Activists criticize search process for new city manager

As Evanston City Council continues to negotiate with its mayoral candidate, some local activists are expressing disappointment with the selection process, saying the third time the city went through the search was even less transparent than the two previous ones.

After a series of closed sessions, members of the Evanston City Council announced May 13 their intention to appoint Deputy City of Ann Arbor Administrator John Fournier as the next City Manager.

But no official vote on Fournier has yet been scheduled, Mayor Daniel Biss said May 17, with the city still in talks with him.

The city has been without a full-time manager since October 2021, when Erika Storlie left the post she had held for barely a year. At the time, city officials hired an outside firm to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct under Evanston’s lifeguard program.

In the May 13 release announcing Fournier’s selection, Board members spoke about the programs he led, including a multimodal transportation infrastructure program in Ann Arbor, and before that, funding and parking programs. in Pittsburgh, where he served as Deputy Chief of Staff. to Mayor Bill Peduto.

In the third search in three years, a council member agreed to speak anonymously.

“We need a manager,” the city council member said. “For better or for worse, that’s what this guy is.”

John Fournier Credit: City of Evanston

The Community Alliance for Better Government (CABG) and other groups were vocal during the research, raising concerns about citizen engagement in the process.

In a May 16 statement, CABG member groups including Reclaim Evanston, the Citizens Network for Protection and EvanstonToo said the city council followed a selection process “shrouded in darkness”, which led to a selection “which least represents the interests of the people.”

“What we find distressing is that this process has become less transparent than it has been in recent times,” CABG board member Lesley Williams said in a telephone interview. “So it looks like we’re going in the exact opposite direction that we should be going.”

CABG is a grassroots campaign that supports racial equity, government transparency, and political leadership. The group has a board of directors made up of high-level Evanston activists.

“We have several hundred people on our mailing list,” said Williams, former adult services manager at the Evanston Public Library. “And our job is really to get information out to the public… We get information out that other people don’t necessarily have the time and inclination to dig up on their own.”

Activist groups had been pushing hard for Snapper Poche, the other finalist, who is a program director for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, following interviews with the candidates during a virtual town hall meeting on May 3 as well as with stakeholders and staff.

Fournier’s selection came after the 10-member council, including the mayor, held several executive sessions, attempting to arrive at the seven votes needed under city code to appoint a city manager.

Board members typically conduct mock votes during executive closed sessions to determine whether the level of support has been reached to move forward with an appointment.

CABG members had raised concerns about what they said were officials’ inability to keep the public informed. They also argued that opportunities for public engagement in the city’s previous search for a full-time city manager were limited.

In February, Board members turned to executive search firm Stanton Chase to conduct new research.

The move came after a previous search ended in failure when the top candidate accepted a job elsewhere before hiring negotiations could begin.

After city council members approved Stanton Chase to do the research at their Feb. 14 meeting, several months passed where “there was a complete information shutdown,” Williams said.

The city manager recruitment page, which the city maintains on its website to notify the public of the search’s progress, was empty, she said.

CABG members only learned about the search, including that six candidates had been invited for an interview, only during a report Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma gave at a Fourth Ward meeting. , she said.

Williams said the surprised residents reacted by asking, “Do you talk to the finalists?

Betty Ester, co-founder and president of the Citizens Network of Protection, said she wondered what happened to the questionnaires residents were asked to fill out at the town hall about their candidate preferences – which, they were told, would be published.

“As of today, we don’t know where they are,” she said. Along with the previous research, after the town meeting, the poll results were released, she said.

Asked about the group’s concerns, Mayor Daniel Biss said today, May 17, Council members received a ‘ton of feedback’ from voters on which Council members relied to make their choices. .

“Which is great,” he said.