Evanston residents voice concerns about racial equity, accountability and the city budget at city manager recruitment meeting

Staff+held+a+city+manager+recruitment+meeting+after+residents+called+on+Evanston+to+include+public+input+in+the+search+process.

Courtesy of Organization for Positive Action and Leadership

Staff held a city manager recruitment meeting after residents called on Evanston to include public input in the search process.

Julia Richardson, Reporter

Evanston residents voiced their concerns about what they are looking for in a city manager during Tuesday’s recruitment meeting, the first of two designed to get public input on the hiring process.

The city manager, appointed by the mayor and City Council, is responsible for the city’s operations, including appointing department heads, hiring employees and submitting the annual budget to the council for review. Outside of recruitment meetings, residents can offer input through a survey posted on the city website and through emails to GovHR USA, the organization Evanston has contracted with to facilitate the search process.

GovHR plans to conduct a national outreach in search of candidates, including advertising on websites and social media outlets. The organization will also send out email invitations and call potential candidates they already know.

“We will start that after we finish all of these focus groups and have a sense of what the community is looking for,” said GovHR Co-owner Heidi Voorhees. “We will go through each candidate’s background…we’ll do a video interview with them, we will talk to references, we will look at their media…and then we will present the candidates to the mayor and City Council.”

During the meeting, conducted via Zoom, Evanston residents were separated into two focus groups, led by Voorhees and Dele Lowman Smith, vice president of GovHR. Each focus group came up with a list of qualities they felt were important for the next city manager to possess and what challenges Evanston is currently facing.

“The biggest influence is what’s happening right here,” Lowman Smith said. “It’s the community, participating and speaking out… because your elected representatives will be selecting the next city manager.”

Resident Betsy Wilson asked how GovHR plans to prevent the influences of institutional racism on the hiring process and ensure diversity in the applicant pool. Voorhees said GovHR has been dedicated to diversity in local government since its inception and will be conscious of implicit bias issues throughout the process. She also said GovHR has relationships with organizations such as the National Forum for Black Public Administrators and the Local Government Hispanic Network and plans to reach out to them.

Wilson continued to express her skepticism.

“It sounds to me like you’re trusting your staff to be able to monitor against their implicit bias,” Wilson said. “But it sounds like you don’t have specific measures in mind to protect against that bias influencing the process.”

Resident Nic Davis emphasized the importance of a city manager’s ability to negotiate contracts with unions. He said defunding the police is currently a popular idea, but this becomes more difficult to achieve due to contracts police unions sign with cities.

“I think something we should all be looking for is a city manager that’s not afraid to push the boundaries on contracts with unions like the (Fraternal Order of Police) and be transparent in that process as well,” Davis said.

Within the focus groups, residents were primarily concerned with issues surrounding racial equity and social justice. Community members said the new city manager needs to have experience with working with problems surrounding racial equity, and not just have taken a few equity courses.

Residents were also interested in reprioritizing items on the city’s budget and expressed a need for more direct communication with the city manager. Currently, residents said a majority of communication occurs through City Council members. Issues of accountability and transparency were emphasized, in part because residents said the community’s trust in its government needs to be restored, especially that of Evanston’s black residents.

Resident Peter Dejong brought up Evanston’s affordable housing problem.

“I agree with dealing with issues of race, but I think that we also have to deal with the economic and housing issues. I just think the city is becoming more and more divided because of (the) cost of housing,” he said. “I would like to see somebody who has some experience (in affordable housing)… and I think also economic development, and economic development that’s not just for the college-educated but for working people.”

Evanston’s next recruitment meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 7, and will include a translator for Spanish speakers as well as an ASL interpreter. According to Acting Assistant City Manager Kimberly Richardson, the city hopes to begin interviewing candidates and selecting finalists by late September or October.

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