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A well-run city makes a meaningful effort to include the views of the public when making an informed choice about the selection of a City Manager, the most important hired position in government. This is why the City of Cambridge, Mass. directly involved 750 citizens to develop the job description, screen candidates and interview finalists in public and recorded interviews.
For this reason, we are extremely disappointed that the League of Women Voters of Evanston states that “it is not the job of the community to decide who the next city manager should be. That is the job of our elected officials.” A city manager is not only accountable to the Mayor and City Council, but to the people in the equitable and conscientious delivery of public services.
Moreover, a good match between a manager and a municipality goes beyond a checklist of skills. It’s precisely in the interviewing process that the candidates will reveal whether they understand what is expected and how their past work demonstrates their ability to promote such values. Contrary to the LWVE’s assertion, the Council and the search firms do not “understand what our citizenry is looking for in a City Manager.” Searches are dynamic, not static.
Having been appropriately solicited in the first City Manager search process, a wide swath of residents clearly and consistently stated that they wanted a city manager who is antiracist, collaborative and trustworthy. Nevertheless, eight Council members voted to hire a city manager who used racially inequitable practices, treated staff in a demeaning way, and blocked public access to police records. It’s worth remembering that Erika Storlie’s last straw with the lifeguard scandal came from her failure to address complaints from residents or act with integrity.
The LWVE implies that the demand for a public process in the selection of a new city manager is to blame for the stalemate. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the second of the three searches, the public process gave the Council greater insight into the views and priorities of candidates, Mr. Jasso and Mr. Ramos, and helped them decide who was a better fit. It was ignoring public input that nearly led to installing a disastrous city manager in the most recent go-round. Even Mayor Biss acknowledged that Evanston “dodged a bullet there.”
We acknowledge the issues with staff morale and the need to have leadership in place. However, there are other better short-term options. The city can work through the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) to hire an outside interim manager who would handle day-to-day operations. We have an excellent human resources department and legal department to handle contract and union negotiations.
We reiterate: the City Manager is the single most important and influential position in Evanston’s city government. Evanston has a well-developed economy, with complex neighborhoods and a diversity of residents. It requires an exceptional leader, one who values and welcomes public input. Engaging with the public process is a necessary step for identifying that leader. We will not find such a person with a hasty, closed-door process.
Citizens Network of Protection
Community Alliance for Better Government
Darlene Cannon and Elliot Zashin