GovHR’s representative Heidi Vorhees (left) and Evanston’s Human Resources Division Manager Jennifer Lin discuss details of the search process for the City’s next City Manager at the Feb. 24 City Council meeting.

City officials have sketched out opportunities for the public to participate in the search process for  Evanston’s next City Manager.

Finding quality candidates. though, may be the biggest challenge, said Heidi Vorhees of GovHR USA, the City’s consultant on the search, responding to a question at the Feb. 24  City Council meeting.

Right now, Ms. Vorhees told aldermen, “It’s a full-employment economy, which makes it more challenging in the public sector. The ‘Boomer’ generation is retiring at a quick pace. And the generation that is coming up, that cohort that’s probably the most well-qualified for this position, is about a third smaller.

“So we’re seeing difficulties finding talent for positions across the board,” she said. “And it’s been going on for a few years.”

In the recruitment schedule for the  position, officials are contemplating holding general public meetings on two evenings; one-on-one meetings  with elected officials, as well as focus groups with representatives from the business community, faith community, non-profits, service organizations, environmental and sustainability stakeholders, university, school districts, and others.

During that time, GovHR is recommending a survey be placed on the City’s website, soliciting feedback on what qualities and experiences community members would like to see in the next City Manager, who, in effect, acts as the Chief Executive Officer for the City, overseeing day-to-day operations.

GovHR will recruit nationally and is to include a recruitment brochure based on the stakeholder meetings and other feedback.

The firm also plans to place recruitment position announcements on a number of websites, such as the International City and County Management Association, the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, the Local Government Hispanic Network and more.

Under the proposed timeline, the deadline for candidate resumes is May 1.

Interviews are then scheduled to take place in early June.

Officials anticipate the first round of interviews will include five to seven candidates.

That number will then be reduced, likely to three, they said.

At the meeting, Alderman Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, noted the community’s concern for transparency in the process.

 Joining Ms. Vorhees at the speaker’s stand, Jennifer Lin, the City’s Human Resources Division Manager, said she recognized officials’ need for transparency.

On the other side, “HR is very concerned about the integrity of the confidentiality process,” said Ms. Lin, noting some of the applicants applying for the position are doing so without their employer’s knowledge.

“So I am concerned about the publicity and public information that’s accessible,” Ms. Lin said.

“It’s ultimately up to you to decide who the best candidate is,” she told aldermen. “So publicly releasing that information won’t necessarily garner you the best candidate. It’s you using your best expertise, your interests, your constituents concerns, and using those to the best of your abilities to select from the greatest pool of applicants to decide who’s going to be the next City Manager.”

Ald. Suffredin agreed there has to be balance, but also noted the importance of interaction between candidates and the public at some point.

“There’s no point in having impeccably credentialed candidates who get to Evanston,” he said, “and then see the people who live in the City that they’re going to be managing and realize ‘This is not an environment in which I can do my job.’ So how do we make it clear from the start that this isn’t a best resume contest? We’re actually looking for someone who can manage the City and the residents who live here.”

Ms. Vorhees noted that the firm’s proposal states that the process will include a public forum for finalist candidates.

City Manager Search Schedule

March 19 – 6-8 p.m., Public meeting, Council Chambers

March 20 – 10-12 p.m. and 1-3 p.m., Focus groups (place TBA)

March 25 – 4-6 p.m. and 6-8 p.m., Focus groups (place TBA)

March 26 – 6-8 p.m., Public meeting, Council Chambers (Spanish translation available)

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.