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:

  1. Update City Code regarding interlocking duties and powers of City Council, Mayor, City Clerk and City Manager through a dedicated public process.
  2. 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

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.

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  1. Kudos to Debbie Hillman. At a Council Meeting over 3 years ago, I requested Wally Bobkiewicz’s termination and former Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar, both to be held responsible for the James Park fiasco. Before the meeting started, Steven Hagerty was running around patting staff on their backs, and honoring them for the supposed good service they’ve done, as pictures were taken. To me it was revolting, based on the reason for my being there. And, problems with this city only got worse after that!

  2. I totally agree with Debbie Hillman’s facts, and I know first hand since I was the City Clerk for close to 9 years.
    There is no definitive description of the duties or responsibilities of a Council member. All it now states is: 1) must be an Evanston Resident, 2) must live in the ward they are applying for, 3) must not have any arrests or convictions in the State, 4) they decide who will be the next City Manager, etc, etc…
    Most Council members form connections with other members to acquire votes for their personal agendas, and make promises to who votes with them to support their next project.
    There are behind the door agreements made before a Council Meeting is called to order, as well as under the table compensations received from developers in certain wards.
    The council many times are influenced by groups who yell the loudest or show up in large masses, instead of listening and abiding to the cry of the less represented minorities.
    It’s time for the Local Government to stop catering to their selfish, knothole, agendas for their ward (Kingdom), and center the thoughts and progress on assisting the whole Evanston community. I’ve stated earlier in my tenure as the City Clerk the following statement: “There are 10 Kingdoms in Evanston ( 9 Wards and a Mayor)”, and at some point they all need to come together for the good of all residents and not just their Ward/Kingdom. They all were voted into representing this city as our governing body, to serve their constituent’s and this city to the best of their abilities. They took an oath to do exactly that and to make the city better than what they inherited.
    Let’s begin together as a united front to demand their accountability, moral/ethical behavior, as well as their transparency in all of their decisions concerning our City of Evanston.