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Don Wilson.

In the wake of the collapse last week of the second search in a row for a new Evanston city manager, Evanston Now sought out Don Wilson, who served on the City Council when it hired Wally Bobkiewicz and Erika Storlie as managers, for his thoughts on the situation.

Here’s what he had to say.

Wilson: The situation is disappointing, but honestly, I’m not surprised. We’ve created an untenable environment for keeping and recruiting employees.

Why is that?

Wilson: The attrition we’re seeing is not about creating change. It is a reflection of an inability by some of our elected officials to maintain a respectful and collaborative work environment.

Watch our City Council meetings and you‘ll see disrespect directed at our professional city staff on a regular basis; the people who keep this City running every day.

These employees are some of the finest, hardest working professionals I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with during my career. They are dedicated, creative and professional. It pains me to see them treated poorly, questioned incredulously and burdened with unreasonable demands by some of the Council members.

I’m also concerned that part of what’s happening is a precursor for some residents and elected officials to make the argument that we should disband the city manager form of government that has served this City well, and replace it with a strong mayor form of government.

As if having politicians clean house every four years to hire their friends will result in a better managed community.

We should learn some lessons about corruption and accountability from our neighbors. We need highly qualified and professional people to manage our City. Not a handful of people who are more concerned with their next election.

The bottom line is this. If we don’t get this figured out, no one qualified will want to work here.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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8 Comments

  1. I thought the world of Wally Bobkiewicz and was saddened by his departure. Unless I am very much mistaken, my regard for Wally was largely shared. Erica Storlie was his assistant, of whom he thought very highly. I was delighted when she became City Manager.

    I never knew exactly why she was fired; she allegedly mishandled some aspect of lakefront sex abuse scandal. A law firm investigated and exonerated her completely in a 330-page report.

    Can someone help me by providing the real reason Ms. Storlie was fired?

    Thanks.

    1. In regards to Erika Storlie, the former City Manager, two Council Members – Suffredin and Fleming – voted against her selection as CM in October 2020. They were joined on the new Council by Clare Kelly, who stated during the campaign she wanted to remove Storlie, and Devon Reid, who battled non-stop with the City Manager and Mayor’s Office when he was Clerk. The beachfront allegations provided the perfect cover for some Council members, who didn’t publicly stand up for Storlie at the time, to move her out with little debate or foresight. While some of these Council members may claim she resigned, you don’t get 5 months severance when you resign, which Storlie did.

      The Council set all this in motion by moving Storlie out and now talented professionals around the country are likely leery to apply and even accept the position, if offered.

  2. Thank you, Mr Wilson. I agree with your observations. This kind of anger, disrespect of elected people and staff is rampant among all boards and organizations, not only in Evanston but throughout our nation . Even the NorthShore V-M and within the reception area for a Physical Therapy site have requests to treat phone people and staff with respect and kindness. Amazing in a community we’ve been so proud of. My limited interaction with the students of ETHS and Nichols have been much more positive. Students are expected to be inclusive and supportive of each other and it seems to be working.

  3. I would be wary of working in Evanston, too. Many elected officials have no idea the workload or stress they put on staff by asking for so much. Combine that with a lack of respect and appreciation for what staff has to deal with and for the hard work they put in, and it creates a toxic environment to work.

    One example is the recent proposal from Devon Reid to keep parks open all night. There probably was very little research on his end to determine the merits of that idea, or discussion to see if it was even politically viable. Seemed like just a knee jerk proposal as a response to a resident complaint or inquiry. Yet he pushed it forward, and I can imagine all of the effort the Parks staff had to do the research the issue, prepare a response, discuss it at meetings, coordinate with other departments, etc.

    All that wasted effort on a poorly thought out idea. No doubt I wouldn’t want to be a staff member given the climate and culture of this council.

    And others have brought up good points about the Erica Storlie situation. This council needs to do a little bit of self reflection.

  4. Erica Storlie should never have been fired. She did a great job of closing things down and providing vaccinations while she was here. Probably saved lives.

  5. I’m so happy that people are finally waking up to just how crazy this Council is. There are two or three Council members that are actively bringing this City to it’s knees with their ridiculous behavior and mindless ideas. Please remember this when you vote in the next election.

  6. I have to (mostly) disagree with Don Wilson’s take on all of this. We passed up an opportunity to hire someone whom I believe would have been a transformative leader as Evanston’s City Manager and someone most consistent with our values of social justice and equity that we place in our communal aspirations. It is my understanding that Council members and the Mayor caved to staff’s preferences and offered the job to a person who is surrounded by a number of dark clouds… in a process that skirted the will of the Community. And, methinks certainly not someone who the majority of Evanston residents would identify with this person’s values as he has demonstrated them in Ann Arbor. We dodged a bullet – just ask the people in Ann Arbor!

    Mr. Wilson has very kind words about City Staff… Sadly they have had to adjust and fill in due to a number of unanticipated factors and are lacking in clear leadership in several departments. But, here’s where I continue to disagree with Mr. Wilson… Many of the civic issues are driven by very questionable financial decisions to hire consultants, unilaterally decide it’s time to sell our Civic Center (despite the will of the people in a 2007 Referendum) and presumably build a $50 – 100 M glass and steel office tower downtown (these are the same people who brought you the Robert Crown Project (more than 100% over budget @ ~$60M !)… they also want the community to build a more than $6 M Animal Shelter – if we double the size of the current one, that’s $2100 per-sq/ft ($500 per sq/ft would be high!)… There is no financial oversight going on in City Hall… Ask your Alder where the $3M in excess Transfer Tax funds went? (I’m glad that Council-woman Kelly helped them find it). It’s clear to me that nobody is looking after the taxpayer’s best interests as people as forced to leave Evanston due to the staggering costs of living here.
    For me, the bottom-line is Staff were cheering (the possibility of) Mr. Fournier to maintain the Status Quo and “business as usual”… It’s my perception that they surely did not want Mr. Poche who I thinks would ask them hard questions, offer clear transparency and plainly say “NO” … I believe that is the person we need to find for our next City Manager! (and/or let’s have an Independent Inspector General… crazy spending by people who don’t live here, or have any skin in the game!)

    Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas

  7. Respectfully, Brian your preference for Mr. Poche demonstrates part of a serious issue the city and its residents are facing now…a disconnect from its own form of government. Whether or not one liked Mr. Fournier a red flag was raised to professional managers when the community preferred a candidate with so little direct experience in municipal management. There is an entire profession dedicated to city management. The International City/County Management Association is so serious about ethics and professionalism they have a published code of ethics and WILL censure you if you fail to uphold said ethics.

    Honestly, it’s insulting and similar to what Mr. Wilson wrote when you suggest that staff wanted Mr. Fournier so he would maintain the status quo. Ann Arbor’s population is almost twice that of Evanston’s. Could it be that staff needed a city manager who has experience…managing a city? One thing was clear: he had management experience that qualified him to manage the city’s day to day affairs, which is what a city manager does.

    The civic issues you list sir…are not possible without the approval of the alders. In fact, a true problem with the staff falls in the lap of the city manager (their boss) and a true problem with the city manager falls in the lap of the city council (his/her “boss”). Mr. Wilson is correct in his assessments. The city is not just struggling to fill rank and file police jobs like municipalities around the country. The city is struggling to fill top administrative and department head positions. The constant throughout these struggles has been the elected officials. Look no further than Mr. Fournier reaching out to Evanston Now to correct a narrative provided by the city on his declined offer. Storlie’s gone, Richardson’s gone, Cook’s gone…and many others are gone…whose fault is it this time since it’s not the council’s? There is a reason candidates are continuing to not find Evanston as a choice place of employment…and it’s not the staff that would be their subordinates.

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