The Evanston City Council’s nationwide search for a new City Manager ended back at the City’s doorstep Oct. 19, with Council members making Interim City Manager Erika Storlie their choice, despite strong public criticism of the selection process.
In a 7-3 vote, City Council members approved a resolution appointing Ms. Storlie as Evanston’s City Manager and authorizing Mayor Stephen Hagerty to enter into an employment contract with her.
Under Council rules, Ms. Storlie’s appointment required a minimum of seven of the ten Council members (the nine aldermen and the mayor) voting for approval.
Voting to appoint Ms. Storlie as the City’s new City Manager were Mayor Stephen Hagerty and Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward; Melissa Wynn, 3rd Ward; Donald Wilson, 4th Ward; Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward; and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.
The three “no” votes were cast by Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward; Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward; and Cicely Fleming, 9th.Ward.
In announcing their vote, a number of aldermen were effusive in their praise of Ms. Storlie, particularly the steady hand she has shown through the pandemic.
Ald. Wynne said, “There’s no question that she has led us through the toughest problem any City Manager will ever face in any of our lifetimes, and she has led us through it so well.
“I think we almost have lost sight of how well Erika has handled this, because we aren’t we aren’t living in other municipalities. We aren’t living in other cities, but I will tell you that I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me and told me, ‘I feel so safe to be here in Evanston,’ and that’s because of our leadership.”
Ald. Revelle acknowledged, “We did have three strong candidates as finalists, in my personal view. There were two especially strong candidates, each with different strengths and different talents and different records of accomplishments.”
In Ms. Storlie, she said, “we know we have a very strong staff leader. She’s proven her ability to build and lead a very capable staff and established a level of trust with a staff and enabled them to work through their really significant challenges of the pandemic to continue to provide a high level of service to our residents and I think having that stability going forward is really, really valuable.”
She also singled out Ms. Storlie’s ability to make tough decisions. “Early in the pandemic to mitigate the expected loss of roughly $12 million in revenues, she asked for significant sacrifices from our staff and gained those sacrifices,” she noted.
The announcement brought to a close a search process that drew more than 70 applicants.
Ms. Storlie became the ninth permanent City Manager since the City moved to a Council/Manager form of government in 1953 and the first woman since Julia Carroll was named for the job in 2006. Rolanda Russell was appointed Interim City Manager in 2008. She also became the first City staffer to rise to the top position since Joel Asprooth in 1983.
She previously served as the number-two administrator to Wally Bobkiewicz, who, after 10 years, stepped down from his post last September to become the City Administrator in Issaquah, Wash.
In choosing Ms. Storlie, Council members arrived at the decision less than a day after the City hosted the only public candidates forum of the search process, introducing Ms. Storlie as well as Aretha Ferrell-Benavides, City Manager in Petersburg, Va., and Dr. Marie People’s, Deputy County Manager in Coconino County, Ariz., as the final candidates.
In a series of press conferences this week, Community Alliance for Better Government, an umbrella group for a number of broad based grassroots Evanston organizations, blasted Council members for conducting a “fast-track closed-door” process.
The group noted Council members met behind closed doors to make a decision barely hours after a public introduction of the three finalists for the City Manager job last week, “allotting no time for aldermen to solicit and incorporate constituent input in making their decision.”
The group also pointed to Ms. Storlie’s role in the firing last year of popular Community Services manager Kevin Brown and said Council members had a chance to establish a new direction, maintaining the other the finalists, both Black women, had better credentials “to balance budgets, implement racial equity, and lead during a crisis such as COVID.”
Aldermen voting in favor mostly did not acknowledge those concerns in their comments, while those voting “no” to the selection mostly did not elaborate.
Ald. Rainey, the senior member of the Council with service dating back to 1983, noted “I have worked with five Evanston City Managers and with three Interim City Managers who did not become City Managers. I voted on four City Managers, prior to Erika.
“Erika is as qualified as any of those other city managers. Erika is more qualified than three of the other City Managers,” she said. “And so that is why I voted for Erika. I did not vote for Erika, as many have accused us, because it was easier, because she lives here, because it was simpler, because we knew her. I voted for her because she was absolutely, in my mind, the very best candidate.”
Ms. Storlie, 43, became as Assistant City Manager in January 2018, and is also the City’s administrative services director, according to her biographical information published on the City website. Previously, she served as Deputy City Manager for five years. As Assistant City Manager, Ms. Storlie has acted as the number-two official in the City administration, focusing on Citywide initiatives, town-gown relations and major projects.
As administrative services director, she oversaw the City’s human resources, information technology, fleet and facilities, and parking operations. In addition to those roles, she has also served as the City’s LGBTQ liaison, providing information, referral services, guidance, coordination and technical assistance to residents, according to her profile.
Ms. Storlie began her service at the City of Evanston in 2004, initially focusing on technology and web infrastructure assignments, and moved to the City Manager’s Office in 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in organizational behavior from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in public administration from Kent State University. Ms. Storlie, her wife Kristi, and their four children reside in Evanston.
In comments after the vote, Ms. Storlie said “I am extremely humbled and honored to take on this responsibility. I consider it to be a responsibility that requires a level of sacrifice that many of you can understand, because we work every day to make the lives of the people who live here as best as they can be. And that’s a commitment that I’ve given since the very first day I started here, 16 years ago. And it’s a commitment that I will never stop giving, and I look forward to continuing to implement the vision that the City Council has for Evanston.”
“I share the vision, and I am committed to helping all of you realize what you want to achieve for our City. I’m also committed to our staff; our staff are absolutely amazing. And the credit always goes to them; everything that we’ve achieved together is because of their hard work and their ideas and their willingness to put forward those ideas and to help implement them and to help manage the compromise that’s always going to be required for us to further our goals.”