Administration Committee Looks to Review, Update Village Commissions

Monday’s Administration Committee meeting will be the initial step in re-evaluating the village’s system of boards and commissions, the first expansive review of this system since 2011.

Jeff Axelrod/Wilmette Watch
By Jason Harward
July 4, 2020

Much of the public comment will likely focus on revamping the currently inactive Housing and Human Relations commissions, both of which could be used to increase Wilmette’s racial and socioeconomic diversity.

Committee members are tasked with identifying the “appropriate areas of focus” for the Housing and Human Relations commissions, which are meant to address some of the economic and social barriers to living in Wilmette.

According to village materials provided for the upcoming meeting, these commissions would lack purpose beyond a few tasks even if they were fully staffed. However, village ordinance defines their roles much more broadly, and many in the community want these commissions to meet the current moment of increased racial dialogue.

Although the meeting packet describes the Housing and Human Relations Commissions as inactive, the village has not followed the process of legally deactivating it, which in the past had been done by seeking an Administrative Committee recommendation and then voting on removing the ordinance mandating it.

During the last Village Board meeting on June 23, Trustee Gina Kennedy called for “meaningful action” in dismantling barriers to diversity. 

In a later interview, Kennedy said that while she does not see Wilmette as an overtly racist community, she believes there is a willingness to defer to the status quo. She pointed to the Housing and Human Relations as ways to address more subtle forms of systemic racism.

“If somebody is driving with a Confederate flag on their antenna, we know who they are. But, the rest of us often just accept things the way they are and don’t think about barriers that aren’t that obvious,” Kennedy said. “I think we’re tolerating practices that set up a barrier to different races.”

Concerned residents have circulated Facebook posts and emails asking residents for public comments in support of the Housing and Human Relations Commissions. Gail Schechter, a former longtime Wilmette resident, authored a call-to-action email that provided a sample comment urging leaders to “reestablish and reinvigorate” these commissions.

“I know the importance of these commissions in promoting a diverse and inclusive community,” Schechter said. “For Wilmette to do nothing, they would be misreading the public.”

Schechter, who has years of experience working in affordable housing, believes these commissions can act as mediators and problem-solvers for Wilmette and criticized the village for what she saw as reducing these commissions to less impactful tasks.

“That’s maybe what these commissions devolved to doing, but that’s not what they originally did,” Schechter said.

Jane Hornstein, former chair of the Housing Commission, oversaw communications with affordable housing developers as well as the village housing assistance program until that program was privatized in 2015. The housing commission has not met since that year.

“I do think there is an understanding that we need to be able to serve more income levels and have supportive housing,” Hornstein said. “I think there are parts of the village that are not that interested in that. But, overall, I do think people want it here.”

A report outlining village plans and past efforts regarding affordable housing will be presented and discussed at the July 14 Village Board meeting.

The Human Relations Commission was formed in 2010 when the village merged five different commissions related to social services and public health in an effort to streamline volunteer efforts. Village materials mention only three specific duties for the currently inactive commission–Wilmette Person of the Year, the Black History Month contest and a youth grant program that ended in 2014. However, the village website describes the commission as promoting “justice and equality” and addressing “emerging community needs.”

A Department of Justice report from 1998 outlines the goals and practices of an impactful Human Relations Commission. The report delineates how this commission can “examine intergroup relations and promote work that brings people together.”

Other items on the agenda include possible changes to the number of people serving on each commission. Committee members will also discuss ideas to boost participation and productivity for all commissions, such as making recruitment more accessible and more officially recognizing the contributions these volunteers make in the future.

Regarding more accessible recruitment, the committee will focus on streamlining the Talent Bank Questionnaire (TBQ) by allowing it to be filled out entirely online, re-confirming interest with prior applicants and more aggressively advertising to bring in more applicants.

According to documents received by Wilmette Watch, there are currently at least 37 residents who filled out the TBQ yet have not been placed onto a commission. reporting that they did not receive any response from the village. Village commissions currently have a total of 17 vacancies, although 14 of those come from the Housing and Human Relations commissions, which community outcry may help fill in the near future.

Village ordinance gives the village president sole authority over recommending appointments to village commissions with the “advice and consent of the Board of Trustees.”

Monday’s remote meeting will be held at 2:00 p.m. Public comments can be emailed to or made during the meeting through YouTube live.Watch it live here.

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