Evanston seeks city manager

Ben Geier

When Mayor-elect Elizabeth Tisdahl and the rest of the new city council take office Monday, one of their first orders of business will be choosing the city’s next real leader: the new city manager.

Evanston operates under a “council-manager” form of government, meaning the city manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city, while the mayor runs council meetings and serves as the face of the city.

Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell has filled the position since last May, when she took over for the embattled Julia Carroll, who resigned with an unspecified health problem. But with Russell planning to leave Evanston this summer, Carroll’s permanent replacement will be chosen by “June or July, if not sooner,” Tisdahl said.

Carroll, who drew criticism in her last days in the position for an early retirement initiative that led to most of the city’s senior staff leaving, declined to say what qualities the council should look for in their search. She said only “it’s up to the city council, and not up to me, as to what they think is important.” Russell said she thought the challenges facing the new city manager were well outlined by the city council in a report available on the city’s Web site.

For now, the search is on. But it’s being conducted in “executive session,” so the proceedings are confidential, Tisdahl said. According to Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd), who was recently re-elected in an unopposed race, the council has narrowed the field based on resumes, and will be beginning to interview candidates soon.

Council members declined to say whether they are specifically looking for a replacement who will be drastically different from Carroll.

“You learn from mistakes of the past,” Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) said. “It’s a natural process.”

One of the most important skills the new city manager must possess, members of the new council said, is experience dealing with important and difficult fiscal matters.

“Obviously we’re looking for someone who has experience dealing with finance and budgets,” Wynne said. “That’s critical right now.”

Don Wilson, the newly elected alderman in the 4th ward, agreed financial skills are vital in the city’s current economic situation.

Knowing how to effectively use this knowledge, he said, is also essential.

“I want somebody with strong financial skills and a strong financial background,” he said. “But I also want someone with excellent communications skills, (who) will communicate well with both the council and the public.”

Evanston, of course, faces unique challenges.

The city is currently strapped with serious budget problems, a strained relationship with Northwestern and a fierce battle among lawmakers regarding the future of the city’s downtown. Wynne said it is important that whomever the city hires has experience dealing with a city like Evanston.

“Someone who comes from a community similar to us,” Wynne said regarding the qualities for which she was looking. “Someone who comes from a strictly suburban community is not facing the same issues as us.”

Outside of qualifications listed above, Wynne said she is looking for one very serious intangible trait – leadership.

“Proven leadership,” she said. “I’m looking for someone who has experience where you can look at it and say, ‘They have been the leader.'”

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