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Evanston City Council members have reconnected with their consultant on a search for the City’s next City Manager, mapping out a schedule to include a number of opportunities for residents and stakeholder groups to participate in the process.
At the City Council’s Rules Committee meeting held virtually June 15, Heidi Vorhees, president of Northbrook-based GovHR USA, walked aldermen through the process, which is scheduled to start June 22.
Council members are re-engaging with the firm after almost shelving the search last month and moving to hire Interim City Manager Erika Storlie, citing Ms. Storlie’s performance during the pandemic and the shortcomings of a search because of the virus.
Aldermen pulled back from that position on June 8 in the face of strong public reaction and Ms. Storlie’s own acknowledgement of the community’s expectation for a public process.
Under the proposed timeline outlined by GovHR, starting the week of June 22, the consultants plan to meet via video/zoom with City of Evanston elected officials, staff, public and other stakeholders to understand their expectations for the City Manager position.
The meetings can include general public meetings in 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, Northwestern University, school districts, etc., the firm said.
In addition, GovHR plans call for a survey to be placed on the City’s website (cityofevanston.org) pertaining to the qualities and experiences for the next City Manager.
In discussion, Alderman Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, asked Ms. Vorhees whether GovHR’s meeting with Northwestern University would be open to the public.
“I understand the logistical challenges of too many participants who are active in a meeting,” Ald. Suffredin said, “but I think it would be important for those meetings [to be] something that could be viewed by the public.”
While Ms. Vorhees said she did not have a problem with such a meeting being public, Mayor Stephen Hagerty registered concern.
“I mean. we have consultants come in and do all sorts of things around here,” he told Ald. Suffredin. “We don’t open them all up to the public.
The Mayor also disagreed with Ald. Suffredin’s suggestion that the University does not come to the City when making one of its own decisions.
“Northwestern has come to me before and asked for my input on things,” he said.
“In a public setting?” questioned Ald. Suffredin.
“Not in the public – not in the public setting,” said the Mayor.
Mayor Hagerty said his concern is where meetings are to be with residents, “or the faith community or nonprofit, and all of a sudden [we’re] saying these are public meetings and we’re opening them up to everyone else.
“We’re going to have public meetings as part of this process for anyone else,” he noted.
Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, suggested that aldermen select two people from their ward to serve on one of the focus groups, which Ms. Vorhees suggested could include representatives of the business community, nonprofits, and others.
“As you know, Evanston is a very unique, very vocal community,” Ald. Fleming told Ms. Vorhees, “and so while I appreciate our nonprofits and the role they play here, I really would like to our citizens have as much input as possible.”
Good idea, said the Mayor, though not at the exclusion of the nonprofits that have lots of interaction with the City, he said.
GovHR’s schedule includes an Aug. 14 deadline for resumes. The firm envisions Evanston officials’ conducting the first round of interviews with likely five to seven candidates in mid-September, with that list further pared perhaps to three.
During citizen comment at the meeting, Gail Schechter, representing the Community Alliance for Better Government, suggested officials view the process in a “very, very positive manner.
“I this is very hopeful that we are going into this, and I think that we should all as a community enter this with, with great positivity and see this as a time for growth and change in looking for a new city manager,” she said.
“You know, there’s a there’s a renewed focus locally, nationally, at systemic change, particularly, of course, using a racial equity lens,” she said, “and that kind of appetite for change and innovation can feed into this. … As we’re looking for a City Manager who will help the community, co create a more desirable Evanston for all.”