The city council held a special meeting Monday afternoon to receive its first ethics training from the city’s new special advocate for ethics complaints, who was retained in December 2021.
As of 2020, annual ethics training is mandated by city code for all City of Evanston elected officials and staff. Steven Elrod, founding partner of Elrod Friedman LLP, led the session and was joined by two of his firm’s attorneys, Marcus Martinez and Brooke Lenneman.
“In many cases, Evanston, in enacting its ethics ordinance, exceeded the requirements of state law,” Elrod said. “Evanston has one of the strictest ethics ordinances on the books of any municipality I know of, and I represent many different cities in suburban Chicago.”
The lively presentation and discussion, under the pressure of an abrupt cut at 5:15 p.m., covered a variety of topics: prohibited political activities, state and city gift bans, conflicts of interest and abuse of power, as well as how ethical complaints are handled. studied and tried. Council members had many questions at the start about the prohibition on Council members engaging in any political activity or campaigning during “compensated time” or when engaged in official Council business. city in their role as elected officials.
Council members Jonathan Nieuwsma (Fourth Ward) and Melissa Wynne (Third Ward) asked if they were allowed to campaign for or against a municipal referendum, like the recently approved Ranking Voting Referendum Council, in places such as neighborhood or city meetings by invitation halls. Elrod responded that while they could potentially campaign on state-level issues, city code is much stricter against elected officials campaigning on city issues, even off property. the city.
“It’s hard, under your code, to really distinguish when a member of council isn’t about city business when he’s talking about a referendum on a ballot,” Elrod said.
The group also clarified how to deal with potential conflicts of interest, particularly when approving contracts with Northwestern University, where Ninth Ward Council member Juan Geracaris and former Second Ward Council member Peter Braithwaite , are employed. Elrod informed Geracaris that aside from a vote that “could specifically benefit you or your department”, he would not be required to recuse himself.
Towards the end, First Ward council member Clare Kelly asked what role the Citizens Ethics Council still plays in deciding ethics complaints after the system was restructured in September 2021. Lenneman said that the council’s role was only to review and make a final decision on the decision of an administrative hearing, judged by city staff and reviewed by the special council.
Since Elrod and the firm were appointed special counsel in December 2021, they’ve received “five or six formal complaints,” Lenneman said. “We did not find it appropriate to go ahead with an (administrative) hearing on them.”