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Residents eagerly filled the slots at public forums held over Zoom this summer where the City’s consultant, GovHr USA, invited them to weigh in on the traits and qualities they would like to see in their next City Manager.

They were also assured that there will be place in the process for the public to meet with the candidates and ask questions.

But there may be few candidates to meet by the time the process winds back to them, starting with a public forum the City has scheduled for Oct. 7.

In the first update on the search since the June and July forums at the Sept. 29 City Council meeting, Mayor Stephen Hagerty announced that 70 applicants had applied for the City Manager position, which has been vacant since Wally Bobkiewicz stepped down from the post in September to take the top administrator post in Issaquah, Wash.

“Last week in Executive Session, the City Council reviewed the applicants with the executive search firm and selected four applicants that are semi-finalists that we will be interviewing this Friday, October 2,” the Mayor said.

He said Council members will conduct the interviews in executive session, which is closed to the public.

“Once we finish with the semi-finalists and down-select from there it will become a public process, and the public will have an opportunity via Zoom to meet with the different candidates,” the Mayor said, not specifying how many candidates the Council expected to be down to at that point.

Local activist Michael Vasilko raised questions about the process in a letter to the RoundTable (posted in the Public Square section of this website).

 “By the time citizens get this meager opportunity to contribute to the process, the finalists will be fully aware that the City Manager will be beholding to the council, not to Evanston citizens. It’s also clear that HRGov did its job to cater to Council members too, paying lip service to citizens.”

Typically, in such searches, not all 70 candidates would be considered individually.

In this case, Council members say they were presented with a much smaller number of candidates by the consultant with credentials in line with what the City is seeking.

Through discussion and straw votes, Council members winnowed down the number further, it was explained.

GovHR did not specify any set number of candidates the public would have a chance to meet with in its outline of proposed recruitment process to the Council.

The firm envisioned City officials conducting a first round of interviews that would likely include five to seven candidates. The pool of candidates would then be reduced, likely to three, the firm’s memo said. A second round of candidates would then meet with the Mayor and Council.

“The process will also include a public forum for finalist candidates,” the firm’s memo said.

The candidates selected to move forward in the process will participate in a second round of interviews with City Council and community panels, set for the week of Oct. 5, the City said in release Oct. 1.

Officials have set a community forum to be held virtually over Zoom from 5 p.m., to 6:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, in which members of the public will have an opportunity to meet candidates and ask questions. (Community members must register in advance to participate and candidate information will be posted on the City’s website at cityofevanston.org/managersearch.

Under strong public pressure, City Council members reopened the search for the next City Manager last June after nearly bypassing the public participation process and elevating Interim City Manager Erika Storlie to the position.

Proposing the move, Mayor Stephen Hagerty cited Ms. Storlie’s performance on the budget during the pandemic.

He also raised questions about the qualities of a candidate who would leave another community to seek the Evanston job during a pandemic.

Four aldermen also spoke in support of hiring Ms. Storlie at that meeting – Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Donald Wilson, 4th Ward; Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward; and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.

Only two aldermen spoke out strongly against the move, saying the City should continue with the public process it had pledged to the public – Aldermen Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward.

Around the same time, Evanston Council members revised City Code, adopting a rule that it will take seven votes to remove a City Manager from office, despite criticism that a simple majority is the standard elsewhere.