Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski (left) and First Ward Council member Clare Kelly

Evanston interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski raised concerns about the behavior of a City Council member in an email last month, after a heated conversation that took place in front of other staff members. 

The encounter took place Feb. 22 after Gandurski refused a request to release a hard copy of the lakefront report, following the city’s Corporation Counsel and Mayor’s directives, she said. 

“This takes away from the issue at hand regarding the lakefront, speaks to poor behavior in the workplace and sets a horrible example for our staff,” said interim City Manager Gandurski in a Feb. 22 email to Council members, a copy of which was received in a Freedom of Information request by the RoundTable. 

“I would never accept this behavior from any employee, and I will not accept it from a Council member,” the email said in part. 

‘Government transparency’ at issue

Clare Kelly, in her first term as council member for the First Ward, fired off a response to council members, acknowledging she had made the request and rebutting Gandurski’s charges. 

“The issue here is really about government transparency,” she said in a phone interview with the RoundTable. “It’s not about the behavior of elected officials, and that’s where I think everybody should be really concerned. I think it’s highly improper for city staff – who happens to also be named as a subject in the investigative report, this report that I care very much about – to deny a council member to have full access to the report, in whatever form I’m requesting, because that’s what happened to me. I was denied the report.” 

The email exchange occurred just hours before council members were scheduled to meet in closed session with Salvatore Prescott Porter & Porter regarding the law firm’s long-awaited report looking into sexual misconduct on Evanston’s lakefront. 

At the mayor’s request, council members had been presented copies of the report in a confidential mode, Gandurski said in her email to council members.

She said the council member, whom she did not name in the email, showed up at her office without an appointment, demanding a hard copy.  

“I explained that everyone will get hard copies at the executive session and they will be collected afterwards,” Gandurski said of in the conversation in her email. 

“The Corporation Counsel already informed this particular Council member that would be the case,” she wrote in her email to the Council. “After I informed the CM [Council Member] that the copies would be delivered at Council, this CM continued to argue with me in front of staff waiting to meet with me. 

“The CM then went to the Law Dept. [Department] and I asked this CM what they were doing. The CM said they wanted a copy. I reiterated my position and said you cannot be on the 4th floor without an appointment because this is where staff is working, and the Corporation Counsel is in a meeting and we have to be respectful of staff’s time. 

“I was then sworn at and yelled at by the Council member in the hallway of my office for all staff to hear,” she wrote. 

In her reply [which was not included in the emails the RoundTable received in its FOIA request], Council member Kelly noted that the city’s Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings had shared with council members a copy of the Lakefront report on Sunday, Feb. 20, but in a format that expired and cannot be printed.  

An ‘easier format’ 

Kelly wrote in an email to the RoundTable that she had asked for a hard copy of the report “so that I could properly annotate and mark up the 83 pages of the report and not have to take notes on the computer (I currently have carpal tunnel syndrome from typing from carrying out both teaching and work as a City Council Member this one year).”   

She said she wanted the hard copy in advance so she could better prepare for that night’s meeting. She then decided that rather than continue the conversation with staff by email she would just stop by the Civic Center at 2100 Ridge Ave. and talk to either Gandurski or Cummings there. 

She maintained in her email that Gandurski responded “in a condescending and unprofessional tone,” telling her “that the city’s Corporate Counsel had already given me the answer already to this request and it was ‘No.’ 

“I explained (in a normal conversational tone) that it seemed that as a member of Council and the client that I should be able to receive a copy,” Kelly wrote. “To which Kelley [Gandurski] said that there had already been leaks.” 

Council member Kelly also expressed concern about “leaks,” she said. 

“To which I remarked that it seemed she was trying to assert confidentiality with the client and that I didn’t think you could assert confidentiality with the client,” Kelly said in her email. “She [Gandurski] then said she had a meeting to go to so I said calmly, ‘Okay.’ And I left. The whole conversation lasted about 90 seconds. There was no profanity,” she said. 

“When I left her office I thought I would discuss this directly with Nick [Nicholas Cummings, the city’s Corporation Counsel] to better understand the position,” she continued. 

”But before I even got to the legal office Kelley stormed out of her office after me and shouted at me, ‘You cannot be on the 4th floor.’ 

“To which I said, ‘I believe I can be on the 4th floor.’ 

“She then said, ‘You are disturbing our efforts to get work done and you are being disrespectful.’ To which I said, ‘No, I feel you are being disrespectful in not providing me with a copy of such an important report so that I can better prepare for the meeting.’ At that I left, and proceeded out the building to my car,” she said. 

Council member Kelly called staff’s reaction “incredibly unreasonable,” and said it speaks to the need of “a larger accountability by our upper management staff.” 

She said in a phone interview, “I know when I’m trying to fight for something that I believe is right, I’m going to be assertive.” But she said that Gandurski’s concerns make it look like she was screaming. 

“I wasn’t doing that.” she said. 

Staff members emails back Gandurski’s account of unruly behavior

Four senior staff members with offices on the Civic Center’s fourth floor filed statements backing up Gandurski’s version of the incident, additional emails obtained by the RoundTable reveal. 

After Gandurski reiterated the reason why she could not give Kelly the hard copy version, “Council member Kelly became audibly upset, and she raised her voice and demanded a copy of the report several times. I recall hearing her yelling, ‘I’m the client. You have to give it to me,’ a staff member reported in a statement.

“After Kelley [Gandurski] again explained the report would be provided at the meeting later that evening,” the staff member wrote, “Council member Kelly walked out of suite of offices and exclaimed ‘this is bull—-.” 

In 2018, when Gandurski was serving as the city’s Corporation Counsel, she was critical of Kelly, one of the city’s leading activists, after an encounter with city staff in the Civic Center building, alleging the then-activist had a heated encounter with a Law Department staffer because of dissatisfaction over a response to a FOIA request.  

Kelly and another activist, Trisha Connelly, maintained the claims were magnified over what happened. 

“We asked questions and they didn’t like the questions we asked,” Kelly said. 

In response to Gandurski’s February concerns, Council member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, challenged council members to extend healthy work place rules beyond staff to apply to council members, another email showed. 

“I am really sorry that you had to experience this abusive behavior,” he wrote to Gandurski in an email after the executive session on the lakefront report. 

“This is not the first complaint regarding Council members’ negative and abusive behavior,” wrote Braithwaite, who declined to elaborate when contacted by the RoundTable. 

“In light of this situation and our conversation last night, the Council would all be hypocrites if we do not apply the same standards, expectations we have for staff to ourselves.” 

For that reason, he said in the email, he planned to add an item for discussion at the city’s next Rules Committee meeting, calling for expanding the city’s unhealthy workplace policy to apply to members of City Council.

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.

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  1. City Council members should have full access to any and all reports prepared for the City and staff should not be allowed to withhold any document from any member of Council. Period.
    Richard Miller, Attorney At Law

  2. Council member Kelly, (any council member for that matter), has a right to ask for and receive any document that they wish to have, from staff. CM’s are elected officials representing their constituents. The she said – she said controversy is meaningless.

    Candidates running in the last election campaigned on Government Transparency. The temp. City Manager serves the constituents through their council members.

    Council Member Kelly did the right thing in demanding information she was being denied. Can’t wait for a real (and experienced) city manager to be hired. We don’t need someone with thin skin and a middle school mentality running the city. Sticks and stones…

  3. This is an absurd story. The investigation report should have been sent to all city council members in a format they prefer and which they can make notes on if they want. Some people like tablets and computers, others like hard copy, why is that a problem? Being prepared to go into such an important meeting was critical, and it seems that Council member Kelly was doing what she should have been doing , and that is everything she could to be prepared.

    One of the questions in 2022 is, WHY was there still so much secrecy about the report that our elected officials. were not allowed to print their own copy because the report was sent in a format that did not allow printing. That action was controlling and manipulative and not respectful of our elected officials on many levels.

    The report indicates that senior staff, the mayor and the city counsel did not ask questions that should have been asked. I am not going to go down that path now, but many more questions should have been asked and answered back in 2019, 2020 and 2021 when Storlie was manager, Haggerty was Mayor, Kim was Head of Human Resources, Hemmingway was head of Parks and Rec, and Gandurski was Chief Counsel. All of them have moved on without consequence except Gandurski who moved from Counsel to Interim City Manager. Unfortunately for the survivors of the lakefront sexual harassment, there will be no real accountability or consequences for senior staff and officials who were in charge at the time and had winds of the problem. Two last questions, why was there was only one meeting where the council could ask questions of the law firm? and who was in that meeting?. The way harassment in our city is handled needs to be examined this is not the first time and there it won’t be the last unless the culture in the city manager’s office changes and becomes an open and positive environment in every department.

  4. This is the exact kind of disfunction that allowed the horrors to occur at our lakefront in the first place. The fact that the report had to be released in a way to help reduce “leaks” is concerning. I hope all who work with the City realize that the residents are in fact at the top of the org chart. We expect you to do your job. Please stop bickering and working your side agendas and fix this troubling situation.

  5. Who tipped off the The Roundtable about the existence of the email? Could it be the single Councilmember who provided an interview? It was a private email from K. Gandurski to the Council members. Was ramping up the conflict by leaking the existence of the email to local media , and commenting publicly about an accusation against a colleague, an example of healthy workplace behavior? Obviously not. Hypocritical. Looking at you, Councilmember Braithwaite.

    1. So this article is too much “transparency”? I appreciate that. I’m trying to determine what exactly that word means around here.

  6. Having read the original RT article and the comments, one can see how what was a minor incident gets blown up into a controversy with people taking sides. As some have pointed out, there are much more serious issues that face the Council now than whether Ald. Kelly was impolite to Ms. Gandurski. Ald. Kelly is the most pro-active member on the Council in terms of digging into the details of proposed Council actions and the activities of staff that bear on them and bringing these matters before the Council. This is not an easy path to follow and she should be applauded for doing it. The RoundTable editorial board should think twice about what are the most important issues and controversies it should be presenting to its readers.

  7. Nobody can read an 83 page document and at the same time attend any meeting. It’s eminently reasonable for Councilwoman Kelly to request the document to read thoroughly beforehand, especially one of such import. I applaud Clare Kelly for wanting to do her job. This is about transparency and not politeness. The Roundtable is remiss to report on Gandurski “flagging” behavior, rather than Kelly “flagging” a cover up.

  8. I applaud Council-member Kelly for her determination to advocate on behalf of the citizens of Evanston. The real issue here is the lack of transparency/accountability coming from staff working under Gandurskii’s direction. This unhealthy work environment accusation is simply a diversion, to distract us from the shameful lakefront coverup orchestrated by Gandurski and Cummings.
    I think Gandurski needs to remember she works for council-member Kelly and the citizens of Evanston.

  9. Too bad the Roundtable chose to put energy on this, and not the horrible situation behind it. What are the young folks from the beachfront left with? Lots of people leaving the City of Evanston, some with payouts, and not one fired. Maybe ask what Kelley Gandurski was up to in the law department when this all went down.
    Councilmember Kelly had the right to get those documents.
    P.S. Mr. Seidenberg, if you would have taken the time to FOIA, you would have found there is NO record of police being called to the Civic Center let alone coming over to the Civic Center.

  10. Clare Kelly should know that teachers hold something called “office hours,” an time set up in advance when they come in with questions. My kids teaches had this. Teachers arent available at the whim of their students. The legal counsel and interim city manger have really impressive resumes. After reading their education and history of service they deserve anyone’s respect . Asking for an appointment from a lawyer is good manners ,shows respect and is what the REST OF EVANSTON has to do. Why is she so special she dont need an appointmet.? . Also, the report WAS AVAILABLE – she did DID NOT LIKE THE LAYOUT so she wanted the city staff to be her PERSONAL KINKOS and reprint it for her in a way that suited her “carpal tunnel”. This wont happen in any real working environment. people don’t want to work when they’re treated badly. where I work crew wouldn’t even ask the secretary for what she did even if that was her job because its rude. She thinks everyone works for her but she has never paid anyone in her life. She isnt a boss because she never had the risk of running a business and knowing she had to be good on her paycheck for her employees. How people compare this woman to Ida B. Wells. one of our black communities most important national figures boggles my mind. This woman is no Ida B Wells. Shes not a community builder or out for justice – she a destroyer who divides the community and will run the small businessman out of town with her anger and priviliedge.
    Also, letting coworkers complete their work before sending it off into the world is not hiding it. It is letting people finish their work. Who wants their boss to take away their work when its not done? Who wants people to inspect a job that isnt fnished? If the city manager and legal counsel wanted to “hide” this report it would NOT be at this stage of the game. That ridiculous fear-mongering- as is her hole platform of “transparancy” which is code word for CONSPIRACY THEORY. Look up conspiracy theory and there should be her picture and the picture of her cronies.
    Because of her behavior, the city hall has become PHSYICALLY shut down! the public, contractors, workers, etc cannot come in to talk to the permit desk. Architects and builders have to use this clumsy computer portal even for simple permits. People cannot pay a ticket or talk to anyone because City Staff feels they are endangered. Everyone in the know knows that it is because of her. They literally rewired the building because of her. The worst is that when she does not get her way, she sicks her groupies on anyone who has a different opinion. Her group knows knows no boundaries or how to be civil – they don’t know how to professional, how to compromise, and will destroy the city unless people wake up and demand that she be removed. i PRAY when the election time comes a real gifted civil servant comes forward and gets rid of this mess we are in to save our town. Neighbors PLEASE talk to those out of the loop so they get involved or our city will go down the toilet.

  11. Switch out the players, for example in a corporation, is it ok for 1 employee to yell at another because of a perceived injustice? How about in a doctor’s office or school, is ok for 1 doctor or teacher to yell at another while in the presence of other staffers? It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong or whose “side” we are on, it’s should not be ok to have this kind of public freak out.

  12. The article seems to focus on politeness when the issue is transparency in our City government. And let’s face it – Ida B. Wells was often accused of being impolite.

  13. Thanks to Councilmember Kelly for all her efforts related to ensuring transparency regarding Evanston’s Lakefront scandal. I appreciate Councilmember Kelly’s proactive efforts to stay on top of the situation in as timely a manner as she could, especially so after the City’s lack of action regarding this issue since the summer of 2020, and in spite of Gandurski’s apparent recent efforts to continue to keep the report confidential, for what reasons I can’t imagine. Thanks to Mayor Biss, and to Councilmember Kelly I believe, for having the report made public today. I’ve had only a short time to scan the report, and it is sickening.

  14. Seems to me the issue is about government transparency, and the issue of politeness is secondary. Ida B. Wells also got accused of being confrontational.

  15. I wonder if Council Member Braithwaite read the referenced report. If he had, one of its conclusions was that the city’s Healthy Work Environment Policy has been used as a weapon to harm people over simple disagreements. That seems to be what Braithwaite is implying here.

    The real issue is about transparency and the dysfunctional culture of local government. We elect City Council Members to represent the public interest. About 80% of City staff are not Evanston residents. Even with this fact, the vast majority serve our city well. But there are a sizeable minority, many in the most senior positions who appear to act against the interests of the people who live in Evanston. Council Member Kelly seems to be representing all of us who want greater transparency and accountability.

    This is an unwise and cheap attempt by the Evanston City Manager to portray a dedicated Council Member in the most unfavorable light. I think this further confirms the inexperience of the interim City Manager. This is not good for Evanston.

    1. I think if we want a healthy workplace culture, the principles must apply to everyone. If this hasn’t happened in the last, that was a mistake that should not be repeated in this situation.
      I’m not ready to jump on the “ends justify the means” argument in defense of alleged uncivil behavior. While this Council Member’s advocacy for accountability may be admirable, the reported behavior is completely unacceptable. Others have stated “the city staff work for us.” Agreed. Then we should behave like people we’d want to work for.

  16. A YouTube video entitled “ Clare Kelly, fights with everyone “ might be of interest to readers.

    1. What also might be of interest…brought to you by Steve Hagerty and the dark money group “Evanston Together”
      Cheers to elected leaders who actually fight for the residents. They are far and few between.

  17. I am ashamed and embarrassed to be represented by this person on the city council.

    We have so much evidence of this behavior consistently and I do not believe a word this CM is saying for this story.

    Kudos to the Interim City Manager.

    We will not get any talented person to come here if this is what they can expect from elected officials.

    As a former elected official in another jurisdiction, I am horrified to see this behavior consistently from this same person.

    I am calling on the current council to call in your peer. Do not be complicit in this situation or pattern of behavior.

    And to my alderperson, get it together. This is not how you treat our staff. This team needs all our support. Rules are for all of us, not just a few. Please act worthy of the office people elected you to hold.

  18. It is my humble opinion that with many serious issues concerning (the lack of) transparency in Evanston’s City Staff and Government, that Ms. Gandursky would like nothing more than to put Ms. Kelly on the defensive in this instance. Why on earth would Ms. Gandursky not wish to provide information to Ms. Kelly which would afford her to arrive at a better understanding of the matter at hand?

  19. First and foremost, the abusive, toxic and obnoxious conduct exposed in this whole “lifeguardgate” mess is outrageous, vile and has no place in Evanston, Chicago, or any other place.

    There must be consequences for this horrible behavior. And there have been: people were fired; apologies were made; if there are criminal or civil actions to be taken, I am sure that they will be taken. But, that does not mean that we should become vigilantes to avenge the wrongs committed.

    To the extent that this report deals with city employee personnel matters, no, the report should not be released to the public. I know it seems unfair when our desire for transparency in government conflicts with an employee’s rights. But what if you made mistakes at work, were fired from your job, and the all the details of the investigation by your employer were made public? That would be unfair, and in most cases illegal. There are laws protecting how employers treat employees and former employees. Wouldn’t it be an even worse outcome if the report was released, and wrong-doers sued the city for disclosing confidential information, and the city then paid out more money to those wrong-doers?

    We might not like it that those laws are protecting the “wrong people” but that is how we as a society protect all of us: by having laws that sometimes protect the guilty people.

    In any event, I believe that when we disagree, doing so in a civil fashion is a basic requirement in all public, business, governmental and interpersonal discourse.

  20. In my opinion, it’s not that the Council Member requested services, it’s the manner in which it was done. The agreed upon facts show a greater need for mutual respect. I wonder what would happen if this council member had a ward constituent show up without an appointment at their workplace making immediate demands? Would they be immediately accommodated as “the client?”
    This incident causes me to wonder how many of our members of city council
    have experience leading employees. Many experienced leaders have learned that the culture of a workplace starts with them, requiring that they demonstrate the behavior they expect.

  21. The administrative staff and the executive staff have been hiding information and allowing abuse of citizens for years and Claire Kelly was acting to protect the citizens and not the administartors who allowed abuse to continue.

  22. My admittedly limited engagement with councilmember Kelly has been positive. I found her responsive to my concerns, which is what i would expect of any city council member. I think exiting a room saying, “This is bull****” is an expression of frustration, but not the same as “swearing at someone.” Maybe not the best behavior, but also, as a person who sometimes like to use profanity, I kind of get it. Here’s the bottom line, for me: Leaks? Seriously? They’re worried about leaks? That may actually qualify as bull****.

  23. This report should be readily available and in print for the entire community to read. Gandurski and Cummings were both aware of the beach staff complaints in real time, and should not be handling dissemination of a report, in which they are likely named. Where is the transparency? I applaud council member Kelly in her continued efforts to provide transparency. Council should have access to the report in whatever format they like. City staff serve the Council and Council serves the citizens. If the report was requested in print why not provide it? Unless, of course, there’s something to hide…?

    1. Lori there was “nothing to hide.” The Alderman was given a copy of the report days before this encounter. She already had seen it when she went to city hall to harass the city manager. And the entire report was posted on the city’s website the day after.

      The problem is that the Alderman walks in demanding immediately that staff drop everything and print her out a copy of a document. That is just ridiculous and an abuse of power.

      And, sorry, the staff does not work for a single Alderman. The city manager is appointed by the council–Clare Kelly is not the council. She is one person on the council. The city manager handled the situation appropriately. The last thing we need is council members jumping the queue demanding special services from overworked staff and making the rest of the city’s 70,000 residents wait in line.

      Kelly’s behavior is childish entitlement at its worst.

      1. Terri,

        You need to look at an organization chart. Staff does report to the alderman, jointly and severally. When a council member makes a reasonable request, including one for a hard copy of a report, it should be fulfilled. My strong hunch is that Gandurski and Cummings, who were both well aware in real time, of what was going on at the waterfront are trying to distract from the real issues at hand. Sadly, the Roundtable choose to be part of the problem and published this sexist article rather than digging into who knew what when at the beachfront. I am almost surprised the Roundtable didn’t publish a cartoon next to the article with some school yard bully shouting, “catfight.” This was a low.

    2. The entire exhaustive report by the third party law firm, conducted over six months at a cost of over $100,000, is enclosed in the link below.

      Please refer to page 33 of this report to the investigators’ finding that there is no evidence that Interim City Manager Gandurski had knowledge of the petition or extent of the complaints. The independent investigation clears her. In the interest of transparency, perhaps those who allege the contrary, that Ms, Gandurski both knew about the complaints and participated in a cover up, produce your evidence so we can all be enlightened.