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Evanston City Council members on Sept. 13 pushed back their vote to appoint an Interim City Manager to fill Erika Storlie’s position. The proposed appointment is already receiving plenty of attention from a residents’ group opposed to the choice.
Council members had been scheduled to vote on the appointment of Deputy City Manager Kelley Gandurski to the post of Interim City Manager, the City’s top executive position, at the Sept. 13 meeting, with Storlie slated to leave the job Oct. 8.
The decision to defer the vote until Sept. 20 came after several Council members said the proposed employment contract with Gandurski had been made available to them too close in time to the Sept. 13 meeting – fewer than the five days in advance mandated by Council rules.
“This is such an important decision. I think we should be following the rules with this,” said Council member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward.
“I mean, this is a very [important] moment in Evanston history with a lot of transition. And I ask that we hold this so that we, as a Council, have appropriate time to weigh in.”
Activist group lists several objections
A local activist group, Community Alliance for Better Government (CABG), is campaigning against Gandurski’s appointment. The group noted in a statement that Gandurski was hired to lead the City’s Law Department as Corporation Counsel/City Attorney in March 2020, and she joined the City Manager’s office in April 2021.
“This means she was working as chief legal counsel under Storlie when the accusations of sexual harassment were brought to the department and ignored, and will likely be part of the investigation,” the group said in its statement. “This is not a situation to inspire trust in the Council, or the City Manager’s office.”
“Fifty-six young Evanstonians have been sexually harassed, ignored and lied to by the city,” the group’s statement continued. “Elevating to city manager a member of the administration that tolerated and concealed their abuse would be a slap in their faces, and a continued dismissal and devaluing of their pain.
“If Gandurski is indeed chosen as interim,” the group’s statement said, “it should be with the understanding that she will not be considered as a candidate for the permanent position.”
Addressing the Council at the Sept. 13 meeting, Sebastian Nalls, a member of CABG and candidate for mayor in the recent primary election, said that “having an Interim City Manager involved in the independent investigation into the City Manager’s office brings a slew of ethical dilemmas that each Council member should acknowledge and be held accountable for.
“Regardless of the findings of the investigation, it does not make sense to appoint an individual who might be within the scope of the investigation itself.”
Speaker asks for ‘fresh start’
Trisha Connolly, another CABG speaker, maintained the City is already plagued by a lack of morale among staff and conflict between staff and Council members.
“In such situations, human resources’ best practice is to bring someone new, an outsider with no connection to either side,” she said. “There are organizations that specialize in this role, including the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which has a North Shore chapter, and the International City/County Management Association.”
City officials “bumbled” the City Manager search last year, she said, “and other poor personnel decisions have ultimately resulted in far greater costs, including the loss of morale, the loss of productivity and lawsuits.”
“Evanston needs a fresh start,” she said. “Choosing an outside candidate would signal a break with the corruption and mismanagement of previous administrations.”
The City “must learn from previous mistakes and conduct a full national search with meaningful resident participation,” the group’s statement said.
Gandurski was not present at the Sept. 13 Council meeting, and did not respond directly to a RoundTable inquiry asking about the CABG comments.
A statement issued by the City on her behalf said: “The City of Evanston is committed to full transparency and accountability regarding recently reported allegations of misconduct by lakefront staff, and as such, has contracted an outside firm, Salvatore, Prescott, Porter & Porter, to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of all actions and matters related to this issue. Due to the ongoing investigation, the City cannot comment on speculation shared by some members of the community.”
Under the terms of the proposed employment contract drawn up with the City, Gandurski would receive an annual base salary of $173,000 plus a 15% bonus for the temporary duty, bringing the total amount to $198,950.
A contract provision would allow her to return to the position of Deputy City Manager when a permanent City Manager is hired.
In announcing Gandurski as their choice for Interim City Manager, Council members bypassed several other administrators with more experience with the City, including Kimberly Richardson, a former assistant to the City Manager who was moved up to Deputy City Manager in June 2018; and Luke Stowe, Director of Administrative Services and Chief Information Officer, whose service with the City dates back to June 2012.