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For the last few years I have been trying to find the duties and powers of City Council members in the City Code. I still haven’t come across any specifics. The Code does specify duties and powers of the Mayor, City Clerk, and City Manager, but I can’t find any details on Council members. Nor have I been able to find a purpose or mission statement for the City Council as a whole.
In the light of yet another City of Evanston SNAFU (not accommodating City Manager-elect John Fournier’s request to restructure his contract), how are we supposed to keep individual Council members accountable if nobody knows what they’re supposed to do?
And how are we supposed to understand the interlocking duties and powers of city leadership, if those duties and powers are not specified for the City Council itself and not regularly reviewed?
I recommend that the City Code be updated to review and harmonize the interlocking duties and powers of the City Council, the Mayor, City Clerk and the City Manager. This would be an educational experience for all and might clarify the job of Council member and Mayor for future candidates, as well as for voters new to Evanston’s government –either young voters or seasoned voters who moved to Evanston.
Moreover, the process would create a shared knowledge base about:
- What a city government can do,
- what it can’t do and
- who’s in charge of what?
Getting voters and officials on the same page would go a long way in terms of more effective public processes and decisions.
Such a public process would provide a good forum for discussing an issue that has been rumbling around in Evanston for a few years: Should Evanston’s governance model be changed to a strong Mayor/Council form or remain a weak Mayor/Council form administered by a City Manager?
Some of these terms are confusing. At this stage in my learning (at the age of 71), I would prefer a professional manager as opposed to a popularly elected mayor who may or may not have the qualifications to run a city.
On the other hand, I know that I would benefit from an extended public discussion about terminology and governance models, etc., including models not yet mentioned. I believe that other Evanstonians and city staff would benefit from such a big-picture discussion, including current city officials.
For a succinct outline of these issues, see my August 2021 letter to Salvatore Prescott Porter & Porter, the Evanston law firm that investigated the lakefront sexual harassment scandal (Section B of my August 2021 blog, Public trust in Evanston, IL: Sexual harassment complaints buried for years, weeks, days.) My email to the law firm addressed some structural issues with the following recommendations:
- Update City Code regarding interlocking duties and powers of City Council, Mayor, City Clerk and City Manager through a dedicated public process.
- Evanston should find another word for the office of Mayor, in conjunction with updating the City Code.
Unfortunately, the report did not address these structural issues.
In addition, for what it’s worth, I do not agree with the findings in the report regarding former City Manager Erika Storlie and former Mayor Steven Hagerty.
I believe both are culpable in not dealing with the issue in a timely fashion and not letting Council members know. In my April 2022 blog, Lakefront Staff Misconduct in Evanston, IL: Final Reflections on Investigation & Report, I address the mayor’s role, the election season that was imminent (starting September 2020), and, again, the big-picture issues of terminology, qualifications for elected office, etc. I believe a public process to update the City Code sections on the City Council, Mayor, City Clerk and City Manager would also address some of these secondary issues.
The good news about living in “Damage Control Central” these days? We have lots of recent, real time examples to:
- Publicly hash out a better governance model, and
- Create more of a consensus on the City of Evanston’s direction and priorities based on an updated knowledge base of City leadership roles and responsibilities, which would be shared by both officials and voters.
Debbie Hillman works full-time on local food systems, following a 25-year, Evanston-based gardening career. Since 2005 she’s worked on both policy and projects as a co-founder of The Talking Farm, Edible Acre at ETHS, the Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Plan, as well as Midwestern and national initiatives.