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Plenty of communities have carried on extensive searches for their next City Manager or chief executive, in contrast with Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty’s assertion that he would not want someone willing to leave their job during the pandemic.
At the May 26 City Council meeting, Mayor Hagerty called on the City Council to elevate Interim City Manager Erika Storlie to the City’s Chief Executive position, in essence shelving plans for a nationwide search process approved earlier in the year that included participation by the public.
In calling for Ms. Storlie’s appointment, Mr. Hagerty had cited the work she had done since taking over as Interim City Manager in September, putting in place a budget for 2020 that reflects the City’s “priorities and values, and responding to the pandemic and effectively managing labor relations.”
During the ensuing discussion, Mr. Hagerty – who received support for the move from Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Donald Wilson, 4th Ward and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward – questioned the quality of candidate that a search would bring during the pandemic, declaring “I don’t want anybody right now that’s willing to leave their community in the midst of a crisis.”
A number of communities conducted extensive search processes before settling on City Managers or top City Administrators in the nearly 40 appointments listed on the ICMA – International City/Council Management Association site – dating back to the start of the pandemic, March 24.
Only three of the 40 boosted assistants to the top positions, and two of those candidates had previous city manager experience, compared to Ms. Storlie, who spent the great bulk of her career in information technology and was moved to the City Manager’s Office in 2011 by then-City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.
Only one of the cases bore similarity to Ms. Storlie’s, but it was much farther along.Jay Burney, an interim city manager and assistant city manager for 10 years in Olympia, Wash., (pop. 52,555), was elevated to the top post in that city after the City Council voted to not bring in the other top candidates for in-person interviews with community members and others because of Covid-19, according to one report.
That was an exception, though. Other recent hires, in both big and small cities, came after extensive search processes. In one community, officials conducted the interviews with finalists over remote hookups because of constraints of the Covid-19 virus.
GovHR USA, the same firm that Evanston contracted with in February before putting its search on hold, conducted the search for the most recent appointee listed on the ICMA list, Paul Brake.
Mr. Brake was to assume the City Manager job in Royal Oak, Mich., (population, 59,461 as of 2018), a suburb of Detroit this month, after serving as city manager in Morgantown, W. Va.
According to one report, the city’s executive search netted 114 applications both local and national candidates.
Mr. Brake “expressed a strong interest in returning to Michigan and has roots in the state,” wrote reporter Sarah Wojcik in one report.
Jeff Mihelich, the new City Manager of Bozeman, Mont., (pop. 48,532, 2018), had previously been deputy city manager in Fort Collins, Col., with a population of 167,800.
In his application, Mr. Mihelich, one of 83 applicants, wrote about the appeal of taking on a challenge such as Bozeman faced and the breadth of job responsibilities as the reason he sought the job.
Evanston City Council members, who face reelection next year in Evanston’s once-in-four-years election cycle, had shown signs of favoring an inside candidate before the surprise sprung at the May 26 City Council meeting.
Aldermen voted 6-2 in January to support staff’s recommendation to hire the Northbrook-based GovHR USA which includes several former City insiders among its officers to conduct the search process.
And Ms. Storlie has been given unusual leeway as an Interim manager, naming several key department head positions, Health and Human Services and Corporation Counsel, without an extensive search process, promoting several others on the City Manager’s staff and firing one popular division manager.