Residents on July 7 dished up a second helping of suggestions of the attributes and traits they would like to see in Evanston’s next City Manager, including a need to consider candidates’ positions on racial equity and police defunding – issues that have been in the backdrop of recent demonstrations.
At the second City Manager recruitment meeting in a week, a number of residents raised the need to bring those issues into play in the hiring of the City’s next chief executive.
Speaking during one of the breakout sessions, Phoebe Liccardo said, “It’s really important that the City Manager has outreach within the community.”
“And I think that with what’s going on right now, a lot of focus needs to be put on the police department and where that budget is going,” she said. “And if the City Manager that we’re looking at hasn’t even thought about taking funds from the police department and putting [them] elsewhere, I don’t necessarily want to consider that candidate.”
The City has engaged Northbrook-based GovHR USA to conduct the search for a City Manager, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer for the City.
Wally Bobkiewicz, the City’s former City Manager, left in September to take the top administrative post in Issaquah, Wash., leaving Evanston’s top job vacant for the first time since 2009.
GovHR officials plan to use comments made at the July 7 and June 30 meeting sin the recruitment brochure that will go out about the job.
At one of the July 7 breakout sessions, aired over Zoom, Fred Tannenbaum, a businessperson who had participated in the June 30 session, suggested the City might be better off sticking with Interim City Manager Erika Storlie.
“Having to bring somebody in who’s not familiar with the idiosyncrasies of Evanston, the learning curve would be very expensive, in my opinion,” he said.
David Martin, who followed Mr. Tannenbaum, said his preference is “somebody who is objective — somebody who’s not influenced by the current administration, somebody who has demonstrated, you know, a work ethic that includes restorative justice, racial equity, representing all the residents of Evanston.”
Jonathan Nieuwsma spoke about Evanston’s uniqueness, noting the City’s path-setting role on reparations and the importance of having a City Manager “who is comfortable working with equity, equity issues, and [is] visionary [and] willing to be a part of the solution.”
The next City Manager should also be someone “who will talk about environmental sustainability,” he said.
“And I don’t want to lose sight of the climate crisis, which has the potential to be even more significant not only to us and Evanston, but to everybody around the world,” he said, “and Evanston has been pretty pro-active in putting together climate action plans.”
Reuben Perelman switched tracks to talk about bike lanes.
He noted that while a number of bike lanes were built during Mr. Bobkiewicz’s tenure, there are cyclists who still feel “they don’t have a low stress route to their destination.”
“Hopefully, during the next 10 years, with the next City Manager, there’s more bicycle facilities built,” he said.
Liana Wallace, an Evanston Township High School graduate and now a sophomore at Georgetown University, spoke in support of the need for restorative justice and greater racial equity in the City.
Along those lines, she noted, “Right now, there is a really big push to defund the police. And that is a huge aspect of restorative justice, right?
“When we’re talking about not criminalizing people, but giving people resources and tools to better their families and the people around them, defunding the police is a huge component of that.”
With the City “in a crisis right now in terms of COVID, what would it look like to take money that we use to fund the police and put that into fixing that deficit?” she asked. “Because there is a lot of push right now and a lot of communities in Evanston feel that the police are not needed in the capacity that they are in right now. And so I think that is extremely important. And our City Manager has to be aware of these things.”
Affordable housing “is a huge thing,” that has to be addressed too, she said.
“Evanston loves to claim its diversity,” she said. “But that diversity is like slowly going away. And not only that, but we’re not protecting the diversity that exists here.”
Having lived in Evanston 35 years, Carolyn Laughlin said many people she knows support that view, “love the idea, as Liana was suggesting, of living in Evanston and being progressive and embracing diversity.”
Yet, at the same time, many “are very afraid of the change that we’ve all been talking about here,” she shared with her group.
“Defunding the police really scares a lot of the people that I know,” she said.
So in that climate, “I really believe that the City Manager who comes in next is going to have to have stunningly good communication skills to express and explain and create a vivid beautiful picture of whatever Evanston can be, and ensure that a significant part of the population in Evanston – who may not be represented on this call – but are represented all the time when it comes to picking up the phone and calling [Mayor] Steve Hagerty or calling our Council members for voting … that those people feel like this is about them, too.”
GovHR staff summarized the ideas from other breakout discussions.
In her group, Heidi Voorhees, the firm’s president, said, “there was a lot of discussion about the City Manager being approachable, available and engaged with the community.”
“We also talked about focusing on skill sets as opposed to titles for the position,” she said, “so that potentially people could come into this and, maybe don’t have the title City Manager, but have had the skills to do the job through other qualifications and experiences that they have.”
Some talked about “a 360-degree review system,” where the City Manager would receive a report card and be accountable to the community for key projects and efforts, she said.
Moving ahead, Ms. Voorhees and her staff have meetings scheduled with task forces from different sectors of the community, including youth, to get their ideas.
Deputy City Manager Kimberly Richardson, helping moderate the July 7 meeting, said staff plans call for incorporating the comments from the meetings into a report that will go to the City Council.
She said the City will likely set an August or September deadline for applications or resumes.
Officials are then hoping the Council can begin deliberations and the interview process in early October.