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SHOCK DOCTRINE — Evanston, IL 2020: Is the city government being hijacked from the voters?

In September 2019, the City Manager of Evanston left his position (after 10 years) for another position. Voters and officials knew well in advance of his leaving that we would need to find a new City Manager. Many public discussions were had, both before September and after, with voters making it clear at every opportunity that we wanted input in the process from the beginning.

After more than 10 months of discussion, the Mayor and Council now want to bypass the entire search process (along with public input) to hire the Interim City Manager permanently. The excuse is the COVID pandemic. This will be discussed at tonight’s City Council meeting.

Last night (June 7, 2020), I sent this Citizen Comment to my alderman about tonight’s proceedings and the future of Evanston’s democracy.

Don Wilson — alderman 4th ward, City of Evanston
cc: Devon Reid — City Clerk, City of Evanston
Nichols Neighbors listserv
other 4th ward residents
Subject: CITIZEN COMMENT 6/8/20: Choosing the next city manager for Evanston

Dear Ald. Wilson:
I am submitting this as an official CITIZEN COMMENT, to be part of the official record of the June 8, 2020 City Council meeting.

1. I have signed OPAL’s petition to the City Council, Don’t Hire a City Manager without an Open Process.

As a 4th ward resident, I direct you, as my elected representative, to 
a.  not vote for Erika Storlie as permanent city manager unless she is identified as one of the three finalists of a national search
b.  make sure that the national search is conducted with comprehensive public input, either (1) as agreed upon on February 24, 2020 or (2) as modified by the City Council to include even MORE public input and direction regarding the right candidates for Evanston city manager at this time and for the future.

2. When the City Council or the 4th ward is ready to discuss some new democratic protocols or concepts, I would be happy to share some of my research and proposals.


1. “Don’t hire a city manager without an open process”
In your recent 4th ward newsletter (June 4, 2020), you mention that the City Council “is considering hiring Interim City Manager Erika Storlie to the position of City Manager.” I did not see, however, any mention of a far more serious issue, one that should precede any decision about Ms. Storlie and one that should have much more priority in terms of civic trust. The far more serious issue is the community outrage at the Mayor’s May 26, 2020 suggestion of bypassing the public process in the city manager search. 

Most of this outrage—by individuals, groups, and newspaper editorials—was expressed well before the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  For those who have not seen all the well-expressed outrage, OPAL’s latest newsletter has a list, including a petition. I have signed that petition (Don’t Hire a City Manager without an Open Process).

More to the point, I believe that the original outrage at the Mayor’s end-run around public process is nothing compared to the outrage that Evanston officials will hear on June 8, 2020, at the public rally sponsored by OPAL and at the City Council meeting. Should the Council still pursue this violation of public trust, after witnessing the new determination of U.S. voters to take ownership of our we-the-people sovereignty instead of fighting for citizen comment crumbs, the Council should be prepared for more voter activity, including phone calls, emails, ballot initiatives, call for resignations, protests, letters-to-the-editor, contested elections, and other political tools for peaceful but immediate change.

I am not the only person to notice that, with the still-ongoing protests after George Floyd’s killing, the U.S. seems to have turned a corner and is headed straight towards MORE democracy, not less. I, for one, am glad I have lived this long (69 years) to see not only the size and number of the protests, but the doubling down by protestors on non-violence and expressions of joy, even as Trump and other officials seek to fear-monger and militarize the protests. The protestors—especially young people—must be feeling the worldwide support as deep validation. They would be right.

On the other hand, here we are in Evanston still uncommitted to public process and real democracy regarding the search for a new city manager, even though we have known about this necessity for at least 10 months and even though voters have been clamoring for public input for all of those 10 months.

Despite the Mayor’s gaslighting rationalization about the impacts of the pandemic on a national search, the causes and impacts of the pandemic are directly related to a chronic, historical, national lack of real democracy. In fact, the national lack of democracy in the U.S. is directly related to the destruction of local economies, indigenous cultures, Earth’s ecology, and other self-governing structures worldwide—leading directly to this 2020 pandemic.

Dealing intelligently with these interlocking crises logically requires a leap forward to REAL democracy involving all of us for however long it takes, not the suspension of public process.  
The options I see for tomorrow night’s discussion on hiring a new city manager are:—Restore the process agreed upon at the Feb. 24, 2020 meeting.—Adopt a new process with even MORE opportunities for comprehensive input and direction from voters.

Hiring Ms. Storlie as the next city manager without the national search and the agreed-upon public input is not an option. In fact, I believe that the Mayor and Council have put Ms. Storlie in an awkward, no-win situation. On the other hand, if she agreed to this short-shrifting of public process, then she is definitely not the right City Manager for Evanston.

Like the U.S. as a whole, like humanity as a whole, like the Earth’s climate, Evanston is at its own watershed moment. The question that Evanston voters are asking the Mayor and the City Council is, Which side are you on? More democracy or less democracy? Real democracy or no democracy?

2. Real democracy for Evanston voters: New protocols, structures, & concepts
For the last 15 years, I have been organizing and strategizing about real democracy in the U.S.—at the municipal level (Evanston), county level (Cook), state level (Illinois), Midwest, and national levels.

At the right time and place, I would be happy to share my experience and research with Evanston voters and officials.