Corporation Counsel’s filing of motion to remove parcel was done “behind our backs, undermines trust,’, charges Council member
By Bob Seidenberg
A Federal Court judge ruled Tuesday with an Evanston City Council member who charged at the July 24 City Council meeting the city’s Corporation Counsel circumvented a city committee that deals with delicate Northwestern-neighbor relations, in a legal move that would advance the university’s stadium project.
Judge Nancy Maldonado ruled to deny the city’s motion that would have resulted in a parking lot being removed from the oversight of the Northwestern University-City Committee, Council member Clare Kelly said. As a result of the ruling, she said the citizens committee will have the chance to discuss the issue with Northwestern representatives at the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 31.
“I’m very glad,” reacted Kelly. “This means that residents have the right to have a discussion about T-1 zone and parking — one of the major variances they (Northwestern) require as part of their planned development.’
Kelly, in a statement at the end of Monday’s City Council meeting, charged that Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings circumvented the city committee – which was created by court decree in to resolve delicate neighborhood-University issues – when he filed a motion May 1 to modify the decree, allowing removal of the parcel.
The parcel is located adjacent adjacent to Ryan Field, which NU is proposing to rebuild with expanded uses, including concerts.
“No clarification or modification is needed in this decree,” Kelly stressed in her statement. “If Northwestern suddenly has questions about the wording of the consent decree, then Northwestern can file a motion.”
Kelly said she was “stunned” to learn about the city’s action from the Seventh Ward residents who live near Northwestern’s proposed $800 million stadium project —“not from staff, not from my mayor, not from Corporation Counsel —instead from residents who uncovered important information through FOIA (Freedom of Information).”
(Asked whether he had knowledge of Cummings’ motion, Evanston City Manager Luke Stowe responded in a statement Tuesday: “In an attempt to address the impasse, the Law Department recommended filing the motion and I was aware of their intent to file the motion. We should have communicated better with the city council on our efforts to address the dispute.”
T-1 and U-1 Districts
As Council member in the First Ward, Kelly heads the Northwestern University-City Committee, which is comprised of neighbors living in the vicinity of the University and representatives of the University.
“The committee was established in order to address issues between neighborhoods in T-1 (which includes the stadium parking lot) and T-2 (Transitional Campus) and U-1 (University Housing) areas to avoid legal proceedings, modifying the decree in a way that Northwestern wasn’t modifying,” she said. “By removing some neighborhoods that fall under the purview of this committee [it] would disenfranchise and limit the city and its residents from collaborative discussions around land use as described in the 2004 decree. The motion that was submitted is an attempt to insert a limitation that is absent from the decree in 2004.
“Northwestern had five attorneys negotiate this consent decree,” she told Council members. “If Northwestern needed other language it certainly would have been added at that point.”
“The motion that has been submitted benefits Northwestern and not the city,” she said. “Filing this motion without informing the committee, behind our backs, undermines trust,” she said. “I’ve asked the City Manager to direct Corporation Counsel to withdraw this motion immediately. This entire matter was handled improperly and it transparently.”
Responding briefly to Kelly’s charges, Cummings maintained that the consent decree allows for disputes to be brought to the court by either party.
“So since it was not brought by Northwestern and the parties were at an impasse, the city filed the motion and we can discuss anything after that in closed session,” he said with the meeting nearing its end. “But that’s the reason why the motion was filed. It wasn’t meant to try to circumvent any or go behind anybody’s back. The parties were at an impasse, and consent decree says that the court handles disputes.”
During citizen comment, Mary Rosinski noted that the city’s motion filed came a month before a Northwestern University-City meeting where none of the University representatives showed up.
“So you know, it’s not looking good,” she told Council members.
“It looks like a lot of special interests have the privilege of talking to staff and getting things on the agenda and other people, ordinary citizens, don’t.”
The exchange occurred in Cummings’ farewell meeting with the city. At the start of the meeting, Stowe asked Council members to join him in congratulating Cummings on his appointment as the new General Counsel for the Chicago Park District.
“I’d like to thank Nick for his service to Evanston and his outstanding work on reparations, which is often used as a potential blueprint for many municipalities nationwide,” he said. “Nick also played a key role in helping the city navigate the COVID pandemic, and changes in leadership.”
He said that Deputy City Attorney Alexandra Ruggie will serve as interim Corporation Counsel and that the city will be externally posting the Corporation Counsel position in August.