Aldermen have backed away from a proposal, for now, that would have placed control of employees in the City Clerk’s Office under the auspices of the city manager after an alderman raised concerns about the move.
At a July 7 Rules Committee meeting, aldermen appeared to be leaning toward make the change when Alderman Don Wilson raised questions about precedent.
“Elected officials don’t report to the city manager,’’ Wilson noted. “The mayor doesn’t report to the city manager.”
Wilson questioned why the city should institute a policy where employees report to people other than those whom they are supposed to serve.
“The elected officials are accountable to the people who voted them in, that’s who they are accountable to,’’ he said.
If employees reported to someone other than the elected official, aldermen would then be providing opportunities for that employee to undermine the elected official, he said.
“I think that’s inappropriate,’’ he said.
Aldermen began looking at shifting authority over the employees from the clerk to the city manager following City Clerk Rodney Greene’s firing of a deputy clerk in March.
Ald. Delores Holmes, who raised the original concern, said she was worried about “at will’’ employees having the same rights as every one else.
She said she would have no problem if the clerk selected his employees from a pool, making his decision that way.
“It’s not so much the hiring as the termination that concerns me, and the rights of the employees’’ she said. “I just think we have to do right by the employees.’’
Other council members showed interest in the proposal.
At the July 7 meeting, Alderman Judy Fiske spoke about the dangers of creating “political employees.’’ She said the debate raises the larger question of “where employees’ allegiance lies — to the person who appointed them or the city of Evanston.”
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who has one at-will employee in her office, said she is in favor of the employee having the same rights as others.
Wilson’s amendment would retain the clerk’s authority to make hiring decisions but adds a provision that the clerk would consult with the city manager before making the decision.
It received support in a 5-4 vote.
Greene said his decision to terminate the employee was done after he set up a course of improvement, going through the steps “as with any other employee in the city.” During the process, he consulted with the city manager.
Asked to look into past practice, city officials confirmed that previous city clerks had authority over hiring of employees.
Alderman Melissa Wynne and others tried to assure the clerk that the committee was looking at all the employees working under elected officials (three, including the two in Greene’s office); and that their concern was directed at future administrations.
But Greene — who is the city’s highest ranking African American official, and the only one elected full-time (both the mayor and aldermen are part-time under the city’s form of government) — said the tapes of the meeting didn’t bear that out.
“It’s gone from talking about elected office employees but it’s boiled down to what has happened in the clerk’s office,’’ he said.
“That’s discrimination,’’ he charged.
Beyond the clerk’s office and the mayor’s, there are other “at-will’’ employees working throughout the city.
“You cannot or should not put one department over another department and go beyond the laws and rules of the council to stipulate specific employees of some specific official must be changed,” Greene said.
A full-time city staff member assigned to the mayor is a relatively recent phenomenon (starting with Mayor Lorraine H. Morton) compared to the city clerk’s office, where the practice has been in place for decades.
Greene rattled off a number of nearby communities where his counterparts retain control over employees.