Mayor Daniel Biss is pledging an open process in his appointment of a candidate to fill the position of Ninth Ward Council member Cicely Fleming.

Speaking at the City Council Rules Committee meeting Jan. 19, Biss said candidates interested in filling the seat will have a chance to apply online. 

He said that there will be a “public component,” as well, not elaborating. He indicated he was still conferring with Fleming about how best to proceed.

On several occasions in the past, candidates vying to fill vacated positions have been given the opportunity to present their credentials to ward residents at some kind of community forum.

Council member Cicely Fleming, Ninth Ward. (City of Evanston photo)

Fleming, who represents the south Evanston ward, announced at the Dec. 20 City Council meeting that she would be stepping down from her seat. The decision came just eight months after Fleming ran unopposed in the election, winning a new four-year term of office.

Fleming said the recent death of her mother, Marsha Cole, a much-praised senior housing advocate, figured in her decision. On Jan. 6 she made the resignation official by submitting it in writing to the City Clerk’s office. Her resignation is effective Feb. 15, said Biss. 

Because “she has given us a nice long runway,” before ending her service, Biss said at the Rules Committee meeting, “that gives us the opportunity to do a lot of this work [finding a replacement] so that we can have a process where I’m really giving folks a chance and time and listening to them carefully, and thinking about the decision deeply – but also moving pretty quickly after she’s gone.”  

Application required 

The mayor stressed that a few things were “really critical.”

“I think it’s important that we have an open application process, that there be an application online,” Biss said. 

“Anybody can fill it out; nobody gets to be considered if they don’t fill it out,” he said. “Anybody who does fill it out will have a one-on-one conversation with me.”

Different folks, different strokes

Mayoral practices have varied in the past, with some mayors making appointments without a community forum to hear candidates and others holding a full community meeting, as then-Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl did in the same Ninth Ward in 2015, when five candidates expressed interest in filling the seat. 

The appointment of Council member Eleanor Revelle to fill a vacancy in the Seventh Ward in January 2016 fell between those poles. 

Asked by Biss at the Rules Committee meeting to offer her perspective on that experience, Revelle recalled that when the vacancy in the Seventh Ward occurred, “Mayor Tisdahl convened – I’d say it was a fairly informal process, I guess basically like a ward meeting – and invited residents to come to the meeting to talk with her about what they were looking for in their next alderman [the title used then].  

“And then at that meeting, she invited anyone present who was interested in being appointed to talk for a couple of minutes about why they wanted to serve and what their vision was for Evanston,” Revelle recalled. 

“I’d say, there were at least six, maybe seven, of us who stood up and shared a few remarks. And, then, I don’t believe that evening she made any kind of formal decision, but then soon after that she went to council and proposed that I fill the vacancy,” she added.  

(One local publication observed that the thrust of the meeting, held in the Parasol Room of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center “was soliciting comments from 7th Ward residents on the attributes they would like to see in their next alderman. Unlike a similar situation in the 9th Ward, where a vacancy occurred last year,” the paper observed, “the mayor didn’t hold a second meeting, giving residents an opportunity to watch candidates in action.”)

Process after appointment 

Once the mayor has decided on a person to fill Fleming’s seat, he presents the name to City Council for approval, according to state statute. 

The council can object to this choice and to a second choice proposed by the mayor. After that, the mayor may select one of those two people to fill the seat until the February 2023 primary election, if one is necessary, or until the general election in April 2023. 

At that time, a special election will be held, open to all candidates vying to fill Fleming’s seat through the remainder of her term, in April 2025.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.