Evanston has been through a long and painful few years: racial discrimination lawsuits, horribly shocking revelations of sexual abuse among beach staff, and the rapid departure of a city manager, police chief, parks chief and head of human resources. We are sharply divided: over development, over policing, over discipline in our schools; and most of these issues have racial overtones.
In choosing a new city manager this is not the time to go with what is safe and predictable. We don’t need someone telling us what they think we should do. We need a brilliant leader with vision, compassion, humility, and the ability to build consensus and trust in city government.
We need Snapper Poche.
Both of our finalists are highly intelligent civic leaders with strong track records. While the other candidate gave specific and detailed answers to a myriad of policy questions, what impresses us about Poche is his willingness to listen, and to acknowledge a mistake and to rectify it. When discussing a plan he had devised to improve code violations inspections in rental properties, Poche acknowledged that “it was a flop” because he had not involved the community. He went back to the drawing board, hiring inspectors who lived in those communities, recognizing that this was not simply a job anyone could be trained for, but that it “requires a profound understanding of the people and the population you’re serving.”
This is leadership: trying something new, admitting failure (rather than blaming others), learning from it, and then doing better.
When discussing budgets and programs, Poche speaks of values, and even (gasp!) morals. Budgets are not just numbers to him, he wants to “shift the discussion from dollars to values, and investment in those values.” In planning business development, he stresses the need for “dialogue about values, identifying common ground, and opportunities to identify shared goals.” He sees funding social services as part of the city’s moral grounding.
Humility. Values. Morals. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard this type of language from a city official.
We appreciate Poche’s commitment to public engagement and transparency. In discussing both the budget and the search for a new police chief, he says, “Engaging with the community and the public will always get a better product.” When he talks about values, he recognizes that “city officials should not be in charge of deciding what Evanston’s values are.” He realizes that engagement is more than sending out flyers or posting on social media: that “people are busy… and they cannot go to a meeting at 7 o’clock where they sit around a table with a charrette. Bring that engagement directly to residents in places where they are, so that plan is rooted in that engagement.”
Evanstonians have a strong interest in climate change, but few of us have been as directly harmed by it as Poche. The child of Louisiana fishermen, Poche’s family lost their commercial fishing livelihood in Lake Pontchartrain because of the decline of the area’s natural resources. Climate change and climate justice are not abstractions for him. When he discusses our climate action and resiliency plan, he wants to see accountability and results, stating candidly that “a goal without a plan is meaningless.”
Finally, we are impressed with Poche’s honesty about the challenges of implementing racial equity. He speaks eloquently of the importance of individual learning around race, freely admitting that this has been a major part of his own journey. He stresses that all stakeholders and all departments need to truly acknowledge that race is an issue, and that it requires empathy. Furthermore, unlike almost every other politician or city official in history, Poche states plainly that implementing equity means sacrifices and a shift in resources. True racial equity is more than simply having staff who speak different languages, or implicit bias training; it is shifting resources to those who have been marginalized.
Both candidates have impressive resumes and years of public service, but we feel Poche’s values and lived commitment to increasing transparency, community engagement, and racial equity in municipal services make him the best fit for Evanston.
The Community Alliance for Better Government proudly endorses Snapper Poche for City Manager.
Rick Marsh, president