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On Nov. 15, Interim City Manager Erika Storlie advised Community Services Manager Kevin Brown that his employment with the City was terminated.
Mr. Brown was hired by the City in March 2012 as the City’s Youth and Young Adult Program Manager. In 2014, he was promoted to Community Services Manager. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University, a Master of Arts degree from Western Seminary, and a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. He has more than 30 years’ experience in law, education, public policy and youth development.
Since being hired by the City to work with at-risk youth, Mr. Brown has built a dedicated team of outreach workers and a cadre of about 45 partners across the community.
The outreach team members work with youth who have suffered trauma from such things as poverty, lack of care for physical and mental problems, stress and homelessness. The team members become mentors and, at times, mediators and violence-interrupters in order to keep the community safe and entice the youth from life on the street.
With community partners such as the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, the Mayor’s Employment Advisory Council and the Youth Job Center, these Evanston youth receive help for their basic needs as well as support to rejoin the mainstream of attending school and becoming prepared to hold a job.
Since 2012, between 20 and 25 youth, 18-25 years old, have participated annually in the Career Pathways program. In this program more than150 youth have received paid on-the-job training opportunities, and 80% of them have obtained permanent employment at the end of their internships.
More than 500 people have participated in the Certificate of Rehabilitation program, which helps youth to seal or partially seal or expunge criminal records. This significantly increases their chances of obtaining a job.
Mr. Brown said his outreach team has helped thousands of Evanston youth and young adults to secure job training and permanent employment. Between 2012 and 2018, the percentage of youth ages 16 to 24 who have been arrested has declined by more than 200%. The percentage of youth who participate in the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program increased almost four-fold to 600 jobs in 2018.
The charges against Mr. Brown were laid out in a five-page memo dated Oct. 31 from Lawrence Hemingway, Director of Parks, Recreation & Community Services, to Mr. Brown. The charges relate to the payment of nine parking tickets and one towing fee between January 31, 2018 and March 7, 2019.
One of the tickets was issued on a City-owned vehicle for failure to have a current registration.
Seven of the tickets were for parking violations of a City owned-vehicle or vehicles owned by a member of the outreach team at the City’s parking lot at the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Avenue. Mr. Brown said the vehicles owned by the outreach staff brandished the “City of Evanston Official Business” parking permit.
A ninth ticket was issued on a City-owned vehicle for parking in a no-parking street cleaning zone in the 1100 block of Leonard Place on Sept. 17, 2018, and there was also a $200 towing fee for that vehicle. Mr. Brown said in his Nov. 6 letter that the vehicle had been parked at the Civic Center lot on Friday, Sept. 14, but it was moved at the direction of the Assistant Director of Community Services of the Recreation Department because of an event. He said the City employee who moved the vehicle parked it in a no-parking street-cleaning zone, and it was ticketed and towed on Monday.
Mr. Brown said he was directed by Mr. Hemingway and Ms. Hawk to use the City credit card to get the towed vehicle back.
Mr. Brown paid the parking tickets and the towing fee using a City credit card. Mr. Hemingway said that Mr. Brown was not authorized to do this. Among other things, he said an email dated July 19, 2019 to Mr. Brown and the outreach team said that staff would be responsible for any parking tickets.
Mr. Brown said he was authorized to use the City’s credit card to pay the tickets and that it was a long standing practice to pay parking tickets on City vehicles and staff vehicles using the “Official City Business” parking placards.
Mr. Hemingway’s memo said Mr. Brown submitted a credit card receipt in support of some of these transactions and a statement in lieu of a credit card receipt for others. He said the statements contained descriptions, such as “city ticketed outreach vehicle,” “city towed outreach vehicle,” “outreach parking,” and “parking.”
Mr. Brown said the credit card charges were listed on an on-line summary of credit card charges that was regularly provided to his supervisor and that the summary would include, among other things, the amount of the charges (ranging from $31 to $76 for parking tickets and $200 for the towing), the City as the payee, and a description of the charges. Mr. Brown said his supervisor approved each of the credit card charges and that the charges would not have been paid if his supervisor did not approve them.
Mr. Hemingway’s memo alleges that Mr. Brown did not accurately describe the charges, but there is no allegation that Mr. Brown’s superior asked Mr. Brown to provide a more detailed explanation of any of the charges.
There is no claim that any of the fines or charges was the personal responsibility of Mr. Brown. Rather, all the parking tickets were for parking violations of vehicles owned by the City and that were being used by the outreach workers or they were tickets on vehicles owned by the outreach workers. There is no claim that any portion of the credit charges went to personally benefit Mr. Brown.
We understand that Mr. Brown was given the option of signing an agreement admitting that he engaged in wrongdoing, and if he did so, he could continue working at his job. Requiring an employee who maintains he is innocent to admit to wrongdoing is, in our view, not an acceptable option.
After his many years of service, we think the termination of Mr. Brown is unfounded and unwarranted, and it should be reconsidered and reversed. Mr. Brown has provided a valuable service to Evanston youth and to this community for many years. It would be a grave mistake and we think a miscarriage of justice to terminate his employment and lose the benefit of his knowledge and services.