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Mission Drift in City Manager Search (Evanston, IL): 3 searches & counting

This blog has been submitted to the Evanston RoundTable as a Letter to the Editor, following the withdrawal of the latest finalist for Evanston City Manager. But in the interests of getting it out sooner rather than later, I am posting it now. For some other comments by voters on the latest, see:
— Article in the Evanston RoundTable by Bob Seidenberg
BREAKING NEWS: Lone city manager finalist withdraws
— Bob’s personal Twitter account: @evanstonscribe


Recently I was helping to draft a policy against antisemitism for a small, national nonprofit organization. The issue that we work on — the science of money and democratizing the money and banking system for all  — has attracted many observant and curious people over the decades. This is because the money and banking systems that we’ve inherited truly are a root cause of our current inequalities, injustices, as well as over-production, over-use, and overwork of everything and everyone. 

Unfortunately, many people falsely blame Jewish people for the corruption in our money and banking systems. Even scholarly treatises on money contain antiJewish tropes, symbolism, etc. The history of antiJewish belief (including the word antisemitism) is long, convoluted, and nuanced, with numerous historical and current instances popping up in surprising places at surprising times. Our organization’s original draft policy included many such examples of antisemitism, along with recommendations for addressing each example.

As our draft policy grew longer and longer, I realized that we were getting into mission drift. Our mission as a small, volunteer organization was not to eradicate antisemitism or even educate people on antisemitism. It is to educate Americans on the science of money and the ways that the U.S. money & banking system can be restructured for the benefit of all (not just bankers, big corporations, oligarchs, etc.)  

Ultimately, the board decided that it was entirely appropriate to (a) publicly acknowledge the long history of antisemitism regarding money and banking and to (b) disavow that antisemitism. At the last board meeting a short policy was approved that included a statement of dealing with antisemitism within the monetary reform world on a case-by-case basis, especially if an individual case might distract from our actual mission. There’s only so much that a small organization with a separate mission can do.

MISSION DRIFT IN EVANSTON: 3 searches and counting 

I cite this recent personal experience because it seems to me that some of my fellow Evanstonians are trying to accomplish one or both of two giant goals with the hiring of one person, the City Manager. Those two giant goals are (a) eradicating racism in Evanston (U.S., world?) and (b) guaranteeing public dialogue at any time for however long any one voter desires to engage officials on any topic.

I think people may be losing sight of four things:

1. The primary goal: Hire someone who has the technical qualifications to be a city manager. I suspect the total number of U.S. folks qualified on paper is very small and that the search firms actually have a pretty good idea what that number is. (I would guess a few thousand; definitely not tens of thousands.)

2. Ongoing bankrupting of local & state governments and ongoing bankrupting of local economies (esp. since 2010 or so), plus Evanston’s peculiar political economics. I wonder how public administration programs have been discussing this forced and artificial austerity. It’s got to be a concern. It’s certainly one of the main reasons I work on monetary & banking systems. Most people don’t know that the Fed is privately owned & privately managed. (That’s not the only problem.)

Add in Evanston’s peculiar political economy and I can understand why this job might not be so attractive to potential candidates, e.g., too much property off tax rolls, fish don’t shop, North Shore wannabe + noblesse oblige, belief in the Evanston bubble (we can solve everything right here, disinterest in truly systemic solutions, working together with other suburbs, etc.).

3. COVID’s past (2 years), on-going, and unknown future impact on the job market. I suspect that candidates with families might be especially loathe to uproot into an unknown future and unknown economy.

4. The U.S. has never been a real, participatory democracy and 99% of U.S. adults are chronically frustrated that the systems have never been set up to implement the ideals that we were taught to believe in, e.g., (a) initiate young people into the tasks of self-governing, (b) to fund 100% civic engagement, and (c) to refresh our founding documents and legal codes on a regular basis, including an on-going leveling of the economic playing field. This is why the participatory budgeting process that kicks off in Evanston on August 4 is a welcome step at this point in time. If nothing else, it will give people the real experience of living in a democracy. 

A fifth issue is also puzzling, but may help to explain why we’re not getting enough candidates: The decrease in Illinois population (compared with surrounding states — i.e., it’s not the weather). I have not yet heard a good explanation as to why Illinois population has been on the decrease. NY also lost a Congressional seat this last census; are the reasons the same in NY and IL? What are the reasons?

I hope that the City Council will share with voters why they thought Ms. Mitten was not a good fit for Evanston, even after naming her as a finalist. It will help us all better understand what the Council is looking for, and how those qualities compare with various voters’ priorities.

Luckily, our Participatory Budgeting process kicks off Thursday, Aug. 4. At the very least the process will provide a living experience of real democracy — how to make decisions together in an organized, inclusive, and fair manner.

PS If anyone is interested, the organization working on U.S. and international monetary reform is Alliance For Just Money (based in Bloomington, IL). The official mission is:

“Our Mission is to research, educate, and organize for real monetary reform. We define real monetary reform as the development, implementation, and protection of a transparent public sovereign money system consistent with Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution to serve the general welfare and commerce of society.”

AFJM’s sister organization, American Monetary Institute, is based in Evanston, IL.