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Evanston City Council violated Open Meeting Law


The Evanston City Council was found to have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act by approving a contract as part of the contract. temporary relocation of city administration Transactions in closed session.

City Manager Luke Stowe signed an exclusive representation agreement with real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle Midwest LLC on Oct. 17, 2023, allowing the company to represent the city, according to a March 1 statement from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. While decisions are being made about the sustainability of the Morton Civic Center, locations to house city government are being explored. The contract also stipulates that if the Civic Center is sold, compensation will be paid to the company at the rate of 6% of the gross sales revenue.

The signing came a day after the Oct. 16 City Council meeting, where a final vote was not taken in public session on the deal with the real estate company.

The city said in a March 4 news release that it disagreed with the state’s binding opinion, saying Evanston was “extremely committed” to complying with the state’s Open Meetings Act and would present the agreement for an open vote at the March 11 City Council meeting. session. The news release stated that because the city had already voted on the lease, a vote on the contract with JLL would not prevent the city from moving its operations.

The news release also notes that price gouging opportunities could arise if the city presents itself as a potential tenant at 909 Davis Street.

“The JLL deal was signed at no cost to taxpayers. Maintaining confidentiality in the marketplace was critical to negotiating the best terms for members of the Evanston community,” read the news release.

The move caused division, with some residents and council members saying the $37.4 million price tag for the 15-year lease at 909 Davis Street in downtown Evanston was too expensive. Its 52,955 square feet of office space is also less than half the size of the Civic Center.

Council member Clare Kelly opposed the move, voting to repeal the previously approved lease. Feb. 22 special city council meeting. He, along with council members Devon Reid and Thomas Suffredin, called the meeting to discuss the lease. All three voted to terminate the lease, repeating the 6-3 vote at the Jan. 22 meeting, and the deal was approved.

Reid walked out of the closed session on Oct. 16 and later told the Pioneer Press that he wanted no part of “actions that have been described as illegal and, more importantly, a violation of our community’s trust.”

Kelly said the decision to vacate the Civic Center was rushed and premature, arguing that the money could have been used to turn the building into a more suitable home for city government. He said the city council owes citizens a transparent process regarding the future of the Civic Center.

Kelly praised Evanston resident Mary Rosinski, who filed a review request with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

“If anything is going to move this town towards greater transparency and accountability right now, it is the determination and hard work of Evanston residents who care deeply about this town and take the time to work for a better Evanston,” Kelly said.

Supporters of the move argue that its central location and proximity to public transportation are positive steps. Municipal staff said that this move will help strengthen the city center, which is in a difficult situation after the Covid-19 outbreak.

City Engineer Lara Biggs said at the council’s Jan. 22 meeting that the move was necessary to ensure the safety of staff and community members. Although renovations and repairs have been carried out while staff are still on site, Biggs said these would not reduce the cost of future work required.

The lease includes a seven-year opt-out clause that allows the city to leave if decisions are made regarding the viability of the Civic Center. Operations are expected to move to Davis Street in July.

The Morton Civic Center formerly served as a Catholic girls’ school and is named for Lorraine H. Morton, who became the city’s first Black mayor in 2009, as well as the city’s first Democrat and longest-serving mayor. Morton also previously represented the city’s 5th Ward and served as a teacher at several schools in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

Kelly said he was “disgusted” by the city’s response, saying it looked like the city had learned nothing from the problem and was likely to violate the OMA again.

“It is worth noting that at the executive meeting on October 16 and subsequent council meetings, at least two council members (representing the city) warned the city council, interim corporate counsel, and the city manager that the discussion and action was a violation of the law. OMA,” Kelly said.


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