With little public input, City Council members are moving forward to appoint longtime city administrator

With little public input, City Council members are moving forward to appoint longtime city administrator

With little chance for the public to weigh in, Evanston City Council members are moving ahead with the appointment of a longtime city administrator who has distinguished himself on the technology side as Evanston’s next city manager.

Officials announced their intent to appoint Interim  City Manager Luke Stowe as Evanston’s next City Manager, in a release issued late Friday, Aug. 12.

Council members have set a follow up meeting for 1 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 16, with the appointment of Stowe to the city manager position, listed as that meeting’s lone agenda item.

A minimum of six of the nine Council members voting will be necessary to appoint Stowe as the tenth permanent City Manager in Evanston history.

The Council announcement came after a several hour executive session interview with Stowe, the city’s Chief Information  Officer, about the top job, on  Aug. 9.

Council members turned inside for their choice, after three national searches held in the a 14-month failed to find the city’s next top executive.

A fourth national search, held before that, produced a city manager, Erika Storlie, who would leave the job in roughly one year’s time.

In the latest search, city officials announced August 2, they would not be moving  forward with Urbana city administrator Carol Mitten, the lone finalist in the process, after mutually agreeing she wasn’t the right fit for the job.

Another  search ended messily in May during final contract negotiations after John Fournier, an assistant city manager in Ann Arbor and the Council’s choice, had already been  introduced  as the city’s choice to the  public.

Fournier  and Council members disputed the reasons, with Fournier responding sharply after a city release suggested he tried to reopen negotiations, requesting additional compensation.

Fournier said he had  sought to restructure the compensation in the contract, without increasing it, to better manage housing and other costs.

In January, City of Baltimore administrator Daniel Ramos, the Council’s consensus  candidate, pulled out to take a job elsewhere, as Council members were still mulling their decision.

The city manager position, the city’s  top executive job,  has been vacant since Erika Storlie resigned  from the position in October 2021, barely a year into the job.

In announcing its  intent, the City Council, in today’s statement, acknowledged some of that history:

“Qualified candidates withdrew from the process at every phase, including the most recent stage when, before a single candidate was introduced to the public, two of three finalists removed their names from consideration for personal and professional reasons. Simultaneously, the City experienced significant challenges that come during a time of interim leadership, including staff departures, service cutbacks, and more. These experiences led the City Council to determine that Evanston would be best served at this time by an internal candidate with vast institutional knowledge and broad respect from community members, City staff, and elected officials.”

Mayor Daniel Biss said, “Luke earned this appointment through his distinguished service to the City, demonstrating during a uniquely contentious era an extraordinary ability to build bridges and work constructively with just about everyone,” said Mayor Daniel Biss. “It is time for our organization to get moving again, and to do so in a way that includes and respects all stakeholders; Luke is exactly the right person to make that happen. Let’s get to work.”

Council members previously named Stowe as interim city manager at their July 12 meeting, after the person then holding the  position, Kelly Gandurski, left the job for one in the  private sector.

Stowe has been with the city since 2012, starting under  then  City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

He has held a number of positions, mostly on the technology  side, including director of administrative services, chief information officer, and digital services manager, the city noted in its  release. Stowe also played a critical role during the pandemic, serving in critical roles for the Emergency Operations Center during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city said in its release.

Stowe brings nearly 25 years of local government experience to his role. Before his service in Evanston, he held related management and technology positions in Lake County and Champaign governments and the private sector, according to the release. Stowe was previously recognized as one of the “Top Doers, Dreamers & Drivers” by Government Technology Magazine and was nominated for Local IT Leader of the Year by StateScoop, the release said.

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