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
(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.
July 12 City of Evanston
City Council agenda item posted for July 15 meeting
Mayor’s proposed resolution to censure City Clerk
by Meleika Gardner
July 15 City of Evanston
Video Complete meeting includes Citizen Comment, discussion, and vote on resolution
Leak of confidential draft censure memo
Mayor’s letter to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (from Evanston Patch link)
by Mike Lowe
Video clip – 1:43 mins.
by Mike Lowe
by Jonah Meadows
Aug. 2 City of Evanston
Newsletter from Mayor re: request for criminal investigation
by Bob Seidenberg
Aug. 2 Evanston Patch
Article about Mayor’s newsletter
by Jonah Meadows