Towards a Greener Evanston
Opening statement to Citizens for a Greener Evanston/Evanston Public Library forum:
I want to especially thank Citizens for a Greener Evanston for sponsoring tonight's forum because it gives us a chance to talk about something else besides budgets and zoning, positions and policy. I'm eager to answer your questions about environmental issues and Evanston.
My interest in the environment stretches back to my high school years and the first Earth Day. Back then, I was the treasurer of a local group called the Passiac River Restoration Foundation, located in Chatham, NJ. We organized a “wade-in” where volunteers picked up trash out of the river. Once in my college years, I played “whistle-blower” when I noticed paint, draining out of a storm sewer into the river, matched the colors of a restaurant being painted up the street. I also remember recycling soda and beer cans for 10 cents a pound.
When my wife and I were house-hunting in Evanston in 1986, I had one strict requirement- the house had to be close to public transportation. I have been commuting downtown on the Evanston Express ever since. I remember strenuously opposing the CTA's plans to close the Noyes and/or Foster stops a number of years ago.
I 'm pleased by the current interest in the “locovore” issue, that is, eating food grown locally. One of my reasons for moving from Chicago was to have some land where I could garden. In 1994, I first rented a plot in the McCormick Community Garden and still do. According to my journal, 1996 was my most successful season when I grew 788 pounds of fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, I was not as successful in getting my children to eat those vegetables.
Today, I want to state that I fully support the Evanston Climate Action Plan and I would like to discuss some of its recommendations. First, I'll start with an issue that has affected me personally. Compost. It used to be the City collected our yard waste and composted it at James Park. Free compost was then available to all Evanston residents. Two years ago, City Manager Julia Carroll decided the City could save $80K by outsourcing yard waste collection. Now our yard waste is trucked to Wisconsin and residents no longer have free compost. When I asked her how it could be cheaper to truck yard waste to Wisconsin, she replied, “labor costs.” Either someone is being paid too much or worker productivity is too low.
That answer both motivated me to run for alderman and represents one of my top priorities. City operations and services must be effectively measured for efficiency and value. As an economist and finance professional, as a numbers guy who keeps a garden journal, I have the skill and desire to examine how the City provides and keeps track of its operations. With the economic crisis slowing building development and retail sales, it will be vitally important to get the most value out of our tax revenues. I also note that several recommendations in the Climate Action Plan involve record keeping. I fully support incorporating these recommendations in a broader program of improved operation metrics.
Recently, an early retirement plan enacted by the Council resulted in a hollowing out of City staff. The plan was proposed as a cost cutting measure, but it is unclear how much, if any, has been saved. Some have bemoaned the current lack of “institutional memory.” I prefer to view the glass as half-full. We now have a unique opportunity, with a new Council and a new City Manager, to change the way Evanston operates.
In the course of this campaign, I have answered multiple questionnaires and written a dozen blogs on various issues. You, the voters, can read for yourself how I think, how I form an opinion, how well I express myself. I urge you to check my website, zbesko.org, as well as all the candidates sites. Compare and decide for yourself. If you feel that a different skill set is needed for the City Council, I am your candidate. If you think business operations experience is most important for a City Manager, I will be your recruiter. If you believe that experience and skill are more important than connections and maintaining the status quo, I should be your alderman.
Thank you very much.