On Monday evening, October 19, at public comment, there was talk about the lack of honesty, transparency, and good government in Evanston over the hiring of the City Manager. I disagree with this insinuation.
The fact is, residents claiming a corrupt, non-transparent government in Evanston are generally the same ones who have an agenda that, for the most part, is not supported by the majority of elected representatives in Evanston – nor, would I argue, the majority of Evanstonians.
Whether it be planned developments, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, police, or the discipline of City employees, there is inevitably controversy in Evanston. I don’t think controversies in Evanston are new, but I do think it is amplified these days by social media and an organized group of citizens rallying against virtually everything.
The reality is our disagreements in town are not because of a corrupt government or a corrupt Council but because we just honestly disagree. The fact is many problems we face don’t have an “easy button.” It takes facts, good judgment, past experience, and foresight to try and arrive at the “right” decision, and, even then, we sometimes get it wrong. My experience with the Evanston City Council is that each Alderman has generally approached the hundreds of votes they have taken over the last four years in a thoughtful, measured manner, with the City’s best interest at heart.
Nonetheless, too often today, when some are not on the prevailing side of an issue they either claim a conspiracy or lack of transparency, with the belief that more “transparency” would have resulted in the outcome they preferred.
The fact is, it’s our elected representatives who ultimately make the decision, in this case the hiring of the City Manager. The Manager works at the pleasure of the Council, just as the Alderman and Mayor work at the pleasure of the people. The City Manager does not report to any one elected representative, just as the elected representatives don’t report to any one resident.
Still, input from the community is sought and considered by the City and its elected representatives. It is available at all of our public meetings. It’s often available at Ward meetings and town halls. It’s available via email, social media, and in person meetings. Some elected representatives take this input as indicative of what all their constituents think; others consider it but one part of their decision-making process. In the end, whether elected or not, none of us know how all of us feel.
In the case of the City Manager search, we had three qualified finalists – Aretha Farrell-Benevides, Marie Peoples, and Erika Storlie – among 70 applicants. I appreciate all three of these talented women applying to lead our City.
During the process we had several opportunities for public input, including a survey completed by over 650 residents, virtual public forums attended by 100 residents, stakeholder meetings with the education, business, non-profit, faith communities, as well as the labor union representatives and City employees.
Each Alderman and the Mayor selected two individuals to serve on two community interview panels. The three finalists participated in a 90-minute community panel. Additionally, Aldermen received input via email and in person from constituents about their thoughts on what the City should seek in a City Manager and who would make a good City Manager.
One fair critique of the process is that more time didn’t lapse between the community forum on Wednesday evening and the Council reaching a general consensus on Thursday evening, yet that decision was made with a considerable amount of citizen input.
The general consensus among the Council – which was not a vote in executive session as some claimed – was that an offer should be made to Erika Storlie to serve as our next City Manager. I concurred with that decision. My decision was based on Erika’s checking all the boxes on our job description, plus her past relevant experience with the City, deep understanding of the operations of the City and the challenges it faces, ability to work effectively with people, commitment to continuous improvement, and her effective leadership style.
Erika Storlie demands good government. She treats people with respect and fairness. She does not cater to one elected official over another. She is a problem-solver. She cares deeply about the environment, racial equity, affordable housing, and good policing. She negotiates well on our behalf and always has the City’s best interest in mind. She is just the type of person we should want in this 24/7 demanding job; a job where many difficult decisions need to be made that inevitably leave some disappointed and vocal.
On Monday evening the City Council appointed Erika to be our ninth City Manager. I am confident she will lead with integrity and help continue our quest to be one of the most livable cities in America.
Stephen Hagerty is Mayor of Evanston.