As the Evanston City Council continues its search for a new city manager, one thing that’s become evident as that once a new manager is chosen, that person will have a lot of other jobs to fill in city government.
Just looking at the top positions on the city’s org chart, the ongoing exodus of employees has left roughly half the top jobs filled by persons with “interim” or “acting” as part of their job title.
And a large number of lower-ranking city managerial jobs also are either vacant or filled by workers who’ve received temporary promotions into their current positions.
Ever since City Manager Erika Storlie resigned under pressure last August, the new City Council elected last April, some of whose members sought her exit, has had difficulty finding a person they could agree on to replace her.
After a $25,000 fee to a California-based search firm failed to produce a candidate the council members could agree on, the city last month signed a $70,000 contract with a Maryland-based firm to take over the search.
The number of slots to fill grew just last week when Parks Director Lawrence Hemingway stepped down, days before the release of a law firm’s independent investigation into reports of sexual abuse of seasonal employees at the city’s beaches.
With City Council rules requiring seven votes from among the nine alderman and mayor to name a new manager, residents will have to wait and see what luck the new search firm will have in finding a candidate willing to take the job who enough council members will agree would be a good choice to manage the city’s operations.
If we really want to get a handle on managing our affairs and attract top talent to oversee a budget for spending to balance with projected income, then we have to show respect to the talent needed to put Evsnston on track to become fiscally accountable. That is a painful and grueling process that we have avoided undertaking for the time I’ve resided here in Evanston, starting in 1994. I know many people who have fled Evsnston due to the poor business management and as a realtor helping buyers and sellers since 1987, I will tell you it comes up in conversation when people access different locations to reside and raise a family. Evanston has a reputation for high taxes and poor management. I didn’t make it up, but hear this all the time. If we care about the future of Evanston, we have to invest in finding a non-political business oriented professional to speak the truth and ignore the politics. The aldermen do that, but the person who is in charge of finance has to fight for integrity and accountability of all of our money that we pay in our taxes to support Evanston. I love the city but I want it to strive to be better and this requires professional standards of accountability.
I’ve spent close to $900,000 over 28 years in real estate tax. I think I have a right to want that money to be spent efficiently and thoughtfully to serve our community. The public schools are not managed well and I believe we overpay our superintendents and administrators. Monies need to be allocated to capital improvements from our annual budget, not pumping up superintendent salaries so they can have a huge retirement nest egg. Most people today who are not in education or government don’t have pensions. We all have to be judicious and manage our money to save for our retirement. When I have to take money out of savings to pay for the salary increase of a pensioned employee, that irks me. I work 100% commission and only get paid after my clients have a great experience. I have to earn it and then pay my expenses and taxes out of my commission. So, let’s open our eyes to change….
We have to be more thoughtful of how the revenues that are generated from taxes are allocated. It’s not free money. It comes with fiduciary responsibility to act as if it’s money out of your own pocket. I think it is easy for government to spend without planning and that is what has happened over many, many years. When my daughter, the one who attended Nichols, was there, a multi million dollar addition was built due to more kids entering 6th grade the following year. That trend retreated two years later. And maybe a better plan could have been created without the huge short term expenditure. Today, we are building a new school while talking of closing others. There doesn’t seem to be a long term plan that is strategic in nature and related to cash flow. “Spend now, Think later” seems to be our method. We can do better, with all of our hard earned money.
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