Nearly seven weeks after dropping a bombshell 39-page report alleging workplace racial discrimination and harassment, the City of Evanston Black Employee Action Group described the city’s response so far as dismissive. There has also been retaliation from releasing the report, members of the group said. 

The cover of the 39-page letter and action plan.

This comes after several meetings between the two parties. Despite the lack of progress in their eyes, members of the employee group still plan to meet biweekly with the city, with the next meeting scheduled for Jan. 19. 

City officials told the RoundTable that development of the city’s response to the allegations, a 60-day roadmap, was a “collaborative effort” and described the document as a work in progress, “subject to changes and improvements.” The officials said they were not aware of any retaliation against employees, and said none would be tolerated.

The city plans to provide an update to the City Council on Jan. 23 about its progress in implementing the city roadmap and recommendations from the group. 

“Literally, they have to dismantle their system,” one member of the group said. “Because hiring new people, rolling out roadmaps, is doing nothing to dismantle the system that has been created. You have to get rid of people; you have to change the culture.”

A RoundTable reporter met Dec. 7 with five members of the group, who each currently work for the City of Evanston. The RoundTable is keeping their identities anonymous.

During the interview, the employees said issues of harassment have continued. They were also not pleased with City Manager Luke Stowe, whose actions in releasing the report they considered to be misrepresentation.

They said Stowe told the group on a phone call that the 60-day roadmap the city planned to issue addressing the report would be a collaborative effort and therefore would not be finalized until after more meetings between the two parties. 

Instead, they said, the city posted the roadmap on its website Dec. 2, three days after the phone call with the group. And already, they added, the timetable on the 60-day roadmap is not being followed.

Rev. Michael Nabors, president of the Evanston North Shore branch of the NAACP, reads a statement prepared by the City of Evanston Black Employees Action Group at a Nov. 14 City Council meeting. Credit: Gina castro

None of the group’s 65 current city employees assisted in writing the city’s plan, reviewed it or provided feedback to the city, the action group said.

In addition, members told the RoundTable that city supervisors are monitoring them more closely. One of the members said they were “randomly” drug tested days after the report was released. A week after the group flooded the City Council’s public comment period on Nov. 14, seven cameras were added to the city-owned truck an action group employee drives. 

No one in the group interpreted the actions as coincidental.

Nine group members met with Stowe and City Council Member Krissie Harris, 2nd Ward, a second time on Dec. 13, according to an email the group sent the RoundTable on Dec. 14.

Recent developments 

The city told the group that it plans to investigate the claims in the group’s report, yet no one is sure of the process or methodology. 

“The City does not have a system in place for investigating events that were written in the action plan, but is working on it,” says the Dec. 14 email from the group. “The City acknowledges that investigations need to be held.” 

There is a second group, the Core Implementation Group (CIG), who are volunteer Black city employees not representing the City of Evanston Black Employee Action Group.

“We want to offer a safe space with a trusted third party for staff to share issues and concerns so that we can work collectively to address them,” said Patrick Deignan, the city’s communications manager, via email. “There will be additional work conducted by outside human resource and legal professionals.”

The city agreed to work with CIG throughout the investigative process, the action group email says. The city plans to share an update on its investigation with this second group by the end of December. 

The city will begin conducting listening sessions with Black city employees a month later than the city’s 60-day roadmap says. Rather than starting the sessions in December, as the roadmap states, the sessions will begin in January, according to the action group’s email. The city and CIG agreed to have Gilo Kwesi Logan facilitate the listening sessions. 

Group’s issues with city solutions

The group also said the city’s 60-day roadmap doesn’t address many of the group’s 20 proposed solutions outlined in its report.

Stowe didn’t give the group much time to review the draft of the roadmap either, the group said. Stowe shared the draft with the group the same day as their first discussion on Nov. 29.

“We never agreed that this was a great roadmap,” a member of the group said. “I don’t think he even asked, because he said that we probably didn’t have enough time to read it. But there was not a follow-up, like, ‘Tell me your thoughts’ or whatever. It ended with, we were going to meet again with a smaller group to work on fine tuning.”

The group says these demands were not included in the city’s roadmap response:

  • Review the mishandlings of the current and former HR managers.
  • Hire an outside agency to assess the actions of the current city deputy manager.
  • Implement a pay equity ordinance.
  • Increase number of HR employees.
  • Audit the Evanston Police Department Field Training Program.
  • Create and implement a standardized staff Manager Performance Review.
  • Establish and implement an Affirmative Action Plan.
  • Release unredacted results of the 2019 Employee Satisfaction Survey and the full unredacted Logan Report.

City calls roadmap ‘collaborative effort’

The action group says its 65 members weren’t involved with writing the roadmap. But the city says the group contributed to the document. 

“The 60-day roadmap was a collaborative effort among City leadership with feedback from the employee group, City Council, and YWCA Equity Institute staff,” Deignan said via email.

Deignan also said the city told the group during the Nov. 29 meeting that it planned to publish the roadmap that same week. When the RoundTable asked why the group left the Nov. 29 meeting thinking the roadmap wouldn’t be released yet, Stowe responded via email. 

“We had publicly shared a commitment to releasing an initial 60-day roadmap by the end of November,” Stowe said via the email. “The roadmap remains subject to changes and improvements based on continued conversations and meetings with the employee group.”

The group posed many issues with the city’s roadmap. For one, the city drafted its own roadmap to address the report when the group already laid out a 20-point roadmap of its own, the group said. 

The group worked with its 65 members for about five months to write the report. The city drafted its roadmap in at most a month, since the group’s report was released at 9:43 p.m. on Nov. 1 and the city posted its roadmap the morning of Dec. 2.

“How do you write a map when you didn’t know where you were to begin with? You didn’t even know there was a problem,” a member of the group said. “Everything was fine, right? So how do you tell us how to get there?”

The group’s report names only three people in its report. And that was intentional, the group said. The group alleges those individuals were at the root of many of the instances of racial discrimination outlined in the report. Yet the city’s response hasn’t mentioned investigating those listed individuals within the HR Department and Public Works Department. 

The incident that inspired the group to take action occurred within the Public Works Department and was brushed aside by HR, the group said. 

In August, a Public Works Department supervisor allegedly placed a watermelon in a Black employee’s workstation. The employee threw it away immediately, the group said. But at lunch time, the supervisor allegedly placed a tray of sliced watermelon in front of the employee again. That supervisor still hasn’t faced consequences, the group said.

The city’s current deputy city manager, who is one of the few people listed in the report, oversees the Public Works Department. That department is also where the brunt of the retaliation the action group has described is occurring. 

The city said it is not aware of any allegations of retaliation against group members. 

“We are not aware of any specific instances of retaliation since the report was published,” Stowe said via email. “I have made it clear both publicly and in communications to staff that the City will have no tolerance for retaliation against employees trying to improve their workplace.”

The group said the few solutions the city’s roadmap does acknowledge miss the mark.

An example the group mentioned is the city’s new complaint process. The city created a mechanism for employees to report instances of retaliation. Stowe and corporation counsel are on the receiving end of the emails. 

The group’s report asked for a “formal process for complaints (electronic complaint procedure) that includes a tracking feature” to be implemented immediately. But the group said the city is using a closed-door process that doesn’t show employees how their complaint is being handled by the city.

“Luke said, ‘We haven’t received any complaints,’ And I thought, ‘and you won’t.’ Because no one will do that,” a member of the group said. The environment at work “doesn’t really encourage folks to come forward.”

Even now, almost a month and a half after the group released the report, the group is still hearing allegations of racial discrimination from current Black city employees. Former Black city employees have also reached out to the group to share their stories. 

“Evanston, with the reparations program, clearly acknowledged as a city, as an institution, has done some very blatant racist things to the community, so definitely to their own employees that’s happening,” a member of the group said. “And it’s still happening.”

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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  1. The City of Evanston has a deeply embedded culture of systemic racism/white supremacy. Real non-Black people are responsible for the harm. The City’s refusal to discipline and terminate those individuals continues the harm and destroys lives. The City Manager has chosen to elevate some of the individuals directly responsible. It’s simply a choice to choose bad actors over the victims. We and our ancestors have lived this reality since we were imprisoned upon these shores. If you believe in justice, please write, call, and email Mayor Biss and, the Evanston City Council and demand change. I have to believe that there are good people in this community that believe what the Black employees are saying. Many of you supported my cause. Please help.

  2. As a resident of Evanston my family and I have also experienced discrimination dealing with city employees. We actually send the letter to mayor Bliss back in September outlining our concerns. The city manager has reached to us, but I don’t believe any significant action has occurred. Please reach out if you would like more details on our grievance.

  3. I am not black and I don’t speak for black folks. But if someone was continually insulting and oppressing me and the response from leadership was a “roadmap” and hiring consultants, instead of fixing the issues, I would be pissed too.

    If public employees cant play nice with coworkers and the public, they should get a warning and then be terminated.