Mayor Daniel Biss addressed the City of Evanston’s staffing shortages and addressed residents’ concerns about a lack of transparency and diversity in the 14-month search for a city manager at a town hall meeting on Tuesday.
Bob Seidenberg, Evanston Roundtable Reporter hosted the event and approximately 50 residents filled the seats of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center to listen and ask questions.
According to former City Manager Erika Storlie resigned in October 2021, the city conducted two unsuccessful searches for a city manager, the first ending in January and the next in May. Evanston spent about $95,000 to hire research firms CPS HR and Stanton Chase.
A city manager oversees the budget process, the hiring of city staff, and the day-to-day operations of city government to ensure that all operations run smoothly.
“The council and the mayor set the agenda and the policies, but the day-to-day leadership comes from someone else,” Biss said. “It really becomes a challenge to make long-term changes for people who don’t know what that long-term role will look like. So that’s the situation we’re facing now, which makes this decision so important.
Many residents have expressed concerns about the lack of transparency in the city’s search for a new city manager, with some saying residents’ engagement in the search process has diminished with each search.
In response, Biss said he believed the council would not confirm a new city manager without introducing him to the public first. He added that an open and public search process narrows the field of candidates and excludes unique or “plug-and-play” candidates who do not come from traditional city manager backgrounds.
Most potential candidates don’t have employers accustomed to jumping from one city manager job to a public interview for another, Biss said. To illustrate his point, he offered a hypothetical scenario in which someone in a position like Chicago’s Director of Family and Support Services would want the position of city manager.
“If someone were in that position and did a great job in that role and looked to relocate, I think that would be a great example of the kind of off-the-beaten-path candidate school we were looking for,” Biss said. . “Now do you think that person would be comfortable telling Lori Lightfoot, with the mayoral election coming up in 2023, that she was in the workforce and looking for other opportunities? Certainly not. We would lose this candidate in the blink of an eye.
At the meeting, Biss also addressed residents’ concerns about the final two City Managers finalists, who were both straight white men. He said the board had discussed in depth and finally decided to choose the strongest candidates.
Evanston’s city manager search has become mired in diversity issues. The city decided to confirm Storlie, a white woman, as city manager in October 2020, choosing her from two black candidates that many residents called more qualified For the job.
Emily Guthrie, a former 3rd Ward council member, said she came to Tuesday’s meeting because she was concerned about how the search for the city manager had gone “again and again”. .
Overall, Guthrie said she was impressed with the town hall and that Biss answered questions well. She, however, said she disagreed with the mayor when he said the city had not met its goals and was unable to make long-term plans due to the absence of a permanent city manager.
“The city sets goals – we set five-year goals, 10-year goals, 15-year goals. These do not change. When your city manager is not present, these things keep going. Different departments have a piece of this action and they should move it forward without a city manager,” Guthrie said.
A 24-year-old Evanston resident who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons said she felt frustrated by the event because although Biss speaks well, her actions often do not match her words.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get transparency,” she said. “Biss is too nice. He’s a politician, so he doesn’t want to say anything that can upset people, those who give him money.
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