Looking at issues through an equity lens, embodying the City’s values, practicing fiscal responsibility — those were just some of the qualities residents at a Second Ward meeting on June 11 said they would like to see in the next City Manager.
Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite invited ward residents to weigh in on the qualities they would like to see, following up on the City Council’s June 8 meeting at which aldermen agreed to relaunch the search for the City’s next chief executive.
At the May 26 City Council meeting, a week before, Ald. Braithwaite entered late in the discussion around a push by some Council members to hire Interim City Manager Erika Storlie. That move would have scuttled the nationwide search that aldermen had contracted to do earlier.
“And what I said is, ‘I’m holding off to listen to my residents,’ so that’s where we are today,” related Ald. Braithwaite, setting the stage for the June 11 meeting.
Leading off, longtime ward resident Dickelle Fonda thanked the alderman for holding the meeting, saying, she, “as many people are in the City, grateful that the City didn’t push forward on the hiring of the Interim City Manager.
“I have no idea whether or not she is qualified to lead this City — she may very well be,” Ms. Fonda said, “but without input from the public and from people in this City, I’m really grateful that you decided to back up,” she told the alderman.
“I realize it’s difficult because of the circumstances,” she said, referring to the pandemic. “But I do think the discussion has to be, ‘What do we want to be as a City? What are our values, what is our philosophy? What do we want to be going forward?’ – because we’re in an unprecedented time. I think we all know that Evanston is in a critical place.”
Another resident, Tracy Fulce, raised concern about the process going forward. “Often it feels like things happen with like backroom deals, and it’s my hope that the process is as transparent as possible,” she said.
In that vein, longtime resident Darlene Cannon said, “Like everyone else, I would like the Council to follow up with what they promised pertaining to the selection of a City Manager and do a nationwide search.
“You know when I think of Erika Storlie, I’m sure she’s a nice person, but, outside of that, we can’t forget she fired [former Community Services Manager] Kevin Brown, a black man, and he was an asset to the youth of this community.”
Ms. Cannon also pointed to the cost of new Robert Crown Community Center — “which is an $80 million project, while we were in a $7 million deficit,” she said, in support of looking outside.
“When I think about a City Manager, I need someone who is going to be looking through an equity lens and thinking about the impact that fiscal irresponsibility has on black and brown people, and low income people in this community,” Ms. Cannon said.
Another speaker, Allie Harned, pressed the alderman for his view on holding a public process for the search, “because it seemed like you were willing to go and vote on it [Ms. Storlie’s appointment] on Monday before the change.”
Ald. Braithwaite referred to his remarks at the start of the meeting, saying, “This meeting was scheduled prior to any decision.”
His input at the May 26 meeting came only after other aldermen had already begun pulling back from a vote. According to a recording of the meeting, Ald. Braithwaite said he was okay if the next move “is to discuss it as an agenda item where we [provide] notice – and I don’t know if that means notice for action – but as long as the public is aware of our actions, then I’m okay.”
In other comments at the meeting:
— Lisa Levine said the racial equity lens needs to be explicitly defined, “particularly in support of the budget, because budgets are moral documents and when push comes to shove and we have a limited budget it’s going to get really tough on what makes a priority.
“And so I think leading with a racial equity lens and having a tool in place so it’s objective and consistent is really important to me.”
— Kelley Terrell spoke in support of someone who has “boots on the ground, someone who is involved and understands the issues — not just from the standpoint of a paper or a once-a-week meeting, but who truly understands what the needs of the people are, because they’ve been involved with people and then got to understand their input directly.”
— Krissie Harris suggested the search focus “on areas that are similar to ours, such as Ann Arbor,” a Big 10 town with similar demographic — as well as someone who understands “the nuances that our community has, and [that] we are trendsetters in our community.”
— Linta Carter stressed a structured process that hones in on terms such as “equity lens. It needs to be quantified,” she said. “You need specific questions that relate to how the person has demonstrated [that skill] in all the aspects that are important: managing the budget, delegating authority and responsibility.
“Does this person have certification in conflict resolution, because that important?” she said. “And how about a 100-day plan?
“That should be automatic,” she said.
— Priscilla Giles said the next City Manager did not necessarily have to be from Evanston but should have “the personality that would enable them to be the kind of person we need in the City of Evanston.”
— Ray Friedman said his concerns are centered in the budget.
“We’ve had a budget crisis every year so it appears that the City is being run by General Obligation Bond [long term debt the City pays off over time.] So, basically, my question is, ‘What are we doing to shore up the budget or save money or cut expenses, wherever necessary?’” he said, adding another item to the Alderman’s list.