With public comments over the City’s firing of Community Services Manager Kevin Brown dominating another Evanston City Council meeting Dec. 9, Ninth Ward Alderman Cicely Fleming called for a resolution showing aldermanic support for the popular employee’s reinstatement.
But the proposal did not move forward with both the Mayor Stephen Hagerty and City’s Corporation Counsel maintaining the matter fell outside the City Council’s purview.
Ald. Fleming proposed her resolution after another emotional meeting at which a number of the 30 speakers called for Mr. Brown’s reinstatement.
Mr. Brown was informed by Interim City Manager Erika Storlie Nov 15 that he was being terminated from his position.
Ms. Storlie’s action followed a pre-disciplinary hearing where it was charged Mr. Brown had ignored instruction from superiors, allowing his staff to park in restricted areas and incur parking tickets, which Mr. Brown paid using a City credit card.
In response, Mr. Brown had maintained that it was standard practice for many years in the Recreation Department to either have tickets voided or paid with the City credit 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 – nine occurring over three years – were authorized and approved by senior managers with City approval authority.
Mr. Brown, who reached out with details of his case over social media, has received wide support from different segments of the community.
Speaking in support, community members have cited the work of his Youth and Young Adult Division with at risk youth and families as well as noting the minor nature of the alleged infractions.
“I’m very concerned about the termination and what has transpired here,” said Jevoid Simmons, the first resident to speak during citizen comment Dec. 9. “The work he’s done over the past five years has been very positive for this community, positive for the young black and brown folks and for their families. That’s positive for those families and for the entire community as well.”
Mr. Brown, through his attorney Shawn Jones, on Nov. 22, filed an appeal with Ms. Storlie and Human Resources Division Manager Jennifer Lin, seeking reconsideration of the case.
Aldermen have said little on the issue through the three citizen comment sessions since the termination, maintaining employee discipline falls under administrative staff’s purview.
In calling for a resolution Ald. Fleming noted, “People are very upset, as we all know.”
She acknowledged that officials are reluctant to discuss such issues publicly, “but people have asked us to do more than sit here and defer to the City Manager.”
She then proposed a resolution to support the reinstatement of Kevin Brown, receiving strong applause from the audience.
Mayor Stephen Hagerty, however, ruled the motion out of order, pointing out the item was not on that night’s agenda.
Further, he said, “It can’t be on the agenda, because it is within the purview of the City Manager to hire employees, to fire employees, to discipline city employees. That is not within the purview of the Evanston City Council.”
Ald. Fleming stressed that her resolution was one of support and not stipulating that Ms. Storlie rehire Mr. Brown. “That’s not my job,” she said.
Rather, “The resolution was in support of reinstating him [Mr. Brown], and people can vote yes or no,” she said.
Sixth Ward Alderman Thomas Suffredin seconded her motion for a resolution.
No other Council members spoke in support, however.
Mayor Hagerty repeated his view that personal matters fall under the City Manager. Further, Robert’s Rules of Order day the Council cannot discuss anything not on its agenda, he said.
Elaborating further, Michelle Masoncup, the City’s Corporation Counsel, stated the Brown situation was “not an issue for the City Council to address today.”
“Additionally, a resolution to support an individual is just in furtherance of a personnel matter,” Ms. Masoncup said. “And that in itself is a management decision for the City Manager.”
Ald. Fleming said she realized “we’re not going to have a discussions about a personnel matter. I’m very clear on that.
“However, I think it has been very clear, particularly by a lot of the people who never come here that this is a very important issue to them,” she said. “They understand our form of government but they are also extremely frustrated that we have not discussed their concern.”
“The resolution is not seeking to go into the details of the case,” she said, but rather “we’re talking about moving forward and giving the City Manager” guidance on the issue.
Ms. Masoncup registered concern that the proposal would have the potential “to change the very essence” of City government, which separates the City Manager and professional staff from elected officials on personnel issues.
Ald. Fleming indicated her intent was to get Council views on the question for the benefit of community members.
“You should not have to come out here several times and tell us the same thing,” she said to residents.