PUBLIC TRUST IN EVANSTON, IL: National cracks being exposed in a Chicago suburb

Posted August 3, 2019

In April 2017, the City of Evanston had local elections. By a very slim margin, we elected a white disaster capitalist as Mayor (with no previous elected experience). By a very wide margin, we elected a young Black advocate for participatory democracy and government transparency as City Clerk (with no previous elected experience). We elected three new alderpeople and six long-time incumbents.

Apart from the fact that they took office just a few months into the Donald Trump regime, challenges were already apparent (and continue to this day):
–a diverse and divided urban suburb still trying to recover from the 2008-10 recession
–a city manager who was looking to leave Evanston (to move closer to family)
–a newly energized national electorate that translated in Evanston (with an already engaged citizenry) to new groups, new initiatives, and new city structures at even higher volume

The last two years have been intense in Evanston, around issues like FOIA, rebuilding the Robert Crown community center, policing, a new Equity & Empowerment Commission, privatization (Harley Clarke), and always affordable housing and the schools.  “Citizen comment” periods at public meetings are alternately stressful and inspiring, but always frustrating because not a real discussion. Meanwhile, we’ve been keeping one eye on the national scene, watching while deep-seated cracks of injustice and inequality are being exposed and rapidly connecting across the country, becoming more visible to more Americans in more and more communities.

On July 12, 2019, Evanston’s Mayor put a stake in the ground that caused some of Evanston’s cracks to become even more exposed. Unfortunately, the July 15th City Council discussion and vote to table the Mayor’s resolution to censure the City Clerk was just another stonewalling of the public’s need for information. It took a whistleblower, leaking a draft memorandum later that night, to force officials to notice the cracks in the public trust. As of today, August 3, the aftershocks have not stopped. My thanks to the whistleblower.

I believe that this series of events (still unfolding) will shake Evanston to its core in unintended (and as yet unknown) ways. I have my guesses as to the details, including resignations (staff or elected), decisions not to run again, and proposals for restructuring city government (from officials and voters).

I also have my recommendations. Unlike the Mayor who, in his August 2 newsletter, calls these times “strange”, I find these times a completely logical outcome from hundreds of years of unresolved injustices combined with enormous ratcheting up of inequalities.  As we watch a few millionaires grow into billionaires, we are also watching a fast-paced increase in poverty, stress, racism, misogyny, climate instability, etc., created and/or condoned by U.S. governmental jurisdictions (including the City of Evanston).

Evanston public officials (and other Evanston residents) who think that the only problem regarding public trust is “civility”  should consider working  to (a) redress the injustices, and (b) invite everyone to sit down together to rewrite the rules by which we ALL agree to live in 2019.

For the moment I’m going to keep track of the public record, both primary sources (official documents, videos) and secondary sources (news articles, interviews, etc.). Here’s the unfolding story, link by link.

PS  Here is a link to a recent podcast that may shed some light on Evanston’s post-war politics.  The podcast is based on a 2015 book (Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party), but the podcast is a very recent interview (Aug. 2, 2019).  Daniel Denvir interviews Lily Geismer.
The Dig Podcast: Race and Class in the Liberal Suburbs

SUBJECT: City of Evanston
Mayor’s Resolution Proposing Censure of City Clerk
Agenda item for July 15, 2019 City Council meeting

(SP8) Resolution 78-R-19, Censuring City of Evanston Clerk Devon Reid for Violating the City of Evanston Heathly Work Environment Policy and the Open Meetings Act and Council Rules Regarding Closed Session Recordings

This resolution recommends that the City Council censure City Clerk Devon Reid for his unprofessional communication and harassment of multiple City employees and violation of the Open Meetings Act and Council Rules.
For Action



July 12  City of Evanston
City Council agenda item posted for July 15 meeting
Mayor’s proposed resolution to censure City Clerk

July 14  Evanston Live TV
Interview with Devon Reid re agenda item
by Meleika Gardner

July 15
 City of Evanston
City Council meeting on mayor’s resolution: motion tabled
Links to Agenda, Actions, Packet, Video

Video  Complete meeting includes Citizen Comment, discussion, and vote on resolution

July 16  Evanston Leads
July 26  City of Evanston

Mayor’s letter to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (from Evanston Patch link)

July 29  WGN TV
Video: Evanston mayor requests criminal investigation

by Mike Lowe

July 29  Evanston Live TV
Ald. Ann Rainey threatening to publicly disclose the confidential memo (from City Council meeting Citizen Comment, July 15).  She also walks her threat back in the clip.

Video clip – 1:43 mins.

July 30  WGN TV
Interview with Devon Reid about Mayor’s letter to Cook County Sheriff

by Mike Lowe

July 30  Evanston Patch
Article about Mayor’s letter to Cook County Sheriff (includes link to and copy of letter)
by Jonah Meadows

Aug. 2
 City of Evanston

Newsletter from Mayor re: request for criminal investigation

Aug. 2  Evanston Roundtable 
Article on Mayor’s request for criminal investigation
by Bob Seidenberg

Aug. 2
 Evanston Patch
Article about Mayor’s newsletter

by Jonah Meadows

There has also been coverage by Evanston Now and the Daily Northwestern.




Presidential Politics + Food & Farm Justice: Starting with Impeachment….

Posted June 14, 2019

Slightly edited version of a posting made to three major U.S. food-and-farm listservs:
COMFOOD (Tufts Univ.)
Food Policy Networks – FPN (Johns Hopkins Univ.)
Regeneration Midwest (serving 12 states)

4. PRESIDENTIAL PLATFORMS on food-and-farm

1. INTRODUCTION: Food-and-farm justice post-2016 election
In 2017, journalist John Nichols (The Nation; based in Madison, WI) wrote a “Field Guide” to the members of Trump’s cabinet (Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse). Here is the opening sentence of the chapter on the USDA. 

“There is a good argument to be made that Donald Trump, New Yorker from birth and urban to his core, did not even know the United States had a secretary of agriculture when he decided to run for president.”

Nichols continues:
“Though Trump swept farm country in the election of 2016, winning more than 90 percent of the nation’s rural counties, that was not because the Republican presidential nominee offered a coherent program for the renewal of regions that have been battered not just by agribusiness consolidation but by the deindustrialization of small towns and small cities. Trump ran well because the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Farm Security Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and rural electrification forgot how to speak to farm families and voters in small-town America Hillary Clinton did not even show up to campaign in key farm states, while Trump made the trip. There is no evidence to suggest, however, that he paid attention to anything but his own voice.

“So it was that, as the president-elect and his transition team “staffed up,” there was a glaring omission. No one was nominated to head the Department of Agriculture, a sprawling agency with a $155 billion budget and a staff of more than a hundred thousand, in the immediate aftermath of the election. November passed and no one was named. December passed….”

I don’t think I have to copy verbatim the next two paragraphs for these food-and-farm listservs. A day before Trump’s inauguration (Jan. 20), Sonny Perdue, “a career politician” (not a farmer or a food expert) was nominated. But then Trump forgot about the nomination and the position, neglecting to send in the official paperwork to the Senate until the first weeks of March.

“’They don’t seem to have a reason as to why his name hasn’t come up,’ griped Senator Grassley….Vox headlined a March 8 assessment of the mess, ‘The weird mystery of the Trump administration’s agriculture secretary vacancy’….”

Nichols rightly concludes: “There was no mystery. Sonny Perdue was an afterthought….” 

That’s because agriculture was an afterthought to the Trump administration. As is food, as is justice of any kind.

So now, almost 2.5 years into the Trump administration, is there anyone on these listservs that think this group of rich people are going to do anything positive for food-and-farm justice?  Have they done anything positive?  Did I miss something?

More to the point of this email, here are three developments and other information on the presidential politics front that may be of interest to folks working on “food, farms, and democracy”:

2. Beginning an IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY: Actions anyone can take
a. June 15 or 16: Attend a grassroots #ImpeachTrumpNow rally (or schedule your own)
Map of 141 events (and counting)

b. Follow on Twitter (you don’t have to have a Twitter account)
By The People (most active grassroots group)
The Impeachment Project legal reasons for impeachment

c. Official resolution — H.Res.257
Ask your U.S. Congressperson (member of House of Representatives) to co-sponsor House Resolution 257.
“Inquiring whether the House of Reps. should impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America”

Currently 13 co-sponsors:
Rep. Rashida Tlaib  D MI 13
Rep. Green, Al [D-TX-9]*
Rep. Pressley, Ayanna [D-MA-7]
Rep. Omar, Ilhan [D-MN-5]
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria [D-NY-14]
Rep. Huffman, Jared [D-CA-2]
Rep. Vela, Filemon [D-TX-34]
Rep. Blumenauer, Earl [D-OR-3]
Rep. DeGette, Diana [D-CO-1]
Rep. Lee, Barbara [D-CA-13]
Rep. Thompson, Bennie G. [D-MS-2]
Rep. Napolitano, Grace F. [D-CA-32]
Rep. Fudge, Marcia D-OH 11

Approx. 40+ other MOCs have called for impeachment proceedings, including one Republican (Justin Amash – MI) but they have not signed onto the resolution yet.

d.  QUESTION: Have any food-and-farm groups — e.g., Food Policy Councils — officially called for impeachment?  I’d be happy to promote any group’s action.

Seeking input
Liz Henderson (New York farmer & activist) and others have been collecting “questions about food & agriculture for presidential candidates”.

I believe she’s still taking suggestions:

4. PRESIDENTIAL PLATFORMS on food-and-farm
26 candidates listed (24 Dems, 2 Repubs) on Civil Eats
Where the 2020 presidential candidates stand on food-and-farming

I have no specific information on any plans to highlight food-and-farm justice in any debates. Here’s what I do know.

a. First Democratic debate is June 26.

b. No climate crisis debate? Complain to Democratic legislators, party officials
Democratic National Committee (DNC) recently announced that there will be no stand-alone debate on climate. Many climate activists think this is big mistake, given the short time frame we have to reduce emissions and sequester carbon (and given that previous debates did not ask any climate questions). I haven’t heard of any concerted effort to change this, but it’s always good to voice your opinion.

Mark Charles
As of June 1, we now have another candidate for president, running as an independent.  Mark Charles, of Navajo-Dutch ancestry, is running on a platform starting with a national “truth & conciliation” process on “race, gender, and class”.  His campaign video explains why.  I found it very inspiring and similar to my own proposals to re-write the U.S. Constitution so that we can all be involved.

So far he has no specific food-and-farm messaging (apart from sovereign lands and the question of land ownership). Someone to watch, I believe.

— “truth & conciliation committee”  #TCC2021
— Not just “We the People” but  #AllThePeople
Excellent background article by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye (June 2, 2019 for Indian Country)