Letter to the editor: City Manager is not above people

A well-managed city makes a significant effort to include the views of the public when making an informed choice about the selection of a city manager, the most important contracted position in government. That’s why the City of Cambridge, MA directly engaged 750 citizens to develop the job description, screen candidates and interview finalists in public and recorded interviews.

For this reason, we are extremely disappointed that the League of Women Voters of Evanston states that “it is not the job of the community to decide who should be the next city manager. That is the job of our elected officials.” A municipal manager is not only accountable to the Mayor and the City Council, but also to the people in the equitable and conscientious provision of public services.

Furthermore, a good match between a manager and a municipality goes beyond a list of competencies. It is precisely in the interview process that candidates will reveal whether they understand what is expected and how their previous work demonstrates their ability to promote such values. Contrary to the LWVE’s claim, the Council and search companies do not “understand what our citizens are looking for in a City Manager”. Surveys are dynamic, not static.

Having been duly solicited in the City Manager’s first search process, a wide swath of residents clearly and consistently stated that they wanted a city manager who was anti-racist, collaborative and trustworthy. However, eight Council members voted to hire a city manager who used racially unfair practices, treated employees in a demeaning manner and blocked public access to police records. It’s worth remembering that Erika Storlie’s final straw with the lifeguard scandal came from her failure to heed residents’ complaints or act with integrity.

The LWVE implies that the demand for a public process in the selection of a new municipal manager is to blame for the impasse. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the second of the three searches, the public process gave the Board greater insight into the candidates’ views and priorities, Mr. Jasso and Mr. Ramos, and helped them decide who was most suitable. It was ignoring public opinion that almost led to the installation of a disastrous municipal manager in the last round. Even Mayor Biss acknowledged that Evanston “dodged a bullet there.”

We recognize the issues with team morale and the need for leadership. However, there are other better short-term options. The city may work through the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) to hire an interim external manager to handle day-to-day operations. We have an excellent human resources and legal department to handle contractual and union negotiations.

We reiterate: the city manager is the most important and influential position in the government of the city of Evanston. Evanston has a well-developed economy, with complex neighborhoods and a diversity of residents. It requires an exceptional leader who values ​​and welcomes public opinion. Engaging with the public process is a necessary step in identifying that leader. We will not find such a person with a hasty, closed-door process.

Betty Ester
Citizen Protection Network

Lesley Williams
Community Alliance for Better Government

Darlene Cannon and Elliot Zashin
recover Evanston

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