Letter to the editor: The City Manager is not above people
A well-run city makes a significant effort to include the views of the public when making an informed choice about selecting a city manager, the most important position in government. This is why the City of Cambridge, MA directly involved 750 citizens to develop the job description, shortlist the candidates and interview the finalists in public and recorded interviews.
For this reason, we are extremely disappointed that the League of Women Voters of Evanston is saying that “it is not the job of the community to decide who should be the next City Manager. This is the job of our elected officials. A city manager is not only accountable to the mayor and city council, but to the people in the fair and conscientious delivery of public services.
Moreover, a good match between a manager and a municipality goes beyond a list of skills. It is precisely in the interview process that candidates will reveal whether they understand what is expected and how their past work demonstrates their ability to promote these values. Contrary to the LWVE’s assertion, the Council and recruitment firms do not “understand what our citizens are looking for in a city manager”. Searches are dynamic, not static.
Appropriately approached during the first City Manager search process, a wide range of residents clearly and consistently said they wanted an anti-racist, collaborative and trustworthy City Manager. Nonetheless, eight council members voted to hire a city manager who employed racially unfair practices, treated staff in a demeaning manner and blocked public access to police records. It’s worth remembering that Erika Storlie’s last straw with the lifeguard scandal came from her failure to address resident complaints or act with integrity.
The LWVE implies that the demand for a public process in the selection of a new city manager is to blame for the impasse. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the second of the three searches, the public process allowed the Council to better understand the views and priorities of the candidates, Mr. Jasso and Mr. Ramos, and helped them decide who was the best fit. It was ignoring public comment that nearly led to the installation of a disastrous city manager in the most recent round. Even Mayor Biss acknowledged that Evanston “dodged a bullet there.”
We recognize staff morale issues and the need to have leadership in place. However, there are other better short-term options. The city can work through ICMA (International City/County Management Association) to hire an outside interim manager to handle day-to-day operations. We have an excellent human resources department and a legal department to manage contract and union negotiations.
We reiterate: The City Manager is the most important and influential position in city government in Evanston. Evanston has a well-developed economy, with complex neighborhoods and a diversity of residents. This requires an exceptional leader, who values and welcomes public input. Engaging in the public process is a necessary step in identifying this leader. We won’t find such a person with a rushed, behind-closed-doors process.
Citizen Protection Network
Community Alliance for Better Government
Darlene Cannon and Elliot Zashin