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Ann Arbor Assistant City Administrator John Fournier told the city he won’t be taking Evanston’s City Manager job, after the sides failed to come to a final agreement on his employment contract, according to a news release.

And it appears that the city news release and Fournier’s letter to the City Council clash as to the reasons for his withdrawal.

Fournier is the second top candidate to withdraw from the manager job in less than four months, despite the fact the city has engaged firms to conduct nationwide searches. He had been one of two candidates announced by the City Council who went through community leader interviews and a town hall with Evanstonians.  

Fournier and his wife sit outside Council chambers as the Council begins discussing his appointment May 23. Credit: Robert Seidenberg

Local activist groups had lobbied against Fournier’s selection, preferring Snapper Poche, the other finalist, who is Program Director for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Team in Cambridge, Mass.

Fournier, however, was the only candidate able to muster the seven Council votes for appointment.

Evanston City Council members voted 9-1 on Monday, May 23, to authorize the appointment.

Fournier, 38, attended the Council session with his wife, Chelsea Wentworth, clasping his hands in a sign of appreciation as council members completed their vote officially confirming  him as their choice.

But the city maintained in its release issued Friday, May 27, that Fournier “sought to reopen contract negotiations.”

The release reported that before Fournier’s appointment at the May 23 meeting, the job candidate had agreed to an offer made following a week of back and forth contract negotiations.

“At the meeting, Mr. Fournier made a statement expressing his excitement about the position and his enthusiasm about living in Evanston,” the city release stated.

“The next day, Mr. Fournier sought to reopen contract negotiations, requesting additional compensation. The City Council responded quickly with a further offer, which was later declined.”

However, in a letter forwarded to the RoundTable and sent to Mayor Daniel Biss, Fournier said, he sought no increase in salary, allowances or other benefits.

“Once the contract was approved Monday (May 23) it became clear that there were important differences in how some terms of the contract were to be effectuated and interpreted, specifically the portions related to relocation and housing assistance, that we were unable to resolve,” he said.

”Given the city’s position, I asked the Council to amend the contract to restructure (but not increase the dollar amount of) the housing and relocation assistance to allow for a reasonable amount of it to be available for relocation and down payment assistance and they were not able to reach agreement to do so in a meaningful way.

“As a result, I notified the City of Evanston this morning [May 27] that I would be withdrawing from the position. I asked for no increase in salary, allowances or other benefits.”

The contract and the history

The contract set out the details of his employment, including a base salary of  $245,000 and other benefits, including a relocation clause. The relocation clause called for the city to provide a loan secured by a mortgage and promissory note of $225,000 for the purchase of a home in Evanston to aid the Fourniers in the family’s relocation.

On Wednesday, May 25, after the Council’s confirmation vote, Council members called for an emergency executive session to discuss an apparent development regarding Fournier’s appointment.

This is the second time in four months that a candidate for city manager has walked away from an offer from Evanston’s City Council.

In late January, Daniel Ramos, a Baltimore administrator and the council’s then-top choice, informed officials he had accepted “a prestigious position with another community.”

Ramos’ notification came as council members were mulling  over preparing to notify him he was their choice for the job.

The city has been frustrated trying to find a permanent city manager since Wally Bobkiewicz left the post in 2019 after a nearly 10-year run in the job. Members of a former City Council had then named longtime city staffer and interim City Manager Erika Storlie to the top post in a controversial move in October 2020.

Storlie ended up resigning her $225,000 post in less than a year after the council  opened up an investigation into official handling of sexual misconduct allegations brought by female lifeguards against supervisory staff.

Yet, Storlie was later exonerated of any culpability in a 379-page report done by the law firm Salvatore, Prescott, Porter & Porter. It was clear, Storlie knew nothing of the serious allegations by the young women lifeguards because those in the personnel department did not “share the petition in 2020 with the City Manager or her deputies, the Law Department, or others above them in the City’s government,” the report read.

The city will continue to work with its recruitment firm, Stanton Chase, on the search process, officials said in the release.

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. Whew We dodged that bullet!

    What is our City Council doing securing loans for potential City Managers? If you are going to secure loans for anybody, it should be your actual residents.

    Evanston, open up your City Manager search to Black candidates, you can find everyone (unfit for the job), but you cannot find a Black candidate. Right. You all are doing way too much, and yet still not enough. We may have to rethink this.

  2. I truly see this as a bigger picture issue, and that is a lack of affordable housing in Evanston. The deal fell apart because of a housing issue. If a city manager cannot afford to buy a home in Evanston, we have a problem.

  3. The number of replies contained herein exemplify the failed attempt to secure a new CM. There’s little that I can add to what’s been said, obviously being something drastically wrong here in Evanston. The transplanting and other monetary perks in the contract is ludicrous, as the same offer to our previous CM didn’t pan out. Why isn’t Chicagoland’s large urban area capable of generating a suitable candidate? More distressing, as proven by interim replacements, is the lack of a suitable person to aspire to the top.

  4. Another fumble at the one yard line. Begs the question of who is in charge of closing these deals. This is not normal. And should he or she be replaced so it doesn’t happen again.

  5. Al the commenters wondering what went wrong, what’s wrong with the search firm, why this has gotten weird: Diane K is 100% right. The City Manager reports to the Council, and you’d have to be crazy to work for those people. They are unprofessional, more interested in activism than governance, and yes some of them are abusive to staff. It’s unrealistic to expect all these out-of-state candidates to know that going in, but they all figure it out at some point.

    1. Abusive to staff?? I’m not questioning you, I am just surprised to hear this. Do you have any specifics (not using names of course.) The more I hear about our local government behind the scenes, the more it sounds like something made for TV. SOMETHING bad is clearly going on since we have no police chief and no city manager. No direction and no leadership, it sounds like.

  6. Good riddance. Evanston dodged a bullet. Guy had some serious baggage. Can we get the mayor to resign next?

    1. I’m asking this sincerely since I don’t know much about him, but what don’t you like about the mayor?

  7. Per Bob Seidenberg’s update based on Mr. Fournier’s letter, the City’s news release was WRONG — factually inaccurate. Mr. Fournier did not ask for additional $$. He asked for the housing assistance to be restructured, most likely based on timing.

    Who signed off on that release?

    I used to joke to myself that the oxygen level was low in City Hall. Now I’m wondering if the air quality should really be tested.

    1. Debbie, it’s good to hear from you. Some years ago I recall zoning discussions and other issues. Met at your home more than once. Steve Bernstein was an alderman then. So, here we stand: public announcements about preferences, actions, and — candidate sudden reversal. Add on to this the now public confusion about what a candidate said and what the City said the candidate said. Next round? Any takers?

    2. Hi, Doug — Yes, the neighborhoods put a lot of time & effort into the Chicago Avenue Corridor project (1999-2001?), only to discover many times since that there’s a big difference between visioning & manifesting, especially when the whole process is really controlled by a privately controlled money system (i.e., Federal Reserve) — which is why I now work on monetary & banking democracy.

      FYI, the City’s press release about Mr. Fournier declining the City Manager job: The City has now corrected its news release to reflect Mr. Fournier’s version. Unfortunately, the “new” version does not (a) acknowledge the previous error, or (b) identify the substance of the error. Unprofessional, all around. I know everyone is overworked, but chronic damage control ends up being very time-consuming, not to mention more stressful.

      And, yes, it does all come back to money in a private money system, but at some point we have to give a little (in this case, the City) to turn the tide towards justice and professional management.

      1. Is your implication that none of these problems would have happened if the city had a different form of government?
        Chicago sets an example of how things can go wrong with a strong mayor model. It had a beach sex harassment and abuse under a “strong mayor” system. That’s in addition to an average of 41 public corruption charges a year between 1976 and 2019. The fraud, bribery and crony hiring goes on and on under that system. As for me, I’ll pass.

  8. Did you watch the meeting Monday, the problem is the City Council members themselves. Their behavior is embarrassing and we will not get a good candidate to say yes as long as Council relations is poor. This is not normal and its unprofessional. I had enough of watching council members leave the room when don’t like the issue, they are elected to represent all of the city, not their small number of supporters. So tell me who would want relocate their family to deal with these folks. Plus the treatment to senior staff still left is borderline abusive. This man is young in his career and Evanston would ruin him. Our electeds put us in this situation and they need to fix it. Think if it was a strong mayor form of government we really would be in a mess.

    1. Next up, we can’t get a professional City Manager to run our City, so let’s disband our City Manager form of government and have a politician, strong Mayor form of government. A terrible idea but don’t be surprised if some start pushing this.

      1. Yes to a Strong Mayor

        Let’s see… City Manager Wally cost the City $400,000 with a reported $500,000 in legal fees to settle a lawsuit that was the result of a hissy fit he had with an employee. City Manager Erika was clueless that there was a sex scandal occurring on her watch. City Staff either doesn’t instruct returning officer-as-new-police-chief to use City computer systems correctly or returning officer is in over his head. He manages to cost the City $90,000 when he posts detrimental information about citizens online. And 8 years after the start of the project City Staff can’t get a public fountain built and working (they built the Empire State Building in 18 months). No, City Manager government no longer works in Evanston. We need a strong mayor, preferably a longtime resident who knows the City and its Citizens. We need a person with the integrity of Mayor Morton to take charge and a council filled with the likes of Connie Fitzsimmons.

  9. WTF? Who’s negotiating in behalf of the City of Evanston?
    How much has the search firm, Stanton Chase been paid to date?

  10. Sounds like Fournier would have been a good candidate given his experience in a university town and all.
    Wonder what really went wrong???

  11. Boy, this looks silly in retrospect. I hope the mayor provides a rational explanation.