Mayor Daniel Biss shed light on the City Council’s prolonged search for a new city manager during a town hall discussion on the matter Tuesday evening.

Attendees nearly filled the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center’s Parasol Room for the town hall, which was also live-streamed on the city’s YouTube and cable television channels. The Evanston RoundTable co-sponsored the event, with reporter Bob Seidenberg moderating and asking questions submitted online and by attendees.

Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss (left) talks about the search for a city manager Tuesday night at the Morton Civic Center. The event was hosted and conducted by the RoundTable. Reporter Bob Seidenberg questioned the mayor. Credit: Richard Cahan

While Biss did not comment directly on the status of the city manager search, he said he feels “hopeful” about the newest slate of candidates. He also said the City Council will be able to share more information with the public soon.

Biss said one difficulty in the search has been balancing the public’s desire for transparency with the deterrent effect such transparency has on applicants.

“We’ve lost candidates because we’ve said, ‘If you’re a finalist, then you’re going to have to do a town hall with the community, and your names will be published in the newspaper, and your current boss is going to hear that you’re looking to leave, and also you still may not have a job yet at that point,’ ” Biss said. “We’re more and more sensitive about setting up a process that has a likelihood of repelling high-quality candidates.”

Later in the town hall, Seidenberg asked Biss if Evanston is “still a very attractive place to work” for aspiring city managers, saying the City is not “an easy suburb” given the difficult issues and vocal community that awaits them.

In response, Biss said the city has “a different set of goals” that are more ambitious than most similarly sized cities, which usually focus on “meat and potatoes” issues like trash pickup and snow removal.

Biss said that, as a result of this, fewer candidates from traditional city management backgrounds are interested in taking on the role in Evanston.

“People know Evanston as a place doing ambitious things. They know Evanston is a place that has resources. They know it’s a place that has a super-talented staff,” Biss said. “But a lot of them are like, ‘I went into city management to get away from all that other stuff, that’s not what I’m looking for.’ ”

After the submitted questions were exhausted, attendees were given the chance to ask follow-up questions and give feedback directly to Biss.

The crowd listened Tuesday night at a town hall at the Civic Center regarding the city’s search for a new city manager. Credit: Richard Cahan

Tina Paden, a local landlord and frequent public commenter, said the City Council’s failure to find a permanent city manager has had a negative effect on the rest of the government, leading to multiple vacancies in prominent leadership positions.

“Apparently your decisions have left us with no police chief, no city manager,” Paden said. “So maybe it’s something that you all are not doing, that we [the public] need to be participating in to help make a better decision.”

Biss agreed with Paden, and said the effect the lack of leadership has had on staff morale is an important reason the newest city manager search process needs to move as quickly as possible.

“The number of vacancies that we have in key positions explains exactly why I feel such a high degree of urgency about filling this position,” Biss said. “There are balls being dropped now, not because a single person on our staff is dropping a single ball, but because we just don’t have enough people to do it anymore. That’s happening today.”

Alex Harrison joined the RoundTable in 2022 for the summer in between his undergraduate and graduate studies at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Upon graduating with his masters degree,...

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  1. I believe that Evanston is dysfunctional. Essential services haven’t been affected, but appropriate mid-level control in other areas is almost non-existent. There’s some long-term employees whose performance is inadequate. This City relies on consultants & volunteer committees as a crutch to do its work for them. What’s needed is funding for an inspector general AND not 70 grand for a lobbyist!