Evanston has a Council-Manager form of government, in which the decisions made by the City Manager have more impact on our daily life than those of the people that we elect. We elect the City Council, and the City Council makes one hire: this one.
Every other personnel decision in the City is made by the City Manager.
The public deserves a voice.
First, it is important to acknowledge that we believe Erika Storlie is a good person who – to our knowledge – without her participation or advance knowledge, been put in an impossible situation by elected officials’ attempting to cut the public out of the process of hiring the chief executive of the City we live in.
Being the interim City Manager in this situation requires recusals and firewalls, and we do not have any reason to believe that Ms. Storlie has done anything herself to taint this process. Our experience has been that since being named interim in September, she has taken extreme care to not be involved in any of the discussions around the search process. As and Evanston resident and potential candidate for the position of City Manager, Ms. Storlie is also being deprived of a legitimate process. If offered the job under these circumstances, she is significantly undermined through no fault of her own.
Since the pandemic and disagreements about the hiring of a search firm are being used as excuses for eliminating a public process, a look at the timeline is instructive.
- After seeking other jobs for literally the entire time this Council has been in office, the previous City Manager submitted his resignation on August 19, 2019, effective September 27, 2019. Nothing was done to start the search process during this time despite the fact that there was a process outlined at the April 1, 2019 Rules Committee for this exact, inevitable event.
39 days squandered
- On October 28, 2019 (69 days since resignation) the search firm proposed by staff was rejected by a 3-2 vote of the Administration and Public Works Committee. Rather than simply selecting another firm, Council decided upon a contorted process by which there would be interviews with three firms, including the rejected firm. That was set for early December.
- On January 13, 2020, (146 days since resignation) Council hired the firm that was originally rejected.
- On January 28, 2020, (161 days since resignation) Mayor Stephen Hagerty attempted to hold initial conversations about the City Manager search with the chosen search firm in executive session.
- There are objections to the necessity and appropriateness of embarking on an “open and transparent” process behind closed doors, and the item is agreed to be put on the agenda for the City Council’s February 10, 2020 (174 days since resignation), meeting.
- The chosen search firm does not have anyone that they can make available for the February 10 meeting so the item is moved to the February 24, 2020, (189 days since resignation) City Council meeting at the request of the chosen search firm. At that meeting a recruitment schedule with significant public input is agreed upon.
- A resident survey is composed. Announcements go out for public meetings to be held in March. The pandemic understandably makes in-person meetings impossible.
- On March 17, 2020, (211 days since resignation) there is still intent to send out the survey, but Mayor Hagerty, Evanston’s HR Director, and the chosen firm decide on March 18 that the survey should not go out because, “The Mayor believes that the survey results will be skewed/biased since it’s not pertinent to the actual search process. Folks might use the survey as a forum to vent about the City’s response to the Coronavirus instead of responding to what they want to see in the next city manager. Additionally, Heidi [Voorhees, executive Director of GOVHR USA] believes that it will appear haphazard with a survey now and then meetings 2 months from now. When all the processes are taking place around the same time, it’s more relevant and timely.”
- At the May 11, 2020 meeting (266 days since resignation), a request is made for an update on the status of the City Manager search.
- At the May 26, 2020 meeting (281 days since resignation), Mayor Hagerty has a speech prepared for why he thinks that the job should be given to MS. Storlie without conducting a search and several aldermen appear to agree. The City’s response to the pandemic, the reason that on March 18 Mayor Hagerty felt that a survey of residents would be invalidated, is now cited as the main reason to forgo a public process. Others cite their good working relationship with Ms. Storlie.
It is important that all Evanstonians, and, in particular, our colleagues on the City Council, keep in mind that the City Manager does not work for nine aldermen and the Mayor. The City Manager works for Evanston’s 75,000 residents.
Let them have a say.
Cicely Fleming, Alderman, 9th Ward Robin Rue Simmons, Alderman, 5th Ward Thomas Suffredin, Alderman, 6th Ward