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EVANSTON, IL: Search for new City Manager — Community input survey


I’d like to frame the search for a new City Manager in the crises of the moment. We are living in a time of growing and interlocking crises—the COVID pandemic, climate destruction, and all the inequalities caused by human cruelty, human stupidity, and human confusion.

I personally believe that the City of Evanston will not achieve any stability without prioritizing basic survival needs for ALL and prioritizing participatory democracy as the only way to achieve that goal. This will require Evanston officials and voters to collaborate more rigorously with other U.S. suburbs and municipalities on obstacles to participation that exist at the county, state, and national levels—as well as with each other. Loading all of our expectations on the hiring of a new City Manager is unfair to that person and unfair to ourselves if we begin our thought process from that point. There is no messiah and never was a messiah.

Heidi Voorhees, GovHR
Alderman Don Wilson (4th ward) 
Nichols Neighbors (neighborhood listserv)
Evanston media
Evanston political groups
Individuals in my Evanston networks

ANALYSIS: Before we choose…Commit to updating governance structures

More to this moment of multiple crises, I would recommend that the City Council of Evanston adopt, sooner rather than latter — before the new City Manager is selected — certain structural actions that would (a) eliminate contradictions in our U.S. governance structures, (b) streamline our conversations about a new City Manager, and (c) make it easier for a new City Manager to hit the ground running.

Resolutions that the City Council of Evanston can adopt to support structural updates:

1. Edit the U.S. Constitution
“Remove the racism, sexism, & white supremacy from the U.S. Constitution.”
so that We the people means ALL the people (including non-humans)
First 100 Days Plan

2.  Support a U.S. Commission for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation
Proposed by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (CA13)

3.  Adopt funded sovereignty for all U.S. voters
Basic income for all U.S. voters to enable us to spend part of every work week (1/3, 1/2 ?) as self-governing adults.

4.  Create a public bank for State of Illinois
—Short-term emergency. Gov. Pritzker can do so by Executive Order.
—Long-term.  Get the input of Illinois voters, Illinois municipalities and counties, and Illinois General Assembly as to the best structure for a state bank.

5.  Create a Cook County food policy council + Support CMAP’s Go to 2040 “local food” recommendation
— A Cook County Food Systems Steering Committee already wrote the template for a county-wide FPC (Chicago + all 125 suburbs). At least 2 residents of Evanston were on that committee. (The City of Chicago has its own FPC, but the suburbs would be better served by a county-wide FPC that includes Chicago, but is not dominated by it.)

— CMAP’s Go to 2040 plan is simple and easy to implement–depending on political will.

Finally, Evanston’s City Council needs to address the fact that our City Code identifies ZERO duties, responsibilities, and/or powers for the City Council and individual alderpeople.  The code lists duties, responsibilities, and/or powers for the City Clerk, the City Manager, and the Mayor.  But there are no specifications for the job of alderperson.

Clarification of the legislative introduction authority is especially needed. I suggest that only the nine alderpeople should be allowed to introduce ordinances, resolutions, etc.

Here are my survey responses.
Thank you for taking the time to read and compile our collective input.


Survey responses by Debbie Hillman

#1. Please identify WHICH CONSTITUENCY you represent:
Resident, business owner, and community leader

#2  Which TYPE OF LEADER should Evanston have as its City Manager?

#3   Which three of the following MANAGEMENT STYLES do you believe are essential for the City Manager to successfully lead Evanston?

#4. Which five of the following ABILITIES AND SKILLS do you believe are most essential to perform the work of the City Manager?
—Skill in City finance
—Experience working on racial equity issues
—Ability to build diverse teams within the organization
Other (please specify)
—General understanding of big  policy picture: How county, state, federal policies affect life where it’s lived— at the local level: Evanston (climate, political, economic, social)
—Ability to model and institute real participatory democracy: Innovations in real democracy will get at the root causes of growing inequality.

#5. Do you think it is necessary for the new City Manager to have had PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE in any of the following areas?
—City Management or other Local Government Management Experience
—Other (please specify):  Democratic governance, household management

#6. What are the TOP THREE POSITIVE TRENDS you see in Evanston that the next City Manager will encounter upon starting their new role? 

a. Enhanced appreciation for a local foods system
esp. local farmers, farmers markets, community gardens, urban farms, food policy councils, farm-to-school program (cafeteria, school garden, curriculum), local garden centers (seeds, plants), local expertise, local food hub (wholesale), local grocery stores, local restaurants serving fresh, healthy, affordable food to busy people.

b. Voter self-educaction
Voters are getting more skilled in real democracy:
—learning about existing protocols, processes, policies that are undemocratic
—identifying innovative democracy techniques and opportunities:  revisit comprehensive general plan, revisit City Code (esp. duties & responsibilities of officials), defund police in favor of community needs, regular mandatory ward meetings in every ward, ballot initiatives, legislative pipeline, etc.

c. Youth self-education
Evanston youth are doing action-learning during this multi-pronged crisis—on climate, democracy, racism, police departments vs. community survival needs, etc.

#7. What are the TOP THREE CHALLENGES you think will face the new City Manager?

a. General confusion about official roles (City Council, Mayor, City Clerk, City Manager) and good governance structures.
—General confusion in Evanston about a manager-council kind of government vs. a mayor-council kind of government.  The fact that most regular media attention is on state government (strong executive) and federal government (strong executive) politics, confuses us at the local level.
—Our current mayor is especially confused by the position of mayor in a manager-council type government. He tries to act like a CEO (which is the City Manager’s job) or mayor in a mayor-council kind of government, which is not Evanston’s form of government. In his recent meeting with Evanston Fights for our Lives, he admitted that after 3.5 years in office he “can’t get the consultant out of me”.
—Confusion is compounded by the fact that Evanston’s City Code lists ZERO Duties & Responsibilities for the City Council and individual alderpeople. The Code delineates duties, powers, responsibilities of Mayor, City Clerk, City Manager — but nothing re alderpeople.

b. Danger of losing what little democracy we have because corporate Democrats, the GOP, and the Trump administration prioritize business over democracy.
There are many corporate Democrats living in Evanston and they have various amounts of power over our national, state, and local governance structures. Applicants for Evanston’s City Manager should have a way to get information about them and the extent to which they interfere with civil rights, public participation, etc.

Our current mayor is a major instrument of this hijacking, both at the local level and national level (and likely in-between). Not only does he and his company favor business over democracy, they favor business over people—i.e., individual citizens. 

Maybe this “victim blaming” sentiment rings a bell: “We must reduce dependence on the federal government, and it starts with the decisions you make at home.” It’s from the March 2020 op-ed by the Executive Chairman, Brock Long, of the mayor’s company, as posted on The Hill: Government alone cannot protest us from epidemics. Note that there is no awareness in the op-ed of systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic economic inequalities that individuals alone cannot fix. I’m told (by an Evanston resident) that Mr. Long went on the Tucker Carlson show (Fox News) to discuss this op-ed. I have not seen it, but it’s important to know that Long is Trump’s former FEMA chief (for two years I believe).

I recommend that the City Council and applicants for Evanston’s City Manager read the op-ed. It’s not very long.

c. Desertification of Evanston’s land and soil.
For 40+ years (based on my experience), 90% of the organic matter produced in Evanston does not get returned to Evanston’s soils.  This includes, leaves, grass clippings, food scraps. This means that Evanston’s soils are increasingly inhospitable to abundant plant life, including nutritious foods and hosts for diverse wildlife. A local food system’s primary need is the consciousness of its eaters.

Details and context in my April 2020 submission to the 2021 New Farmers Almanac LEAVE THE LEAVES: Urban Soils, Urban Consciousness .

#8  Do you have any OTHER COMMENTS related to the recruitment for Evanston’s next City Manager?

a. It would be useful for citizens to see a copy of the job posting for our last city manager, as a template.

b. I endorse this statement by the coalition who put together an Open Letter: Ideal Evanston City Manager: Job Description.
–[City Manager] Will work with the mayor to ensure that these same values and practices [rooted in racial justice and accountability to those most impacted by policies and politics] are followed when selecting boards and commissions. 

c. Questions I’d like to ask applicants:
—Given the racist, genocidal history of John Evans (for whom Evanston is named), what do you think about going through a name changing process in the City of Evanston?
—Did you participate in the Women’s Marches of Jan. 21, 2017 or any of the George Floyd protests?
—What 5 U.S. or foreign cities do you admire, look to, etc., for their management success + vibrant citizen engagement?
—What innovative democracy models do you think would be high impact in terms of quality of life in Evanston? Have you tried any of these? 
Food & farm policy councils (FPCs)
Participatory budgeting 
Cooperative business models
Complete Streets (accommodating all transportation modes)Free public transit
Community land trusts for housing, farming
Reduced work week
Single payer health care
Living skills education, outdoor education, farm-to-school curriculum, action learning
Restorative justice
Basic income as funded sovereignty
Public banking, local currency
Public sovereign money — U.S. Congress as sole creator
Peacekeeping alternative to police
Other ?