Rally participants parked in the Civic Center parking lots; where many people displayed signs on the back windows of the vehicles. Photo by Heidi Randhava

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Evanston City Council members have withdrawn a proposal to approve the appointment of Interim City Manager Erika Storlie as the City’s next City Manager, both after Ms. Storlie acknowledged the need for a public process and in the face of strong public protest.

Council members took their cue to withdraw a vote on the issue at their June 8 meeting after Ms. Storlie, in remarks at the start of the meeting, told aldermen. “I know this has been a topic of discussion over the last couple of weeks, and I just wanted to give my opinion that a public process is something that I value.

“I’ve been here for 16 years now, and I know that public process is at the core of what Evanston and who Evanston is. So I just wanted to give my feedback on that and whatever City Council direction is appreciated and I know that they’ll [Council members] do what they think is best for the community.”

A short time later Ald. Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, referred to Ms. Storlie’s comments, saying it sounded like “she was saying she would prefer a public process,” and moved to withdraw action on Ms. Storlie’s appointment “and go back to getting that process on track.”

Ald. Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, who challenged the Council’s proposed hiring of Ms. Storlie at the May 26 meeting and the dropping of a public process, noted the public also wants a search process and said, “So when are we going to start?” 

On the referral by Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, the matter will go to the City Council’s Rules Committee for discussion at the June 15 meeting.

“The Rules Committee is where the City Manager’s search process is discussed,” said Ald. Rainey, the Council’s senior aldermen in terms of service. “It would not have such chaos if discussed there in the first place.” City Council rules permit the Mayor to vote in the Rules Committee.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, asked that a representative of GovHR USA, the firm the City had contracted with to do the search, be present at that meeting to include an update, “telling us what they’re finding at the national level.”

Mayor Stephen Hagerty had proposed Ms. Storlie’s hiring at the May 26 City Council meeting, receiving quick backing from Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, Ald. Wilson and Ald. Rainey.

Mayor Hagerty cited Ms. Storlie’s work during the pandemic, including on the budget and questioned the character of candidates who would leave their jobs for the Evanston position in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.

The move had touched off strong protest in the community from many residents, who charged Council members were abandoning the public process they had agreed to last February when they contracted with GovHR USA to conduct a nationwide search that included public feedback on the qualities residents would like to see in the City’s next top executive.

Before the June 8 meeting, members of the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership (OPAL) gathered on the lawn of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center in protest of officials’ moving away from that process.

“We just want the Mayor and City Council to know that the citizens want to be heard,” organizer Tiffini Holmes said, “and they were promised that they would be, and now it looks like the Mayor and City Council are backing out of that process, and that’s not okay.

“So we want them to figure that out and open up the search process.

“We feel there are a number of qualified candidates are out there, the pandemic notwithstanding,” Ms. Holmes said, ‘and there was a process that was promised and it should be delivered and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.”

The group of close to 50 demonstrators included Kevin Brown, the City’s popular former community services manager, whose firing over some staff parking tickets Ms. Storlie refused to overturn last year. Mr. Brown had maintained the tickets were signed off by superiors.

Of the rally, “They [community members] are ready to hold our elected officials accountable,” said Mr. Brown. “I think that’s important.”

After the Council’s move to withdraw the immediate appointment of Ms. Storlie, Ms. Holmes issued a statement on behalf of OPAL.

“We’re encouraged by the City Council’s decision to return to a public process by referring the city manager search to the Rules Committee. We hope that this means they will have a fair, full and open hiring process from start to finish, with ample opportunities for public input. Evanston deserves nothing less.”