The City of Urbana was without a city administrator for 11 years before Mayor Diane Marlin appointed Carol Mitten to the post in April 2018.
Mitten stated at the time that she wasn’t walking through the door to make changes, but saw herself as a coach. She hoped to bring together government leaders to work towards common goals.
Shirese Hursey, who as a member of Urbana’s seven-person City Council, worked alongside Mitten for three years. She said in a telephone interview: “I think Carol was a great city manager. …I’m sorry she’s leaving Urbana. I wish she wasn’t.”
Hursey, whose father was the first member of Urbana’s Black Council and served on the elected council representing Urbana’s Third Ward, said Mitten was instrumental in helping her research a 2021 Urban resolution committing to ending structural racism. and racial equity. “I actually used Evanston as a model,” Hursey said.
The resolution speaks to racial segregation and oppression that became especially acute after World War II, following the rise in Champaign-Urbana’s black population 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 is an expert in politics. Hursey maintained that much of the criticism leveled at Mitten was “handpicked” and did not reflect how the government is run.
“I was surprised when I was elected how these people showed up and yelled at you,” she said. “We can’t have a city ruled by a small group of people who… complain and scream, but have no solution for anything.
“This isn’t a Game of Thrones,” she said. “People seem to think 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 each of them is in the City of Urbana Administrator Mitten becoming the next Evanston City Manager. This has been a long process that has already resulted in two failed searches and has left Evanston without a permanent city manager for 10 months.
Council members gathered on Monday, August 1, in a special closed City Council meeting; “personal” was the reason given for the closed session. The next regular Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 8, when a discussion or vote on hiring the municipal manager may arise.
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.
Board members showed much-needed support for Mitten as she was the only finalist in this third iteration of the quest presented to the public via a town hall meeting on July 28.
Two previous city-funded surveys did not produce a final lease.
But a group of local activists mounted a strong campaign opposing Mitten’s choice, with the aim of making Council members back off their support.
Activists circulated criticisms of Mitten, some of them from a website in Urbana, raising concerns about his positions on open meetings, transparency, policing and racial issues.
The Community Alliance for Better Government, the group leading the campaign, urged members on social media to reach out to councilors and urge them to vote no on Mitten’s nomination.
The activists, less than 20 in number, attended the town hall meeting, speaking out beforehand and supporting the “No Gloves” posters.
Many of the questions Mayor Daniel Biss asked Mitten during the nearly two-hour meeting reflected concerns raised by the group. Audience members barged into Biss’ questions at certain points, demanding that they ask Mitten questions themselves.
After the July 28 meeting, Mitten sat down with a small group of activists who remained in the council chambers, responding to their concerns.
The extraordinary exchange, captured on video by RoundTable, went far beyond what candidates in previous city polls had done publicly.