Kevin Brown RoundTable photos

The City’s former Community Services Manager Kevin Brown has filed a formal appeal with the City over his firing Nov. 15 over allegations he allowed staff to incur parking tickets without permission, citing testimony from a former employee that all of the transactions had been signed off by Mr. Brown’s superiors.

Mr. Brown, through his attorney Shawn Jones, on Nov. 22, filed the appeal with Interim City Manager Erika Storlie and Human Resources Division Manager Jennifer Lin, seeking reconsideration of the case.

Mr. Brown was hired in 2012 as the City’s first Youth and Young Adult Program Manager, building a team of outreach workers and community partners, working with at risk youth and their families.

On Nov. 15, he was advised by Ms. Storlie that his employment with the City was terminated, following a pre-disciplinary hearing where it was charged Mr. Brown ignored instruction from superiors, allowing his staff to park in restricted areas and incur parking tickets, which Mr. Brown paid off through a City credit card.

In the appeal, Mr. Jones cited evidence which was received after the initial pre-disciplinary hearing on the case –communications he and Mr. Brown had received from former City employee Porschia Davis, according to a copy of the appeal obtained by the RoundTable.

In the communication, wrote Mr. Jones, Ms. Davis maintained that “ALL (transactions) were approved and directed to be handled by Director Hemingway [Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services] as all purchase[s] are signed off by the Assistant Director and/or Director of the Department.”

Ms. Davis amplified that statement during citizen comment at the Nov. 18 City Council meeting. She told aldermen the allegations against Mr. Brown were “one hundred percent false, because I was here when all those instances [the alleged infractions] occurred, and we were given directives and approved by senior leadership to handle those issues with a City credit card.”

Ms. Davis’s statements run counter to staff assertions in the discipline that Mr. Brown had no permission or authorization on the part of staff to continue paying off the parking tickets.

Pointing to Ms. Davis’s statement in the Nov. 22 appeal, Mr. Jones maintained that “it must be noted that Mr. Brown never received any personal benefit from the referenced transactions. Rather, he is being terminated because he stood up for and took care of his staff. Certainly, a more effective method for addressing the alleged parking problem would have been to meet with Mr. Brown and his staff and convey the importance of City parking policy. Proceeding straight to termination, and termination of the manager of a staff that allegedly violated parking rules, is extreme beyond rationality.”

Mr. Brown was placed on administrative leave Oct. 31. In a five-page memo, Mr. Hemingway laid out details for the action, reporting that Mr. Brown’s outreach workers incurred nine parking tickets and one towing fee between Jan. 31, 2018 and March 7, 2019.

“Despite three emails regarding no staff parking in the restricted areas and posted signs prohibiting such parking, outreach staff continued to park City and personal vehicles in the restricted areas, resulting in a number of parking tickets being issued by City parking enforcement officers,” wrote Mr. Hemingway.

In response, Mr. Brown had maintained that it was standard practice for many years in the Recreation Department to either get tickets voided or paid with the City card when vehicles were ticketed in the Civic Center lot.

He maintained that he did not have approval authority over the credit card transactions and that all of the transactions were authorized and approved by senior managers with City approval authority.

The City held a pre-disciplinary hearing with Mr. Brown Nov. 12. At the meeting, Mr. Brown said he was informed by Ms. Lin that if he did not sign a letter admitting to the allegations in the Hemingway memo he faced termination.

When Mr. Brown failed to sign the agreement, Interim City Manager Erika Storlie issued him a termination letter on behalf of the City, said Mr. Jones.

Under the rules in the City’s Personnel Manual, non-union employees such as Mr. Brown, who have been suspended or terminated may appeal those actions to the City Manager or designee.

At the Nov. 18 City Council meeting, nearly 40 community members signed up to speak in support of Mr. Brown, including Ms. Davis, who had served as program director for the Youth and Young Adults Division, working under Mr. Brown, for a little over six years.

 “What I see as grossly incompetent,” she told aldermen, “is the City eagerly ticketing a City of Evanston employee working on the clock – performing City duties on City property and properly identified vehicles that include an employee placard, and then expect already underpaid and overworked staff to pay for this out of their pocket.

“The process for City credit cards, bill payments goes from the Manager, Assistant Director, to the Director of the department for review and final approval.” she said. “How is it that over a span of three years, Kevin or myself were never disciplined for these given infractions, yet was given the final approval by senior leadership and now this has escalated to an immediate termination?”

At the Council meeting, several speakers who spoke in support of Mr. Brown recalled appearing in his behalf just a year ago when his position was included among the cuts in then-City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s budget.

One of the speakers at the meeting, former Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, told Council members she turned to Mr. Brown for help when street violence flared during her term, seeking to connect with families and learn more about the underlying causes.

The Mayor said, at Mr. Brown’s suggestion, she began accompanying him and outreach workers on Saturday nights in the summer, talking to people who were out in the street – “young men who did not come to Council meetings,” she said.

“And they all wanted jobs,” she told Council members. “So Kevin, the Youth and Young Adult group did a tremendous job, getting jobs. The reason that those kids would talk to me – I was still a white grandmother – but I had Kevin and they trusted him. And they figured, if he was with me, was out with me, I must be okay.”

Another speaker, Oliver Ruff, a longtime community member and educator, charged the action was way out of proportion with the alleged violations.

 “Based on what has been made known, the actions have been parceled out for mere indiscretions,” he said, adding: “If parking tickets were paid with a City credit card, wouldn’t there be approval for the account by the administrative superiors? Who signed for those payments? Shouldn’t those persons be responsible or accountable for their complicity in those transactions?”

 In handling of the matter, Mr. Ruff, suggested officials “refill their integrity cavity.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.