Council votes yes on Storlie exit deal, but contention over transparency remains


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Erika Storlie. Storlie will leave office Oct. 8.

Maia Spoto, Senior Staffer

City Council voted 5-4 to approve City Manager Erika Storlie’s resignation deal in a Thursday special meeting. But some alderpeople and residents say the final agreement still shields Storlie — and the city — from taking full accountability.

Storlie will leave office Oct. 8. Her exit was prompted by allegations of a culture of sexual misconduct within Evanston’s lakefront staff, which were sent to the city in a petition last summer and became public knowledge through a WBEZ investigation published in July 2021. In a marathon City Council meeting Monday, community members widely opposed a confidentiality clause that would have kept the report summarizing an investigation into the city’s response under wraps, leading City Council to table the vote

Broader concerns about city transparency — an issue a majority of alderpeople championed on the campaign trail this past year that has also plagued Storlie’s appointment — have bubbled to the surface over the past few weeks. 

To some residents, Storlie’s resignation is just the tip of the iceberg. Some residents have likened Storlie’s departure to that of former Police Chief Demitrous Cook, saying the details surrounding both events were kept largely from the public eye and shielded the city from addressing institutional issues.

The final draft of the agreement, which City Council voted narrowly to pass before hearing public comment, cuts the contentious confidentiality clause. But Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), who called unsuccessfully for City Council to reconsider the vote after hearing public comment, said the revisions still aren’t transparent enough. 

One section of the agreement requires the city to keep information related to Storlie’s 17-year employment with the city confidential, except when required by law or when made publicly available. 

Information on Storlie included in the final investigation will be released when the investigation is made public, and City Council can make “as much of that public as we want to make public,”  Mayor Daniel Biss said.

“There’s no secret agenda,” Biss said. “Nothing in the agreement passed tonight should bind us in any way regarding the investigation.” 

Kelly pressed back. 

“That paragraph nine isn’t necessarily about shielding Erika Storlie,” Kelly said. “It’s about shielding everybody who’s come into contact with her. It’s about shielding many things that have happened over the past 17 years.” 

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) sided with Kelly, saying if Storlie were to do something illegal unrelated to the investigation in the next 60 days, the council wouldn’t be able to discuss it. 

He also said the city shouldn’t have voted on the severance agreement before completing the investigation.

“If someone has done something wrong under our watch, whether it’s a police officer or it’s a city manager, we should hold that person accountable,” Reid said. “We should not allow them to go on to another community … and not have that mark against them.” 

Aldermen voted right at the start of the meeting, which meant they couldn’t hear out residents who spoke in public comment.

Because of the inverted order, confusion was palpable. Resident Martha Logan said it was unclear to her whether the vote had actually happened.  

Many residents called on alderpeople to apologize to survivors, a move Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said is prevented by the city’s corporate legal response. Despite this, Reid publicly apologized at City Council’s July 26 meeting.

Resident Isaac Slevin, who raised transparency and accountability concerns in public comment, later called the meeting “an embarrassment.” 

Slevin said he can name half a dozen scandals “off the top of my head” that have happened while Storlie has been employed by the city. Keeping records that aren’t directly related to the lakefront harassment investigation confidential reduces accountability for the city’s past wrongs, Slevin said. 

He said City Council’s vote to pass the agreement shows members aren’t fully committed to honoring and respecting survivors at the lakefront.

“Fundamentally,” Slevin said, “It tells me they’re not serious about making Evanston’s city government an honest, transparent, safe place.”

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Twitter: @maia_spoto

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