Dissatisfied with the announced choice for City Manager, protesters lined up outside the PalmHouse, where Mayor Daniel Biss was scheduled to deliver his “State of the City” speech at the annual Evanston Chamber Commerce event.

As guests filed in to the $75-a-ticket (for non-members) luncheon at 619 Howard St. on Friday, May 20, members of the Community Alliance for Better Government held signs and talked to officials about the city’s recent announcement of Ann Arbor administrator John Fournier as the Council’s choice for City Manager.

(Full disclosure: The RoundTable was a sponsor of the 2022 State of the City event.)

Protesters gathered outside the PalmHouse banquet hall before Mayor Biss’ scheduled State of the City address. Credit: Robert Seidenberg

“We’ve just been disappointed in the whole process of the City Manager search,” said Rick Marsh, CABG president. “This is our third search, and it seems at each iteration it becomes less transparent, less community input, less community dialog. … On top of that, the choice the city has made, we’re just not happy with the choice. There’s some background, there’s some non-vetting that  the community has not been a part of.”

Fournier’s selection came after the 10-member Council, including the mayor, held several executive sessions, attempting to arrive at the seven votes necessary under city code to appoint a city manager.

But the Council still must vote publicly on the appointment, perhaps as early as this Monday’s (May 23) City Council meeting.

Groups favored another candidate

This is actually the second search the city has held to find a chief executive. The last City Manager, Erika Storlie, stepped down from the job she had held for barely a year– making it three searches in recent history. The city has been without a full-time manager since October 2021.

In January, Council members reached consensus on Daniel Ramos, but were still mulling over Evanston’s offer when Ramos took a job elsewhere.

Fournier and Snapper Poche, Program Director for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in Cambridge, Mass., were the two finalists in the latest search from a 75-person field.

Activists have actively lobbied for Poche,  preferring his stand on transparency  and racial equity. Following the Fournier announcement, they called on the City Council to change its selection or reopen the process.

“When you look at our platform as the Community Alliance for Better Government,” explained Marsh, “our values are around transparency and equity. Those are the two that really stand out. And from transparency, we have not seen [it] in this process.”

The Council announcement of Fournier as their choice came on May 13 after the two candidates participated in a virtual town hall meeting May 3, which was followed by interviews with stakeholder groups and staff.

Before his State of the City speech, Biss left the PalmHouse and walked out to speak individually to a number of the protesters.

Biss (center) steps outside to talk with Bennett Johnson (left) and Rick Marsh. Credit: Robert Seidenberg

Bennett Johnson, 93, who was a onetime president of the Evanston NAACP, could be heard asking Biss about the Council’s choice.

“We had candidates that were very different,” the mayor told Johnson. “They both had real strengths, very serious strengths, and it’s hard because if you prefer the strengths of one guy — he was so much stronger in that, the other guy looks kind of ridiculous,” Biss said. 

Marsh expressed appreciation to the mayor for coming out  to meet with the protesters. Biss said he appreciated that the groups were expressing their point of view. 

“The reason we had a public engagement at all is so this could happen,” he said.

As of now, “they haven’t voted,” said Marsh. “Today we just wanted to make a statement here at the Chamber of Commerce as the mayor of Evanston is speaking. There are a number of other groups that are here. We just want to make sure we are being heard, that this community is being heard.”

To read about the Mayor’s speech, click here.

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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