City manager candidate Carol Mitten addressed questions from Evanston residents in a town hall hosted at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center Thursday night.
Moderated by Mayor Daniel Biss, the town hall drew more than 60 virtual attendees and dozens more in-person.
Many of their questions focused on Mitten’s alleged mishandling of a use of force incident in Urbana, where she is the current city administrator. In April 2020, videos were released of three officers from the Urbana Police Department forcefully arresting Aleyah Lewis. Officers were responding to a call saying Lewis had been carrying a gun. When she began to resist the arrest, officers restrained her, as shown in a video posted to social media by a bystander.
In response to what Mitten called “community outcry,” the Urbana Police Department, the state attorney and an outside firm the city hired all reviewed the footage. The three parties found the officers’ actions did not violate any standing policy in Urbana, while the firm’s report made several recommendations for updating use of force policies and de-escalating future situations.
Since the incident, Urbana residents have criticized Mitten and the Urbana city government. This has become a major concern for Evanston residents as the city continues its year-long search for a city manager, which most recently established Mitten as the single candidate the search’s third round.
Still, Mitten maintained that she would be a good fit for Evanston’s next city manager, emphasizing her background in balancing relations between the public and her staff and drawing on her former government experiences.
“I think truly my greatest strength is that I see the big picture,” Mitten said. “It’s all a system, and I’m constantly evaluating what’s in front of me in light of that system.”
Though Biss presented all of the questions submitted at the town hall, attendees were vocal throughout the meeting and directly addressed both Mitten and Biss. Biss had to stop the meeting several times to remind attendees that the meeting would not continue efficiently “if we don’t allow for questions and answers both,” with interruptions from in-person attendees escalating toward the end of the meeting.
Concerns over racial equity and transparency in resident relationships came up frequently in the submitted questions, Biss said. Mitten emphasized she has mentored and worked alongside many people of different races throughout her career.
Transparency in government has been a concern for Evanston residents throughout the city manager search, and one question at Thursday’s town hall asked about Mitten’s alleged “attempt to curb transparency in government.”
Mitten said she wanted to build a strong relationship with Evanston residents, and that for her, this also involves receiving targeted, specific criticisms, rather than “generalities.” She said many Urbana residents had not brought their complaints regarding the use of force incident and racial equity issues in general directly to her.
“I operate under a ‘no surprises’ rule,” she said. “If you’ve got problems, if you’ve got issues, tell me — we can’t fix them if you don’t tell me.”
Mitten also said residents had spread misinformation about her track record in city government, specifically on Champaign-Urbana area news site Check CU.
Other issues that Biss said appeared frequently in the submitted questions included affordable housing, gun violence and climate action. Mitten said she has extensive experience working in each of these areas in her former roles. In Urbana, she said the city government opened discussions on using their almost $13 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to combat risk factors for public safety threats.
As Evanston continues its ongoing city manager search, Mitten said she wants to collaborate with residents and take advantage of the city’s resources and unique levels of civic engagement.
“To have people that are willing to engage and come out, and make that contribution to civic life is really important, and it’s essential to good decision making,” she said. “I think that Evanston is a place that reflects the way that I want to live and engage in the community.”
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July 29, 2022 at 07:15AM