The city of Urbana had gone without a city administrator for 11 years before Mayor Diane Marlin named Carol Mitten to the position in April 2018.

Mitten declared at the time that she was not walking in the door to make changes but rather saw herself as a coach. She hoped to bring leaders in the administration together to work toward common goals.

Shirese Hursey

Shirese Hursey, who as a member of Urbana’s seven-person city council worked alongside Mitten for three years, said in a phone interview, “I think Carol was a great city administrator. …I’m sorry she’s leaving Urbana. I wish she wasn’t.”

Hursey, whose father was Urbana’s first Black council member and has served herself on the elected council representing Urbana’s Third Ward, said Mitten was instrumental in helping her research a 2021 Urbana resolution committing to end structural racism and racial equity. “I actually used Evanston as a template,’’ Hursey said.

The resolution speaks of the segregation and racial oppression that became especially acute after World War II, after the increase in the Black population of Champaign-Urbana and the spread of predatory real estate practices that excluded Black residents from white neighborhoods.

Of Mitten, she said, “I think she’s a straight shooter. She’s a policy wonk.” Hursey maintained that much of the criticism aimed at Mitten has been “cherry picked” and not reflective of how government is run.

“I was surprised when I was elected how these people showed up and just yelled at you,” she said. “We can’t have a city run by a small group of people who … complain and scream but don’t have any solutions to anything. This isn’t a Game of Thrones,” she said. “People seem to think of it that way.”

Next steps in Evanston’s hiring process

But whatever Hursey and others think, it’s now in the hands of Evanston City Council members to decide where they stand on city of Urbana administrator Mitten becoming Evanston’s next city manager. This has been a long process that has already resulted in two failed searches, and left Evanston without a permanent city manager for 10 months.

Council members met Monday, Aug.1, in a special, closed city council meeting. “Personnel” was the reason given for the closed session. The next regular council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 8, when a discussion or a vote on the city manager hire could come up.

A minimum of six of the 10 council members – nine ward representatives and the mayor – would have to vote to confirm Mitten as the city’s next city manager. With the Second Ward council seat currently vacant, nine council members will be voting, including the Mayor.

Credit: Bob Seidenberg

Council members have shown the requisite amount of support for Mitten as she was the lone finalist in this third iteration of the search introduced to the public via a town hall meeting July 28.

Two previous searches by the city failed to produce a final hire.

But a group of local activists has mounted a strong opposition campaign to Mitten’s selection, aimed at making councils members back off their support.

Activists have circulated criticism of Mitten, some of it from one website in Urbana, raising concern about her positions on open meetings, transparency, policing and racial issues.

Community Alliance for Better Government, the group leading the campaign, has urged members on social media to contact council members and urge them to vote no on Mitten’s appointment.

The activists, fewer than 20 in number, turned out at the town hall meeting, rallying beforehand and waving “No Mitten” signs.

Many of the questions Mayor Daniel Biss asked Mitten during the nearly two-hour town hall meeting last week reflected concerns the group has raised. Audience members interrupted Biss’s questions at certain points, demanding to ask Mitten questions themselves.

After the July 28 meeting, Mitten sat down with a small group of activists remaining in council chambers, responding to their concerns.

The extraordinary exchange, caught on video by the RoundTable, went well beyond what candidates in the city’s previous searches had done publicly.

Informal Q&A with Mitten after last week’s town hall meeting.

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. why did you not include this part of the video? Carol Mitten:

    “if the skills around racial equity are primary to you, which it sounds like they are, then I’m not going to be someone that you will support”

    to not include it is an act of white supremacy.

    1. This statement is breathtaking. So if her top priority, as an administrator mind you, is not to focus on racial equity above and beyond all things… she (and the author somehow) are white supremacists? Who are you?

  2. Correction: There have been three searches. In the first, the former mayor tried to cancel the search, then two outside candidates were passed over by the council to select the interim city manager, who subsequently flamed out, partly due to the beach harassment scandal. Regarding candidate Mitten, such openness and willingness to meet with a group of citizens is remarkable. The city should proceed to hire this highly qualified and personable candidate.

  3. Wow, Bob Seidenberg going above & beyond taping the informal chat. Fantastic.

    FWIW, when Ms. Mitten’s candidacy was first announced, I contacted Urbana residents in my networks about Ms. Mitten, all activists in a variety of ways. One woman’s father was a previous mayor of Urbana, as well as a math professor at UIUC (sounds like a theme, mayor-math prof.).

    I received no responses, which can be taken many ways. But knowing the individuals who I contacted, I think they would have at least alerted me to any major red flags. I take the “no response” as equivalent to “no red flags”.