Early voting for the Feb. 23 primary election begins Feb. 8, and while all voters are researching their candidates’ qualifications, many of them may also be brushing up on spelling.

The name of only one of the seven candidates for City Clerk, Stephanie Mendoza, will appear on the ballot. Six residents have declared themselves write-in candidates: Cynthia Beebe, Eduardo Gomez, Adedapo Odusanya, Jackson Paller, Darrell Patterson, and Misty Witenberg.

The City Clerk is the only full-time elected position in Evanston City government. Because Evanston uses the Manager/Council form of government, the City Manager, a full-time employee, oversees City operations. City Council offices – the mayor and the nine aldermen – are part-time positions. Council members are elected and not considered employees of the City.

A recent study conducted by the League of Women Voters of Evanston concluded that function of the City Clerk is administrative, not policy oriented.

The RoundTable attempted to contact all candidates to ask them to respond to questions about their perspective on the duties and responsibilities of the City Clerk and why they are seeking the office. Five of them – Cynthia Beebe, Eduardo Gomez, Stephanie Mendoza, Jackson Paller, and Misty Witenberg – responded; their answers are excerpted below.

The RoundTable invites the other candidates to send an email to editor@evanstonroundtable.com if they wish to provide answers to the questions or other information.

Cynthia Beebe

Cynthia Beebe

Thumbnail Sketch: retired ATF agent; author, “Boots in the Ashes: Busting Bombers, Arsonists, and Outlaws as a Trailblazing Female ATF Agent”37-year Evanston resident; B.A. in English and American Literature, Northwestern University; M.A., Medill School of Journalism.  

Civic activities: Current: Member of League of Women Voters, Mystery Writers of America, and Women in Federal Law Enforcement. Past:  PTA member at Kingsley and Haven; volunteer soccer and baseball coach

Why She’s Running: After a last-minute withdrawal from the race, unexpectedly, only one candidate remained on the ballot for the primary election. Due to my strong interest in public service and my commitment to Evanston, friends and family encouraged me to run for City Clerk as a write-in candidate.

Qualifications: I’m a retired federal agent with twenty-seven years of professional experience working with local, state and federal governments. I have a proven track record of success working with government agencies on major projects and I’ll bring a fresh, experienced perspective to the office. I’m also a professional writer with excellent communication skills. I’m organized, experienced and dedicated to public service. 

Her View of the Clerk’s Office: The two primary responsibilities of the City Clerk are to serve as the local election official and to manage the City’s business records, including keeping the minutes of council meetings and providing security for city documents. The City Clerk serves as one of Evanston’s Freedom of Information Act officers. The City Clerk also serves the residents, officials and staff on other administrative matters. 

Priorities and Proposals: My goal is to lead a professional, welcoming office that serves all of Evanston’s residents, officials and staff. I’ll focus on educating young people about how incredibly important it is to vote.

Working with District 65 and District 202, I’ll go out into schools and community centers and meet with students. Elected officials will be invited to classrooms to explain to students how their decisions affect every-day life – from filling in potholes to deciding what tests are required in school. I’ll explain how the impact of a few votes has repeatedly changed the course of history. I’ll show young people how to vote and give them the skills to become voters for life. 

I’ll also improve the city clerk’s communications with the residents and staff and increase services to the community. 

The City Clerk’s office will be a place where residents can get their questions answered and their problems solved. 

Eduardo Gomez

Eduardo Gomez

Thumbnail sketch: 10-year Evanston resident; currently Deputy City Clerk. 

Civic activities: volunteer with League of Women Voters, voter registration drives, and food delivery during COVID-10 pandemic; volunteers in support of autism awareness and LGBTQ issues. 

Why He’s Running: I want to be the City Clerk because I love Evanston. I want to be the first Latino to be elected in Evanston’s history to serve on the City Council and have more representation in the City Council. I want to support the civic engagement of residents who have been disenfranchised and underserved in Evanston. As the son of immigrant parents, I understand just how critical it is to ensure resources and services are accessible to everyone. 

Qualifications: As Deputy, I have done the work of City Clerk for three years; I understand how the office functions and where there are opportunities for improved services. I have the knowledge and experience to manage this important government office. I have worked directly with the Cook County Clerk’s Office to provide voter services and ensure residents are not disenfranchised when exercising their right to vote. 

My experience as Deputy City Clerk and my Spanish fluency will help me implement a language access policy for the City Clerk’s Office to bridge communication barriers with our Spanish-speaking residents.

View of the Clerk’s Office: The duties and responsibilities of the Evanston City Clerk include attending all City Council meetings, producing the open- and closed-session minutes of City Council meetings, issuing notices of regular and special meetings of the City Council in compliance with the Illinois Open Meetings Act, and delivering any public communication to the City Council during the City Council meeting.

The City Clerk is the custodian and keeper of all the books, records, ordinances, and papers of the City and the City Seal itself. The City Clerk administers oaths of office to any newly elected or appointed official and prepares copies of municipal records or documents and certifies them when a person with a legitimate rights request it. The City Clerk is also the local elections official; duties include voter registration, receiving nominating petitions, and supplying absentee ballot request applications. 

Priorities and Proposed Changes: My priorities as City Clerk will focus on enhancing our ability to make resources and services are accessible to everyone, especially our underserved communities. I will also advocate for more transparency by our local government and elected officials and lastly, bolster our civic engagement in partnership with many of the organizations here in the community. 

I will seek to resume services previously performed by the City Clerk, such as passports and real estate transfer stamps.

My experience as Deputy City Clerk and my Spanish fluency will help me implement a language access policy for the City Clerk’s Office to bridge communication barriers with our Spanish-speaking residents. 

Stephanie Mendoza 

Stephanie Mendoza

Thumbnail sketch: Lived in Evanston since 2010; married, three children; Bachelor’s degree from Loyola University Chicago.

Civic activities: Past: Westside Field Director, Connections for the Homeless prevention specialist; Evanston Early Head Start Policy Council President; Board President for Reba Early learning Center; Washington School PTA Parent involvement chair, Food Not Bombs food delivery volunteer; volunteer at C&W Market Grocery Giveaway, Democratic Party of Evanston Board Member.

Current employment: Small Business Owner: Evanston Based painting company; political consultant and community outreach consultant; District 65 Schools interpretation and translation Services, 

Why She’s Running: I believe that good government starts with good practices.  As a nonprofit leader and small business owner, I have the perspective to recognize the importance of consistent, unwavering attention to detail.  I’m running for clerk to better serve our diverse, multilingual community access the records and services it needs.”

Qualifications: I am the daughter of immigrants and the first person in my family to graduate from college. While finishing my undergraduate degree, I raised my family and worked full-time, eventually starting a successful local business with my husband that we continue to operate today.  

Her View of the Clerk’s Office: The City Clerk does the administrative work that facilitates local democracy and the efficient functioning of Evanston municipal government.  The primary responsibilities of the City Clerk include producing official minutes of all City meetings, processing ordinances/resolutions, updating the municipal code, ensuring free and fair elections, and accurate keeping of all City records.  The Clerk is also responsible for affixing the City Seal to documents, issuing temporary handicapped parking placards, and other duties

Priorities and Proposals: If elected City Clerk, my top priorities will be to expand transparency and access to information.  To increase both, I will work to modernize the City Clerk’s office to allow residents to more easily track and review City activity online.  

Residents are entitled to know what their government is doing on their behalf and deserve an easy, efficient way to keep track.   I will also create a program to better educate residents on the use of the Freedom of Information Act and other ways for them to access information.

In the interest of reaching traditionally underserved communities, I believe the Clerk’s office should put renewed focus on community outreach.  This would include organizing voter registration drives, sending staff to community events to answer questions and help residents, and working with the public to find new ways to connect with all our diverse residents.

Jackson Paller

Jackson Paller

Thumbnail sketch: law student at Loyola University Chicago; born and raised in Evanston’s First Ward; bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Civic activities: Past: Reclaim Evanston, political work with Clerk Reid, Evanston Voter Initiative.

Why he’s Running:  I want to be City Clerk because I think that open and honest government and free and energetic public participation are the hallmarks of any functioning democracy, but particularly of any functioning local democracy. I have seen the Clerk’s office from many different angles, and I know what it would take to do the job. I have strong community organizer training that would allow me to build relationships and work collaboratively, as well as allow me to push back and hold my colleagues publicly accountable when necessary.

Qualifications: I have been involved in local community organizing in Evanston for some years now, and I have spoken at several City Council meetings. Speaking at those meetings, sending emails to members of City Council, and speaking to neighbors and friends who have had a hard time reaching out to their alderman, I have seen how difficult it can be to get our City Council to hear our voices without the Clerk facilitating that process.  

His View of the Clerk’s Office: I see the duties and responsibilities of the City Clerk as falling into two primary categories. There are basic, overtly nonpolitical services of keeping the in-force City Code, keeping the City seal, noticing all meetings of the City Council, and similar duties.  There are also similar duties that, while not overtly provided for in the City Code, still easily fit into the Clerk’s office, such as easing access to parking permits, providing notarization services, and easing access to various forms and applications that individuals might need either when running for office or for any other city business. 

Priorities and Proposals: There is more the Clerk’s office could do with providing basic city services. The Clerk can help put people in contact with interpreters/translators to help them get through whatever city form or application process they are having trouble with. The Clerk is obviously not the same as the 311 operators, but I think the office can serve a very similar role as the doorway into our local government.

True oversight over our government cannot work if no one is given enough time to analyze proposed legislation and determine what their position is, before having to decide whether to make public comment. Some issues are polarizing, and a position may become clear immediately, but not everything is.

We need a government where citizens can exercise oversight over everything. It may be that not very many people would make use of this information, but it needs to be out there. I would give Evanston residents the opportunity to use this information to better hold their elected officials accountable.

Misty Witenberg

Misty Witenberg

Thumbnail Sketch: freelance online content development manager and reporter; Evanston resident since 2014; B.S. in News and Information, University of Kansas.  

Civic activities: Citizens for a Responsible Robert Crown, Lobbying and Ethics Ordinances, Harley Clarke Referendum, West End Pumping Station Task Force, Evanston Police & Fire Foundation, Girl Scout Leader. 

Why She’s Running: The City is not upholding its fiscal and legal duties to the public, and its failures to appropriately address the public’s increasing awareness and concerns over the last four years has driven a stark divide between the City and its residents. Rebuilding of the public trust has to start within the City, and with transparency and accountability that is presently lacking. As an elected official and the City’s information officer, the City Clerk is vital to restoring it. 

Qualifications: My background as a journalist and public advocate makes me specially equipped to rebuild the public trust in government. I was a staff editor, reporter, and copywriter in print media for 10 years before moving to the web. I know facts matter. They are critical to policy making, combating misinformation, and holding our policy makers accountable. My last five years in public advocacy with fellow residents and City officials have also provided me unique insight and access to City practices and business that are not in public view, and, frankly, the lack of transparency with regard to the public about how it’s conducted.

Her View of the Clerk’s Office: The City Clerk is the official City record keeper; keeps legislative minutes; signs and records laws, bonds and contracts; administers oaths; performs all election duties; and around 200+ other statutory duties, such warranting notices, conveying real estate deeds and transfers, publishing certain records to media, etc. 

Priorities and Proposals: Despite the tremendous work of those preceding me, there is significant work to be done. For example, the FOIA system is broken. Response times and appeals have substantially increased over the last 2 years, and on the other side, there is also need for greater competency and diligence in redacting information the City releases (such as residents’ private information, Social Security numbers, etc.)

Accessibility and streamlining of services to residents will also be primary and ongoing priorities. That includes removing unnecessary barriers, and making more forms and information multilingual, available online, and providing for e-filing. We also need more creative and inclusive approaches to public participation.

To that end, I will also institute regular “know your government” emails and resources to keep residents engaged and informed of election information, important issues before the City Council that may affect them and providing more avenues for residents to be involved and have their voices heard.

Sam Stroozas contributed to this story.