In an emotional and contentious meeting, the Evanston Township met for their last annual meeting on Tuesday night following the March 18 citywide vote that abolished the township.
The last township meeting conducted no new business, but instead heard reports on the progress of the transition of the township into the city and honored the work of the Town Assessor Bonnie Wilson with tears, flowers, and a standing ovation.
“I am deeply disappointed Evanston Township will be dissolved at the end of this month,” said Wilson, who worked as a central member in the township. “My hope is that the City of Evanston will continue to provide the same level of services that I, and my staff, have provided to the tax payers of Evanston.”
Beginning May 1, the city will take on the rights and responsibilities of the township — which includes providing emergency services, such as food and shelter, and financial or general assistance to citizens in need.
However, many public commenters at the meeting voiced their concern that the city will not provide the same level of support that the township did.
5th Ward resident Madelyn Ducre said she has found her interactions with the city so far to be much less helpful than her previous interactions with the township. She said this is especially significant given the citizens the township served, who she said can’t always navigate city bureaucracy without extensive help.
“[The township officials] were personable, they reached out to the people, they reached out to senior citizens,” said Ducre. “We’re going to miss that.”
Evanston resident Kevin Johnson said he used to get unemployment aid from the township, but now that the city is in control, the services have changed. Now, Johnson said, he has to fill out the unemployment forms every 30 days instead of every six months, which means more bus fair and more bureaucracy he can’t always navigate. If clients of the township, many of whom are homeless, don’t fill out the forms in time, they won’t receive the services they need.
“They’re not asking for no hand out, they’re just asking for a hand to be able to uplift them,” Johnson said.
However, one alderman said one of the services the township provided — assisting with a citizen’s review or appeal of property tax bills in the tax assessor’s office — are not within the jurisdiction of a city government.
“I do not believe it is the function of a municipal government to offer real estate (guidance),” said Alderman Ann Rainey (8th Ward). “I believe we should do the general assistance housing and personal and medical and jobs, but I do not believe that the assessors office should be transferred to the city.”
Evanston’s relationship between the township and the city was a rare one in Illinois. The township and the city shared the same borders, and the township board was comprised of city government officials — a situation that only 11 of Illinois’ 1,433 townships have.
At their April 28 meeting, the city will discuss passing an ordinance to formally discontinue, abolish, and cease township operations by April 30.