Erika Storlie’s tenure as City Manager would come to a close just short of a year after she was appointed to the position, under a separation agreement to be considered at the City Council’s Aug. 9 meeting.
The City Manager’s resignation would then be effective at the close of business on Oct. 8. The document is to be termed an “agreed-upon resignation.”
Among the provisions in the five-page separation agreement are a financial package, a mutual release of certain claims, a non-disparage clause and a limitation of public disclosure.
Should Council approve the agreement and Storlie sign it, she would receive her normal salary, less required deductions and withholdings, through the separation date; a severance payment of 20 weeks of compensation; compensation for “all accrued and unused vacation days, floating holidays and 50% of accrued sick days. Payment for sick days shall occur on January 21, 2022”; continued health-care coverage through December 31, 2021 at current contribution rates. Her annual salary is $225,000.
The agreement also provides that Storlie and the City agree to keep certain matters confidential and agree not to disparage one another through any form of communication, including social media. Further, “Other than approval of this document in Open Session of the City Council as required by Illinois State Law, the City agrees not to make any statements to the press or public regarding Storlie’s separation from service provided, however, that if Storlie makes statements to the public or the press then the City may issue a response.
“Assuming Storlie does not make any statements to the press, if the press inquires as to the reasons for her separation, the City agrees that it will limit its response to the following: ‘Erika Storlie served the City of Evanston for over sixteen (16) years, most recently as its City Manager, and dedicated significant effort to her duties over that time. Her service is appreciated. Ms. Storlie has advised the City that she seeks to pursue other opportunities, and both she and the City of Evanston have mutually agreed that she will leave her employment with the City to pursue those opportunities. We wish her success in her future endeavors. The City does not comment on personnel matters and we have no further comment.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Storlie also would be required to cooperate with any pending litigation “not yet known arising out of her time as City Manager.”
The move toward a separation agreement comes after Council members held a four-hour emergency closed door session July 17 with Storlie as well as Jennifer Lin, then the City’s Human Resources Division Manager.
Council Members called for the session after a WBEZ report that 56 female lifeguards had brought a petition to City officials last year, alleging widespread sexual misconduct on the part of staff.
The employees petition included a request for an apology from City staff for putting the young employees in harm’s way as well as demands for changes which they maintained were largely not responded to. At the time of the petition, Storlie, then Interim City Manager, was vying with other final candidates to be named Evanston’s ninth City Manager.
Storlie and staff have maintained they took action in response to the concerns. A statement on the City’s website issued after the report said the City “has zero-tolerance for sexual misconduct and is 100 percent committed to fostering a workplace climate and culture where all staff feel and are safe and respected.”
The statement described a number of steps the City took upon receiving the petition.
They included requiring all lakefront staff to take a sexual harassment course as well as assigning a Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department employee to serve as a liaison with the City’s Human Resources Division to receive any complaints and concerns from lakefront staff.
Several Council members, however, have raised questions why the Council Members were never informed of the petition. As a result of those concerns about how City staff handled the matter, they called for the emergency executive session July 17.
In addition, Mayor Daniel Biss, not on the Council at the time the petitions were submitted, called the City’s handling of the female employees complaints, “a serious institutional failure that we must get to and rectify.
“It’s hard to even comprehend the extent of what’s outlined in this petition, which includes descriptions of sexual assault against minors as well as a pervasive culture of harassment and abuse,” said Mayor Biss in a statement July 22.
“It seems obvious that anyone reading this document would instantly commit to doing anything and everything possible to address this issue. Nonetheless, it is apparently the case that nobody even showed it to the City’s most senior leaders.”
Starting with the City in 2004, Storlie had been a longtime assistant, before then-City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz elevated her in 2018 to the City’s Number 2 position. On Oct. 19, 2020, City Council appointed her City Manager.
She had a reputation for bringing a steady hand to the City’s budget, helping steer the City through the COVID-19 crisis. Her administration, though, has come under criticism for handling of personnel issues, including the firing of popular Community Services manager Kevin Brown and most recently handling of the retirement of Police Chief Demitrous Cook.
In addition, the firm backing she had with the previous Council had changed with the April municipal election, with several of the winning candidates critical of actions of the administration.
The separation agreement is the first item of special business on the agenda for the Aug. 9 City Council meeting; the meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is scheduled to air online at www.cityofevanston.org/channel16 or on Cable Channel 16.