Focus on Parks (and Youth) ... Not Parking!

Come to City Council tonight to speak in support of Kevin ... or to simply stand in solidarity with him. Council starts a 6 p.m. Public comment begins around 8 p.m.

This past Friday morning, I interviewed Kevin Brown, manager of Evanston's Youth and Young Adult Division (also known as Team Outreach) at the Evanston Public Library. Kevin was under a deadline to sign an admission of wrongdoing that evening relating to alleged parking infractions by his team members and parking ticket payment by Kevin for City-issued tickets on his team's City-issued vehicles, using his City credit card.

Kevin's choice: sign a form admitting to allegations he denies--or be terminated.

Kevin contends--that:

1. His team's City vehicles (or personal vehicles with City placards) have been singled out for parking in two-hour visitor spaces at the Civic Center despite the fact that many other City vehicles park there too--with no ramifications.

2. His superiors condoned and approved his use of a City credit card to pay for his team's tickets, issued by the City, and that it has been standard practice throughout the City's Parks and Rec. Department to have staff parking tickets voided or paid by the City.

3. That his team's parking infractions, number of tickets paid for (nine), and total cost ($583) over a three-year period have been mischaracterized by the City as a constant and blatant disregard of rules.

Around 9 p.m. on Friday, Kevin was terminated.

DE's take: EVEN if any of the City's allegations are true, terminating Kevin Brown over parking infractions and parking tickets is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. It would benefit the community for the City to do an independent investigation across the Parks, Rec. & Community Services Dept. regarding parking and ticket-payment practices. Finally, Kevin's termination should be overturned.

Here's our conversation [slightly edited for length] from earlier that day.

DE: How are you feeling this about where things stand?

KB: I have been under such attack by certain senior staff in the City since almost the day since I arrived in February 2012, and part of it stems from the fact that I’m an outspoken person when it come to equity, race, racism, and justice. That bothers certain people. Because of that I think there’s been retaliation.

DE: Have you had a lot of support?

KB: Lots of fantastic support from a wonderful community. I have gotten hundreds of emails and calls, some from people I have never met. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and I are close friends. She's a fantastic supporter. I've got support fromCicely L. Fleming, 9th Ward Alderwoman, Ald. Tom Suffredin, 6th, 2nd Ward Ald. Peter Braithwaite, and Robin Rue Simmons 5th Ward Alderman. They've all spoken to the interim City Manager on my behalf.

I think people see that what’s really going on is not about parking tickets. Especially since this has been going on since 2012 and the ticket situation since 2017.

DE: What could happen between now and 5 p.m. that could turn things around?

KB: They could drop the whole matter. They could independently investigate. If they had goodwill and want to get to the bottom of it, they could say, you know what, we talked to some other people in your department, we believe you.

If there were a real investigation and they talked to staff throughout Recreation, they would hear--because staff have called me and told me--well, I did the same thing, or I got tickets voided, so why is it an issue now?

DE: For the last couple of years, it seems the city has been trying to dismantle your division. Now the team is going to the Heath and Human Services Department. Is that a good thing?

KB: I think that would be a good thing.

DE: Do you think there’s a reason they wanted to get rid of you before that move?

KB: I have heard that there will possibly be a budget deficit in 2020 and I’ve been very outspoken to protect the program. I think it's been tremendously impactful on the Evanston and I see no reason why it should be cut back. It's only a million and half dollars anyway--it's not a lot of money. But for the money, we’ve got a huge bang for the buck. If I'm not present, it will be more difficult to protect it.

DE: Tell me about the parking tickets.

KB: There were 14 between 2017 and 2019. Of 14 tickets, a number of those were voided. So actually there were only nine tickets that I paid for with a credit card over a three-year period.

What makes it crazy, and I want to make people really understand: these are City vehicles, in the City parking lot, used by City employees, on City business. So people have asked me, "Why is the City ticketing its own vehicles?" That’s a long story. That’s a policy issue.

But the other part, these were outreach staff engaged in their work. Two of the tickets--one was for expired vehicle tag, and the other was for a vehicle being towed. And people have asked me, "What are you supposed to do about that?" What they told me to do. Go get the vehicle. I asked the Assistant Director Karen Hawk, "You want me to use the credit card?" She said, use the credit card.

DE: So you’re saying they did a turnaround. They told you how to deal with things and now they’re accusing you of doing what they told you to do.

KB: Exactly. They’re saying they did not give authorization. I’m saying, why would I do that on my own? There’s no motive behind it. Plus, to me it just makes no sense.

These are City cars or staff cars displaying an Official City of Evanston Business placard which actually allows them to park in the City of Evanston parking lot in any space. It says so on the placard. In fact, when displaying the placard they should not have even received a ticket. These people are working for our residents.

The City says that an email was sent telling employees not to use the two-hour spaces. But as I said, even after that email, Ms. Hawk told me to pay for the tickets on the tow and car with expired tags.

I think people should also know that for a credit card transaction to be approved, it must be approved by the Assistant Director and the Director. Just like on your credit card statement, the vendor and the transaction is identified. Both Assistant Director and Director approved every single transaction. They never questioned them and never raised any red flags. They did that because they directed and approved this stuff.

DE: But they sent you emails over a period of months with reminders about where your staff should park and where they shouldn't.

KB: Yes. But if you read closely, those emails come almost one year apart. That's because it was never a consistent issue that anyone was concerned about. No-one ever approached me until October 31. That was the first conversation they had with me. I was at a meeting with Mayor Hagerty. Lawrence Hemingway was supposed to be in that meeting. He said he wasn't going to make the meeting, but told me to go to his office after the meeting.

I go downstairs to his office, and he’s there with Jennifer Lin [HR Division Manager]. They have a memo, and they say "You’re being disciplined over these parking tickets." And I said, "What are you talking about? I was told to do these things." They didn’t say anything else. They gave me the memorandum. I was in total shock. I said, "I’ll have to get an attorney and I’ll have to deal with this." That was it. I was placed on administrative leave. That was the last time I was in the office.

DE: The issue--even if what you were doing was wrong--wasn’t according to policy--it seems the punishment is way more than the infraction.

KB: That’s why it’s retaliatory. This is retaliation. It’s almost text book. It's a pretext. That’s what I believe this is.

DE: It’s hard to believe they wouldn’t worry that this would be transparent.

KB: That’s what I thought. This is so transparent, they can not be serious.

DE: If they said to you, "This parking has become visitor parking, don’t park in it," why did outreach staff continue to park in it?

KB: City vehicles park in two-hour spaces all the time and never get ticketed. For some reason, on the few occasions, the City outreach vehicles were ticketed.