Evanston‘s Board of Ethics is expected to report its fact-finding in early May on the alleged ethics and city code violations by a sitting alderman and alderman-elect over improper city email use and an employment conflict of interest, according to an announcement from the board Tuesday night.
The city’s ethics board investigates alleged violations and issues “advisory opinions for the City Council on questions of possible unethical conduct or conflict of interest,” according to information on the city’s website.
Tuesday’s meeting came as a result of the two complaints Evanston residents Betty Ester and Madelyn Ducre filed against 5th Ward Ald. Delores Holmes and then-5th Ward candidate Simmons in March.
In them, the women alleged that Holmes violated city code by using her City of Evanston email address to send an email blast endorsing Simmons.
Ester also alleged that Simmons violated city code by serving on Evanston’s nine-member Minority-Owned, Women-Owned, and Emerging Business Enterprises Development Committee, and then going to work for a company that the board recommended receive a grant.
Another ethics complaint, filed by former 5th Ward candidate Misty Witenberg, alleged that Holmes forwarded emails from Witenberg to a member of Simmons’ campaign team. The emails, Witenberg said, were about Simmons herself.
In findings made Tuesday, ethics commissioners said allegations about the endorsement of candidates by public officials were found to be not in violation.
There is “no issue with elected public officials endorsing a candidate,” Board of Ethics member Karena Bierman said after the group returned from executive session.
However, “distribution of endorsements via city email is a violation of city code,” Bierman said.
The board is expected to report back on accusations of ethics violations by 5th Ward Alderman-elect Robin Rue Simmons over her involvement with nonprofit Sunshine Enterprises.
That organization receives money from the city to pay for work training programs, and is also Simmons’ employer.
As for penalties, the Evanston city code states that anyone violating “prohibited political activities” may be punished with incarceration for no more than 364 days, and a fine not to exceed $2,500.
Additionally, city code states that anyone found to have violated ethics rules “may be subject to censure, suspension, removal from office or employment or other disciplinary action, as determined by the appropriate city authority.”
Tuesday’s meeting was the Board of Ethics’ first session since 2016.
The complaints were first scheduled to be heard before the April 4 election, but the March meeting was canceled due to lack of a quorum. Only three members remained on the five-member panel at that time, and officials said that no one had been appointed to the board since 2014.
As a result, when one member canceled on short notice, the meeting was called off.