EPL: Equity & Board Appointments Update

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Recently, the Evanston Public Library Board elected new officers (Benjamin Schapiro, President; Victoria Foreman, Vice President; Shawn Illes, Treasurer; and Vaishali Patel, Secretary) and indicated that they intend to conduct an equity review of the library. Based on these actions, I made a decision to hold off appointing any new or re-appointed Board members until I have an opportunity to read the consultant’s equity assessment. After receiving a few questions, I thought I’d explain my thought process further.

I try to make decisions in a thoughtful, expansive, reflective, and fact-based manner. Despite this structured approach, I’m never certain, generally speaking, if my decisions are right or wrong. It’s for this reason that I welcome, encourage, and respect different points of view, refrain from using divisive, emotionally charged, or personal language, and try not to become offended by the opinions of others. I genuinely believe that at the end of the day we are all trying to get to “right,” and none of us have perfected the means to get there.

In the case of the Library, I reached the conclusion that I should wait until the equity review is complete to appoint or reappoint Board members based on several factors, including the following:

1.) The Board recently elected a new leadership team. I think it’s important to let this team lead.

2.) The Library Director and Board have committed to hire a consultant to conduct an equity review of the Library and will discuss this further at the July 19th Library Board meeting. To me, this demonstrates that the Board is listening to the concerns expressed by others and is taking action to understand those concerns better and try to strategically address them over time.

3.) The current Library Board (epl.org/essentials/board-of-trustees/library-board/) is representative in many ways of Evanston (Note: the link does not reflect the new office holders). I’m told it’s also one of the most diverse and community representative boards in northern Illinois. That said, I’m sure we can all identify ways in which the Library Board, or other City Boards for that matter, are not representative enough (e.g., missing representatives from certain wards, missing technical or professional competencies, etc.). Although we are limited by the size of the Boards/Commissions and those that apply, I will work hard over the next four years to better expand our outreach efforts and work to further ensure our Boards are representative of Evanston.

4.) Typically, if members have completed one term and have been active and responsive members of a Board, they are automatically put forward for a second term. This has been general City policy for some time.

While I share the concerns expressed by some about the reluctance in emails exchanged between two Board members to undertake an equity review, I’m of the opinion, based on the factors mentioned above, to let the equity review play out before I decide about whether to retain the existing members up for reappointment or consider new ones.

I do plan to keep an open mind when it comes to these appointments, keeping in mind the extent of the issues and those highlighted in the equity review, and our precedent as a City to respect those who volunteer and dedicate their efforts to support all of our City Boards and Commissions, including the Library Board.

Lastly, I appreciate, as I know many do, the work our Library Director and Board have done and will continue to do to make sure ours is a library system that delivers outstanding service to all our residents. Change is never as swift as we would like, but I believe it is happening at the Evanston Public Library and other important institutions within Evanston.