City Council approves John Fournier as city manager

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Jacob Wendler/The Daily Northwestern

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st). City Council voted 9-1 to approve John Fournier, the current assistant city administrator of Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the next city manager Monday. Kelly was the only councilmember opposed.

Elena Hubert, Assistant City Editor

City Council and Mayor Daniel Biss voted 9-1 on Monday to appoint John Fournier as Evanston’s next city manager following a three-month search process at Monday’s meeting, amid backlash from residents. His term is set to start July 10. 

“I just look forward to… hitting the ground running and working with all of you and the staff and the community to achieve your very ambitious goals,” Fournier said at the meeting.

Fournier said Monday he was attracted to the position because of Evanston’s “commitment to really ambitious, progressive change.” He said he is excited to tackle civic initiatives including the climate crisis and budget reallocation. 

City Council has discussed both topics extensively in recent months. The council declared a climate crisis in April, pushing its Climate Action and Resilience Plan to the top of the city’s priority list.  Additionally, the council finalized the 2022 city budget, designating final buckets for its federal American Rescue Plan Act funding package. 

Fournier also said he is excited to engage with what he sees as the “urgent work” regarding diversity, equity and inclusion in Evanston’s city manager role.

Local activists have debated Fournier’s commitment to racial equity and staged a protest outside Palmhouse, where Mayor Daniel Biss delivered his first State of the City address Friday after the city announced they intended to appoint Fournier. 

Jonah Karsh was one of seven residents who spoke during public comment to oppose Fournier’s appointment. Karsh said there were “very problematic” questions in a background check administered to potential employees when Fournier was the interim director of human resources in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

He referred specifically to questions asking candidates about personal history of underage drinking and prior presence at gatherings where illegal drugs were used.

“It says something about potential blind spots to equity which residents have repeatedly expressed as the most important issue for the next city manager,” Karsh said.

The city of Ann Arbor ultimately cleared Fournier of all charges.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) responded that Fournier’s questions were “deeply concerning” — but not illegal. 

During the interview process, Burns  said he was impressed by Fournier’s answers on topics related to equity, including the need for a city equity commissioner, a currently vacant position. Fournier has also committed to initiating diversity, equity and inclusion training upon his appointment, bringing an equity lens to the role, Burns said.

“Equity is about outcomes,” Burns said. “We need somebody that can come in and is ready to take action.”

Resident Carl Klein, a 3rd Ward resident, said most community members did not want Fournier to be the next city manager. 

Upon independently reviewing results from the city manager candidate survey, Klein said he found the majority of wards favored the other finalist, Snapper Poche.

Attendees at the protest Friday representing Evanston’s Community Alliance for Better Government told the Daily they felt Poche was the better choice because of his leadership experience and commitment to climate action.

Wendy Pollock, the co-chair of the city’s Environment Board, said she was impressed by Ann Arbor, Michigan’s climate change mitigation efforts and hopes that Fournier will be able to bring that experience to Evanston.

Pollock was the sole resident to speak in favor of Fournier at the meeting

On the other hand, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) was the only council member to vote against Fournier’s  appointment.

Echoing that there was a clear majority of her ward in support of Poche, Kelly said she could not support Fournier due to equity concerns.

“I’m concerned that the background that we’ve all been able to see does not represent or will (not) lead us in the kind of change that the community would like to see,” Kelly said.

Email: elenahub[email protected] 

Twitter: @elenahubert25

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