Open Letter to Mayor Biss, Members of the Evanston City Council, Clerk Mendoza, and City Manager Storlie

On Friday, June 4, Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook was brought into City Manager Erika Storlie’s office and given resignation papers to sign. After initially refusing, Chief Cook ultimately announced his retirement a few days later.

As an organization committed to government transparency, responsiveness and racial equity, the Community Alliance for Better Government has grave concerns about how this process was handled and communicated to the public. In the absence of clear information from the City Manager’s office, rumors spread on social media. There was confusion on the role City Council Members and the Mayor played, over who was informed, and when.

This is emblematic of long time concerns with the high-handedness and arrogance Evanston City government has displayed in making personnel decisions. Chief Cook’s “retirement” follows a pattern of high-ranking Black employees being disciplined and dismissed under questionable circumstances, in many cases leading to lawsuits and unfavorable publicity.

The abrupt change in police leadership is especially unsettling coming as it does at the start of summer, and the general post-lockdown reopening. Although Aretha Barnes has been announced as Interim Police Chief, this announcement did not come until days after the initial announcement of Cook’s dismissal, leading to confusion and speculation as to who would be in charge. This is extremely unhealthy for the stability and emotional well-being of the Evanston community.

It does not have to be this way. There are better models for handling high level staffing transitions that, while respecting employee privacy, do not leave the public in the dark. In other cities, police chiefs have announced their retirement well ahead of time, with an Interim Chief announced to oversee the transition to new leadership before the retirement occurs. While there may indeed have been valid reasons for a change in police leadership, it is worth noting that white staff members have been allowed to remain in their positions or to leave with their reputations untarnished.

We call on City Manager Erika Storlie, Mayor Daniel Biss and the Evanston City Council to recognize and bring a halt to this destructive pattern. The residents of Evanston have a right to clarity on the process for such decisions, and to know that all employees regardless of race are being held to the same objective standard.

We also call on our leaders to ensure that the hiring process for a new Chief of Police is truly inclusive and transparent, prioritizing racial equity, unlike the hiring of Ms. Storlie. We fully expect that the job description and framing of the position will take into account the lengthy discussions we have had since the death of George Floyd on how to re-imagine policing and public safety. We expect that grassroots organizations such the Citizens Network of Protection and Evanston Fight for Black Lives, which have been integral to leading these discussions, are consulted and involved in more than a token fashion.

Community Alliance for Better Government from its Board members Rick Marsh, Bennett Johnson, Oliver Ruff, Gail Schechter, Allie Harned, Sebastian Nalls, Lesley Williams, Diane Goldring, and Sean Peck-Collier

 

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