“So here’s me,” said Carol Mitten Thursday night, introducing herself to an in-person crowd at the Morton Civic Center, and to other viewers watching the town hall forum via live stream.
Mitten, the city administrator in another Illinois college town, Urbana, is the only finalist under consideration by the Evanston City Council.
“I think you’ll find my values are very much aligned with Evanston,” Mitten said in her introductory remarks.
Two previous efforts to find a new city manager here fell through, with the top choices dropping out either before or after an offer had been made.
Mitten has worked in government administrative positions in Washington, D..C, Arlington County, Virginia, for the federal Department of Homeland Security, and, for the past four years, in Urbana.
Urbana, she noted, is “a progressive community” like Evanston, and said she has “absolutely promoted diversity and inclusion whenever possible.”
For example, Mitten said that in Urbana, a part-time human rights officer’s position was increased to full-time, and the duties expanded to human rights and equity, with the job becoming part of the city leadership cabinet.
Mitten said her own government involvement began “as a community activist” in D.C, over a zoning issue.
Mayor Daniel Biss moderated the two-hour-long forum, asking questions submitted online or from people in the audience.
Some in the crowd who opposed Mitten tried to interrupt her or Biss, by shouting out comments or questions. Some of those critics brought negative signs, and cited social media posts in Urbana-Champaign which have railed against local government and area news media.
Many of those posts were from an unsuccessful hopeful for Urbana City Council, who has a long-standing dispute with area police departments and the court system.
“The individuals spreading this information have a specific agenda which means more to them than facts,” Mitten said.
Mitten also said she was recently re-appointed as Urbana city administrator by the mayor and was confirmed by city council, and “no one” spoke against her.
Many questions were about policing, including a use of force incident (not dealing with the social media individual) involving the Urbana department.
Mitten said that an outside investigation concluded the officers did not violate any policies, but Urbana still clarified its use of force rules and restated its commitment to efforts to de-escalate police-citizen interactions.
Mitten supported efforts to potentially modify the way communities respond to mental health emergencies instead of sending armed officers. She said police have been forced over the years to handle duties they’re not trained for, and “the police want a different [response] system, too.”
Evanston recently began working with a non-profit agency for a mental health crisis team which sends social workers on calls which might have otherwise seen the police show up.
As you might expect in Evanston, there was a question about the time Mitten spent at the U.S. Naval Academy, and then in Homeland Security.
Mitten said she left the academy after two years because the military lifestyle did not appeal to her, finishing her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Ohio State. Her role at DHS, she explained, was not as an investigator but rather working on building locations and as a community liaison.
Mitten was also quizzed on how she would interact with the community in Evanston, particularly with significant constitutent groups such as the NAACP.
Mitten said that in Urbana, where the administrator’s duties are different than they would be as city manager here, the mayor and other agency officials handled those contacts.
In Evanston, however, Mitten said, that she “absolutely” would engage with community stakeholders.
While Mitten is the only finalist, and council members have not yet voted to hire her, the mayor said it was important for her to address the community.
Biss said council members have been “really impressed” with Mitten in a number of interviews, however, there is at least one critic.
During a ward meeting earlier in the evening, Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he was not happy with having only one finalist, and would like interim city manager Luke Stowe to at least be considered as well. Reid said he will be meeting with Mitten on Friday.
Mitten might tell Reid what she told the Town Hall meeting, when asked what is her greatest strength.
“I see the big picture,” she responded, when she is trying to figure out how to solve a problem.
“You have a staff doing some of the most progressive things in the country,” she noted, “and we want to do more.”