Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell unveiled a transition plan last week to articulate a chain of command for City employees who have seen their ranks decimated over the past year by an early retirement incentive.

Under Ms. Russell’s plan, three department directors – Doug Gaynor of Parks/Forestry and Recreation, Evonda Thomas of Health and Human Services and Joellen Daley, who will be director of Internal and Community Services – will assume greater oversight of City departments.

Mr. Gaynor will be director of City Operations and will assume administrative responsibility for the Parks/Forestry and Recreation, Police, Fire, Public Works and Facilities Management departments.

Ms. Daley will assume responsibility for the Human Resources, Health and Human Services and Business Performance and Technology departments and the Library.

Continuing as director of Health and Human services, Ms. Thomas will also assume responsibility for the Office of Sustainability and the Youth Engagement Initiative.

Ms. Russell will continue oversight of the City Manager’s office and will also oversee the Legal, Finance and Community Development departments.

The plan appears to be a temporary one, to establish oversight and a chain of command while additional employees are hired. “I don’t think anyone on the Council views the plan as anything but temporary,” Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, told the RoundTable.

Nearly 60 employees have left the City since former City Manager Julia Carroll introduced an early retirement initiative last year, which she said would garner savings for the City over several years, as retirees would be replaced by persons who would be paid less or would not be replaced at all, that is, vacated positions would not be filled.

Aldermen, some of whom said they were shocked by the number of persons who opted for the program, have said they did not expect such a great number of people to leave the City.

“We have had way too many people leave,” said Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward.

“I think everyone on the Council regrets that vote [to implement the early retirement plan],” Ald. Wynne said. “The loss of expertise and institutional memory is enormous.”

Some retirees have said Ms. Carroll’s management style induced them to take advantage of the early retirement package. Ms. Carroll herself is a beneficiary of the early retirement package, having resigned just days before the window of opportunity on the early retirement package closed.

With so many persons leaving, the City seemed rudderless for a time, but aldermen say under Ms. Russell’s leadership they are feeling more confident about the direction of the City.

“Rolanda is an excellent interim City Manager. She has real strength and quiet leadership,” Ald. Wynne said. She added she feels Council members are supportive of both Ms. Russell and her transition plan, and had “heard no complaints” about Ms. Russell’s leadership.

“It’s very important for us to have this plan. …We’ve reassured the staff we’ll keep everything transparent,” said Ald. Wynne. “I have confidence in Rolanda that she’ll work this out, and if we find kinks, we’ll work them out. We’re all in this together.”

“We’re heading in the right direction,” said Ald. Tisdahl. “It’s a hard case to make, but under less than ideal circumstances we are heading in the right direction. …We are all very, very grateful to Rolanda, and she is doing a lot for the citizens of Evanston.”

Both Ald. Tisdahl and Ald. Wynne said they felt Ms. Russell’s plan to establish oversight and gradually fill the vacancies was a good one. “We’re not hiring willy-nilly. We’re making an effort to hire quality people, not just filling a space,” Ald. Tisdahl said. She added she appreciated that Ms. Russell is “very serious about having people develop from within.”

Both aldermen said they thought the search for a new City Manager would be some time in coming. “We’ll wait until after the dust settles,” said Ald. Wynne. “We’ll fill the positions first so we don’t look so sparse. We want to take our time and do a good search.”

Ms. Russell told the RoundTable, ” The Mayor and Council are supportive. They are passionate about Evanston and share the objective of providing seamless City services while stabilizing the work force through the drain of ‘institutional knowledge’ and vacancies.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...