Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) and residents expressed dismay Tuesday night over the stymied search for Evanston’s next city manager. 

The City Council last month selected John Fournier, assistant city administrator in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take over as manager.

But after initially accepting the position, Fournier declined, publicly citing a dispute over relocation costs.

It was the second time in a row that the council’s search for a new manager had blown up — with a preferred choice candidate turning down the job.

Nieuwsma suggested at Tuesday’s ward meeting that a tumultuous City Council session, where Fournier’s contract was discussed, led to his reversal.

“What I think happened is [Fournier] came to the City Council meeting and saw a City Council that was not putting on its best face to welcome a new city manager,” he said.

“It was a rather lively, shall I say, City Council meeting, to use a euphemism, with some robust public comment, and I suspect that he had second thoughts,” Nieuwsma added.

Peter and Susan Barrett-Kelly.

Susan Barrett-Kelly, a 4th Ward resident, said she watched the meeting and felt Fournier’s final decision was understandable given the public comments.

“It’s embarrassing at some point, the public comments. I think there is a big difference between passionate, legitimate petition to address needs and name calling, accusations of malfeasance without any responsibility, ad hominem attacks,” she said. “I saw that Council meeting, and I wouldn’t want to work here.” 

Ray Friedman, who lives in the 2nd Ward, asked Nieuwsma about the executive session that led off the council meeting where the vote on Fournier’s contract was taken.

“You may recall that meeting started with an impromptu executive session. I am legally bound not to disclose what went on that executive session as much as it would help kind of fill in some blanks,” Nieuwsma explained. “It was a contentious meeting.”

Later, when Nieuwsma said he agreed with the 4th Ward residents who had said in an online survey that they preferred Fournier, Peter Kelly said, “We elect you to use your best judgement and to listen to us, but not to be an automaton that does what we want.” 

“I will say you elected the right guy because we came to the same conclusion,” said Neiuwsman, prompting attendees to laugh and clap.

Summing up where the search stands now, Nieuwsma said that “we have gone back and interviewed” a semi-finalist who previously withdrew from the selection process to see if “she’s still interested.”

He added, “We actually have two recruiters, on the hook to us for zero more dollars, to give us more names. And let’s see what more names we can come up with fairly soon.”

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  1. Kudos to Peter and Susan Barrett-Kelly and thank you for standing up! I have not met them, but I stand with them and share their thoughts. We need more thoughtful and level headed discourse in this city, not the inane actions(and proposals) of a handful of Ald. and outspoken minority of citizens who pound their fists and stifle all other discourse and views. Time for the majority of Evanstonians to say we can do better!!! What a farce and circus, and where is the Mayor on setting the tone for our city???

  2. I was not able to attend my ward (4th) meeting the other night, but I’m glad that this was discussed. Thanks to EvanstonNow for covering.

    There are two “most likely” reasons that John Fournier declined to become Evanston’s next City Manager. Only one is mentioned in the article: That Mr. Fournier got cold feet about the job, the move, etc. (There could have been multiple reasons for this, not only because of the tenor of City Council deliberations, citizen comment, and Mr. Fournier’s general perception of civic relationships as less than manageable.)

    I don’t know if the other possible reason for Mr. Fournier’s sudden change of mind was mentioned at the 4th ward meeting. His final letter to the Mayor, etc., suggests that his reason for declining the offer was that the City declined to meet his exact request for an advance on the housing compensation (in order to manage down payment and move expenses more expeditiously).

    This is an example of why transparency is so important and why Evanston voters have the right to know: Did the City decline Fournier’s exact request? If so, why? What was the exact $$ and/or timing discrepancy between the City’s counter-offer and Fournier’s request? To me, the refusal by the City felt petty, coming off the Council’s laudatory vote and comments about choosing Mr. Fournier and Mr. Fournier’s presence (with his wife) and brief forward-looking remarks at that meeting.

    With two weeks hindsight, the Council’s move still feels petty, especially if Mr. Fournier’s letter is true. The City has already shown itself unprofessional and duplicitous in messaging the entire affair. The City’s press release (“news story”) has been changed at least three times, without acknowledging (a) an original error (discrepancy with Mr. Fournier’s letter), or (b) previous versions of the release. Additionally, the City seems to have micro-managed its press list in sending out those versions; as best as I can tell (from following multiple news outlets in Evanston) not all outlets got the same press release(s) at the same time.

    In light of the recent news of District 202’s secret settlement regarding two security officers sexually harassing ETHS student(s), public trust in Evanston seems to be at an all-time low (based on my 40+ years living here). (Thanks to EvanstonPatch for its FOIA diligence on that issue.) I am still recommending a civic process that might get us all on the same, refreshed page — a review of the interlocking duties and powers of the City Council, Mayor, City Manager, and City Clerk. Some details are in my recent blog: Letter to Editor: Update City Code

    Unfortunately, the June 6, 2022 Rules Committee meeting (Items D1 and D2) seems to have been intended as an end-around on real civic engagement. The rushed, 30-minute discussion of the City’s form of government and role of City Council in the managerial form of government does not substitute for the in-depth robust citywide discussion that I envision. The discussion and materials prepared by the Corporation Counsel (Mr. Cummings) can serve as a good starting point for a REAL civic process to get us all on the same page, something that should happen regularly in any self-respecting democracy.

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