Heidi Voohees, founder and president of Gov HR, the firm engaged by the City to find a new City Manager.
Heidi Voohees, founder and president of Gov HR, the firm engaged by the City to find a new City Manager.

Evanston residents are responding strongly to the City’s first search for a City Manager since 2009.

Close to 50 residents participated in the first all-town City Manager Community Recruitment meeting with GovHR USA, the Northbrook-based firm conducting the search for the City.

Interim Deputy Manager Kimberly Richardson broke the group into two for a more manageable discussion.

“This has been new for me. We’re having breakout sessions in a Zoom virtual meeting,” said longtime Evanston resident Rick Marsh, one of the participants.

 The City contracted with GovHR earlier this year to conduct a search for a new City Manager. Wally Bobkiewicz, who had held the job since 2009, left in September 2018 to become the City Administrator  in Issaquah, Washington.

At the June 30 meeting, Heidi Vorhees, GovHR’s founder and president, told residents that the firm “is  looking for candidates across the country who are interested in coming to Evanston.”

The firm has been meeting with residents at ward meetings and is also scheduled to hear from specific focus groups, representing different sectors of the City, to get “a sense of what the community is looking for,” she said.

Residents provided plenty of material at the session and one of the June 30 breakout sessions, which was moderated by Dele Lowman Smith, of GovHR.

“In some way, shape and or form, citizens need to be involved in decision making,” said Michael Vasilko. “Maybe not equal to, but certainly part of the process that now takes place with the City Council.”

Nic Davis, another resident, said he would like to see  someone who understands contracts.

“I think a lot of people, (are) either hearing or reading about taking money from certain departments like the police department and putting it into a place where it can be better used, like Health and Human Services, things like that,” he said. “And I’m realizing that part of the problem with that study is police unions and the contracts that they have signed with cities. So I think that we should all be looking forward to a City Manager that’s not afraid to kind of push the boundaries on contracts with the unions, like the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police], and be transparent in the process.”

Business person Fred Tannenbaum expressed concern about the job’s learning curve.

“Evanston is unique from a lot of other cities and towns in our country, and the learning curve can be very costly,” he said. If just going by resume, the selected candidate “may look better than anyone else when they sit in the chair, (but) they’re not going to know where they’re sitting,” he said.

Third Ward resident Nick Korzeniowski noted the City has been out in front of other cities on the issue of reparations for past injustices to the African-American community.

For that reason, he said, in the next City Manager, “a quality that I would look for is somebody who’s not simply looking at a racial equity lens moving forward, but something restorative as well.”

Megan Davis expressed hope that the new person would be open to moving funds from the police department and supportive of police reform, looking into “how can we fund other services like parks and recreation, the library and community services.”  For Deborah Craig, “a big overriding thing is, I’d like someone ready to look into the big picture of a sincere equal community.” “We’re in the middle of horrific unemployment, so this search is encompassing of everything going on in the country and it’s a big task,” she said.

Linta Carter said the City should seek someone not only versed in racial equity and restorative justice, but who holds certification in those areas. That person would also bring to the job a written plan of citizen engagement with specific goals, she said — “and that’s beyond just reporting out to the City Council, but actually going out to each and every ward and talking with the community.”

Tiffany Christian asked that citizens “have a way to interact directly with the City Manager.

“It seems like we go through the City Council people and we don’t know if we can rely on them to accurately convey all the concerns of their constituents,” she told the consultant

Oliver Ruff, a longtime resident and educator, would like to see someone “that’s had experience with systematic racism,” and has been “transparent and successful in resolving some of those situations, without predominately dismissing or terminating Black employees – because there has been a great number of Black employees that have been terminated,” he maintained.

“So I think this person has to have a sense of how you deal with the system, but also the fairness and the transparency, bringing proper resolutions,” he said.

GovHR has a second City Manager Recruitment community meeting scheduled for 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 7. Residents can register to participate on the city site, cityofevanston.org.

One of the purposes of the meetings is to “take this feedback and incorporate it into the job description,” said Jennifer Lin, the City’s Division Manager of Human Resources.

“So after we meet with the focus groups, after we meet with the community meetings, we will take all of this input and we will derive a job description that adequately suits the position,” she said, “and adequately takes into consideration all of the things we’ve talked about today and next week.”

Under the schedule adopted by the Council, the consultants are to meet with the Mayor and City Council to review candidates the week of Sept. 7. Evanston officials are then scheduled to conduct their first round of interviews with like five to seven candidates in mid-September, with a decision sometime after that.