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PUBLIC TRUST IN EVANSTON, IL: National cracks being exposed in a Chicago suburb

In April 2017, the City of Evanston had local elections. By a very slim margin, we elected a white disaster capitalist as Mayor (with no previous elected experience). By a very wide margin, we elected a young Black advocate for participatory democracy and government transparency as City Clerk (with no previous elected experience). We elected three new alderpeople and six long-time incumbents.

Apart from the fact that they took office just a few months into the Donald Trump regime, challenges were already apparent (and continue to this day):
–a diverse and divided urban suburb still trying to recover from the 2008-10 recession
–a city manager who was looking to leave Evanston (to move closer to family)
–a newly energized national electorate that translated in Evanston (with an already engaged citizenry) to new groups, new initiatives, and new city structures at even higher volume

The last two years have been intense in Evanston, around issues like FOIA, rebuilding the Robert Crown community center, policing, a new Equity & Empowerment Commission, privatization (Harley Clarke), and always affordable housing and the schools.  “Citizen comment” periods at public meetings are alternately stressful and inspiring, but always frustrating because not a real discussion. Meanwhile, we’ve been keeping one eye on the national scene, watching while deep-seated cracks of injustice and inequality are being exposed and rapidly connecting across the country, becoming more visible to more Americans in more and more communities.

On July 12, 2019, Evanston’s Mayor put a stake in the ground that caused some of Evanston’s cracks to become even more exposed. Unfortunately, the July 15th City Council discussion and vote to table the Mayor’s resolution to censure the City Clerk was just another stonewalling of the public’s need for information. It took a whistleblower, leaking a draft memorandum later that night, to force officials to notice the cracks in the public trust. As of today, August 3, the aftershocks have not stopped. My thanks to the whistleblower.

I believe that this series of events (still unfolding) will shake Evanston to its core in unintended (and as yet unknown) ways. I have my guesses as to the details, including resignations (staff or elected), decisions not to run again, and proposals for restructuring city government (from officials and voters).

I also have my recommendations. Unlike the Mayor who, in his August 2 newsletter, calls these times “strange”, I find these times a completely logical outcome from hundreds of years of unresolved injustices combined with enormous ratcheting up of inequalities.  As we watch a few millionaires grow into billionaires, we are also watching a fast-paced increase in poverty, stress, racism, misogyny, climate instability, etc., created and/or condoned by U.S. governmental jurisdictions (including the City of Evanston).

Evanston public officials (and other Evanston residents) who think that the only problem regarding public trust is “civility”  should consider working  to (a) redress the injustices, and (b) invite everyone to sit down together to rewrite the rules by which we ALL agree to live in 2019.

For the moment I’m going to keep track of the public record, both primary sources (official documents, videos) and secondary sources (news articles, interviews, etc.). Here’s the unfolding story, link by link.

PS  Here is a link to a recent podcast that may shed some light on Evanston’s post-war politics.  The podcast is based on a 2015 book (Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party), but the podcast is a very recent interview (Aug. 2, 2019).  Daniel Denvir interviews Lily Geismer.
The Dig Podcast: Race and Class in the Liberal Suburbs

SUBJECT: City of Evanston
Mayor’s Resolution Proposing Censure of City Clerk
Agenda item for July 15, 2019 City Council meeting

(SP8) Resolution 78-R-19, Censuring City of Evanston Clerk Devon Reid for Violating the City of Evanston Heathly Work Environment Policy and the Open Meetings Act and Council Rules Regarding Closed Session Recordings

This resolution recommends that the City Council censure City Clerk Devon Reid for his unprofessional communication and harassment of multiple City employees and violation of the Open Meetings Act and Council Rules.
For Action


July 12  City of Evanston
City Council agenda item posted for July 15 meeting
Mayor’s proposed resolution to censure City Clerk

July 14  Evanston Live TV
Interview with Devon Reid re agenda item
by Meleika Gardner

July 15
 City of Evanston
City Council meeting on mayor’s resolution: motion tabled
Links to Agenda, Actions, Packet, Video

Video  Complete meeting includes Citizen Comment, discussion, and vote on resolution

July 16  Evanston Leads
July 26  City of Evanston

Mayor’s letter to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (from Evanston Patch link)

July 29  WGN TV
Video: Evanston mayor requests criminal investigation

by Mike Lowe

July 29  Evanston Live TV
Ald. Ann Rainey threatening to publicly disclose the confidential memo (from City Council meeting Citizen Comment, July 15).  She also walks her threat back in the clip.

Video clip – 1:43 mins.

July 30  WGN TV
Interview with Devon Reid about Mayor’s letter to Cook County Sheriff

by Mike Lowe

July 30  Evanston Patch
Article about Mayor’s letter to Cook County Sheriff (includes link to and copy of letter)
by Jonah Meadows

Aug. 2
 City of Evanston

Newsletter from Mayor re: request for criminal investigation

Aug. 2  Evanston Roundtable 
Article on Mayor’s request for criminal investigation
by Bob Seidenberg

Aug. 2
 Evanston Patch
Article about Mayor’s newsletter

by Jonah Meadows

There has also been coverage by Evanston Now and the Daily Northwestern.