Editor’s note: The original story has been updated with a quote from City Council member Bobby Burns (5th Ward).
The city didn’t follow the employee hiring process as laid out in its handbook when selecting the candidates for the police chief job. But officials disagreed, saying it’s allowed to do that, according to its handbook.
The hunt for the next police chief was narrowed down to three candidates.
But officials didn’t create a job description or post the position for a minimum of 10 days, as the City of Evanston Employee Handbook says. Instead, the search was based on referrals from officials, including the former police chief, city council members and the mayor.
Community and Employee Engagement Manager Jessica Mayo confirmed the city didn’t follow the hiring process outlined in the employee handbook, but said the city has the option to modify it at its discretion.
“The first page of the Employee Handbook states that, by definition, this document is a general summary of the City’s personnel practices and may, at the discretion of the City, be modified, revoked, or changed at any time, with or without notice. This process was fully compliant with city policies and practices,” Mayo wrote in an email to the RoundTable.
“Unethical and a breach of trust”
The Community Alliance for Better Government (CABG) disagreed. It took to Facebook to express concern – calling it “unethical and a breach of trust.”
“The reason that you’re supposed to have a job description and post it is so that, as their own handbook says, a wide variety of people can apply,” said Lesley Williams, President of CABG. “Otherwise, you end up with a workforce that is not ethnically, demographically and ideologically diverse. And that is a problem.”
Since Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook announced his retirement in June 2021, the city has switched managers three times.
The decision to pursue a referral-based search for the next police chief was suggested by the previous city manager, council members said.
“By the time manager Stowe was put in place, it was very far along,” said Council Member Devon Reid (8th Ward.) “So I guess, for manager Stowe, it made sense for him to continue with the process in its very late stages.”
Although the city council oversees the city manager, the manager reserves the right to make all employment decisions, according to the city human resources office.
Yet CABG’s Williams said she thought it was the city council’s place to step in.
“They could have called this out; they could have informed their constituents that this was going on,” Williams said. “They could have refused to participate unless the position was posted. And the job description was posted, but no, they were in fact complicit in what was a backdoor hiring process.”
City Council members Bobby Burns (5th Ward) and Reid responded:
“This is 100% an administrative decision,” Burns said. “Our role is a legislative one and the city manager has the administrative role. We do not have that authority.” Burns went on to say hiring and firing city staff is in the hands of the city manager. The only hiring and firing authority the city council has is for the city manager position.
Said Reid: “Refusing to participate is not an option that I have, when representing the interest of my residents… as an elected representative.” But he added he was concerned about the search being referral based.
“I think our three finalists are good candidates, and I think the city will be satisfied with them,” said Reid. “But I do believe that we should have done a national search to find the top talent in the country. Not just the top talent in our area, which in some regards, could be the top talent in the country.”
When asked if referral-based hiring will be a precedent for the future, City Manager Stowe texted one word: “no.”