporter Sonya Dymova’s story on racial disparities with disciplinary action at ETHS.

AMIRA GRACE: Personally, I see more students of color being called out and being told, ‘Where’s your pass?’ or ‘Where are you going?’ by safety officers in our school more often than white people are being called out. I think that it’s not only that it’s more frequent with students of color, but there’s a more harsh interaction, even if it’s just the tone in which they talk to the students of color.

ANGELI MITTAL: And there’s data to suggest this trend isn’t just empirically based. Ten years of disciplinary records from the Illinois State Board of Education, or ISBE, show Black students consistently faced disciplinary actions at higher rates compared to their white peers.

ANGELI MITTAL: If we examine ISBE’s data on ETHS records, during the 2021-2022 academic year, about 25% of students identified as Black or African American and 45% identified as white. Also during this time frame, approximately 46% of students who received an in-school suspension were Black compared to the 19% of white students who received these suspensions. Of those receiving an out-of-school suspension, Black students comprised almost 68% of students, while white students accounted for 8% of these disciplinary cases.

ANGELI MITTAL: That’s a pretty significant disparity, and the data seems to suggest these suspension rates have remained disproportionate over the past decade. And Grace says there’s an emotional toll when self-advocating to school administration.

AMIRA GRACE: That’s when I really have experienced the most apathy when it comes to interacting with staff. It seems that administration have this sort of intellectual superiority that they hang over students. It’s very demeaning when I talk to a lot of administration.

ANGELI MITTAL: As a former ETHS teacher and department chair, Shelley Gates said some adults may have preconceived racial stereotypes and expectations. Combined with systemic racism and the “complexity of teenagers,” Gates said this may contribute to disproportionate trends in suspensions among students of color.

SHELLEY GATES: A white kid might do something that was probably against the rules, and then they get a pass for it. And then a student of color does the same thing and is sent to the dean’s office. I think that is something that ETHS is really struggling with.

ANGELI MITTAL: Gates said there’s an academic achievement gap between students of color and white students and that students who struggle academically tend to display increased behavioral issues. A principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research, Christina LiCalsi (SESP ’11, ’14) said her findings suggest poor academic outcomes were a consequence of exclusionary action like suspension. This results in what LiCalsi calls a “snowball effect.”

CHRISTINA LICALSI: Attendance is a very good indicator of attachment to school. When you exclude students from school, as opposed to trying to figure out what’s going on with them and engaging with them, all you’re doing is weakening the bond that they have with the school environment, weakening the trust that they have in the school, in the adults, which is linked to, then, poor outcomes moving forward.

ANGELI MITTAL: Grace says action needs to be taken to address these racial disparities.

AMIRA GRACE: Administration says a lot of things, like ‘We want to make this change,’ but it doesn’t ever happen. It’s been a lot of students reaching out to fix this issue, and administration being like, ‘Yes we will,’ and then we don’t see anything. Or the conversation gets dropped, and there’s other more important things. And I understand as the administration you have a lot to do, but I think implicit racism should be one of the big things on the to-do list.

ANGELI MITTAL: That’s it for this week’s city story. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks to take another look at Evanston city politics.


MIKA ELLISON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison.

ANGELI MITTAL: And I’m Angeli Mittal. Thanks for listening to another episode of Everything Evanston’s Rapid Recap. This episode was reported and produced by me and Mika Ellison. Divya Bhardwaj and Sonya Dymova contributed their reporting. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Erica Schmitt, the digital managing editors are Joanne Haner and Olatunji Osho-Williams and the editor in chief is Alex Perry.

MIKA ELLISON: Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikaEllison23

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @amittal27

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