The city got it wrong ... again
Even given the opportunity to right a wrong, the Evanston City Council showed it’s not interested in representing its citizens during a special meeting on Sept. 12. At stake was the installation of a gas regulatory station proposed — with “DANGER” signs plastered all over it — for smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood, close to a young children’s learning center, a middle school and a church.
Before a packed city council chambers, council members voted 3-2 to uphold a terrible — and unethically-made — decision by the Evanston Planning and Zoning Commission to approve the Dominion project at 209 Center St. in Evanston.
First, planning and zoning commissioner Tim Ridenour shouldn’t have ever voted on this proposal — he shouldn’t have ever even thought that was close to OK. Since he owns the property that houses the current station, voting on its future is an obvious no-no.
Second, planning and zoning chair Meryl Thompson should have intervened after Ridenour didn’t recuse himself.
And it’s not as if Thompson weren’t aware of the obvious conflict of interest. She indicated that it was fine for him to vote on the matter because he didn’t stand to profit from the decision. In her actual words, she wrote to the Herald, “Dominion was leaving the old metal shed and Mr. Ridenour was losing the snow removal at his business.”
The thing is, unless Thompson has a magical crystal ball, her opinion that the project wouldn’t benefit Ridenour so, therefore, it’s OK for him to vote … is nonsense — and her decision to allow it was clearly unreasonable. It says to me that she’s perhaps unfit to chair the commission.
Not recognizing conflicts is one thing. But recognizing such a blatant conflict and then doubling down on it by trying to justify it — rather than apologize and restart the process of approval — shows that even civics training or education might not be enough for Thompson to do her job appropriately.
Not only did she stand by her terrible and unethical decision, she responded to the Herald’s report of the Sept. 12 special meeting by saying she was misquoted.
Thompson wasn’t even quoted in that story (though she was mentioned and paraphrased in one sentence — which we stand by).
Why did the city council approve Dominion’s request to put a gas regulatory station on Center Street? Because it’s cheaper for Dominion to put it near a middle school and apartment complex than other places — even places that could be much safer and are less populated.
Is the Evanston City Council supposed to consider Dominion’s bottom line now when voting on issues? It appears that’s exactly what they did on Sept. 12.
Would the three who approved this project — Councilmen Jesse Lind and Tim Lynch, along with Evanston Mayor Kent Williams — still have voted yes if it were proposed in a lot next door to their homes? I think it’s safe to say we all no the answer to that.
Councilman Mike Sellers, thankfully, had some sense when he voted to overturn planning and zoning’s decision.
“My concern is we should do it right the first time,” Sellers said. “Dominion’s attorney saying they will not build a heater at this time concerns me that we will have to come back and go through this again.”
Councilwoman Jen Hegeman asked a question that Dominion couldn’t answer, or at least answer well. Hegeman — who’s been a breath of fresh air since taking her seat on the council — asked why, if the current regulatory station was, at the time, built on the “outskirts of town,” the new station is being placed in a high-density area.
Dominion’s response was that the company requires the most “cost-effective” option.
And the city council’s response? To hell with the neighbors. To hell with the dozens of folks who signed a petition to get this decision reviewed in the first place. To hell with correcting planning and zoning’s ridiculous decision (and correcting the unethical route they took to get there). What or who will the Evanston City Council disregard next?