Three years ago, I asked Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin for ideas on how I might contribute to public service. He suggested a trusteeship on the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District (NSMAD) board. “Mosquitoes?”, I replied, “What do I know about mosquitoes?” Experience as an entomologist was not required. Instead, I was asked to serve because of my financial background and my recent experience as President of the Democratic Party of Evanston. I accepted the appointment because I knew the experience of serving on a public board, responsible for a small portion of our property tax bills, would prepare me for higher public office.
The NSMAD suffered scandal around 2000 when the the Chicago Tribune reported on junket trips and patronage hiring. Two current trustees served during the time of scandal and the three new appointees would constitute a majority. A new superintendent had recently been hired and the long-time office manager was retiring. Our task was to ensure the public health was protected, especially from West Nile virus, and that the District's operations were in order.
Like the city manager form of government that Evanston has, the NSMAD depends on the superintendent to really run the show and the Trustees to provide oversight and approval of a budget and major expenditures. (Funding is set at the County level.) I now realize just how important having a good superintendent, or a city manager, is. The selection of a Evanston City Manager will be one of the most important tasks of the new Council.
At NSMAD, the focus is on prevention, rather than spraying. To that end, most of the work consists of treating or draining standing water where mosquitoes breed. It is my intent to focus the Council and staff's attention on maintenance of City assets, so neglected little problems don't become expensive headaches. Over the last three years, the use of technology to increase productivity has expanded. Trucks are equipped with GPS units- better to keep track of seasonal employees and to precisely spray or avoid spraying of certain locations or addresses. Information technology has helped in mapping potential breeding areas and with communications with the public. As alderman, I hope to contribute my knowledge of technology and business methods towards better operation of City services.
The Trustees instituted changes in NSMAD financial operations. Capital reserve accounts have been set up to facilitate the replacement of old trucks and equipment. Working with a new auditor, the Trustees adopted additional controls and procedures to manage finances. Drawing upon our collective experience in the public and private sectors, the Trustees have been examining employee benefits and creating written policies and procedures. Again, as alderman, I hope to bring experienced oversight to City operations.
I am pleased to say the North Shore Mosquito District is in fine shape. The fleet has been modernized. Our communications with the public seem more effective than in the past. And the financial position of the District is strong, with “rainy-day” reserves, competitive wages and benefits, and enhanced procedures for accountability. More information, including the minutes of the Trustees meetings and audited annual reports, is available at http://www.nsmad.com
The current situation in Evanston City government is similar to what I encountered as a new Trustee- high staff and Trustee turnover, questionable finances and employee policies, and aging capital assets. NSMAD is fortunate to have a good superintendent and Board. It is my intent to find an equally capable City Manager and begin examining the justification and provision of City services.