City struggles to fill city manager position

For the past 14 months, the City of Evanston has spent a lot of time and money searching for a new city manager but has been unable to find someone for the job. In a recent letter, Mayor Biss called the effort to find a City Manager “long and confusing with multiple rounds of finalists and the need to start over more than once (in fact, more than twice).”

The job of the city manager is one of the most important in local government, and encompasses many responsibilities, such as advising the city council on things like financial needs,city goals and policies. 

Since Wally Bobkiewicz left the position in 2019, the job of City Manager in Evanston  has been a revolving door of people being chosen for the job, then turning down the position. 

On May 23, the city council voted to authorize the appointment of John Fournier as the City Manager. However, Fournier fought to reopen contract negotiations, and ultimately ended up declining the council’s offer. In a letter sent to Mayor Daniel Biss and shared with the Evanston RoundTable, he described his reasoning for not taking the position. 

Fournier explained that after the contract was approved, he noticed flaws in the terms of the contract and asked the council to amend them. “They were not able to reach an agreement to do so in a meaningful way. As a result, I notified the City of Evanston [May 27] that I would be withdrawing from the position. I asked for no increase in salary, allowances or other benefits.” 

Fournier was the second candidate within four months to decline an offer for the role of city manager. 

Continuing the search for city manager, on Monday, July 11, the Evanston City Council voted unanimously to appoint Luke Stowe, Interim Deputy City Manager and Chief Information Officer, as interim City Manager. Stowe has been working for the city since June of 2012 and has overseen multiple different departments. He has plenty of government experience, and played a very important role in the Emergency Operations Center during the pandemic. However, Stowe did not have the responsibilities of city manager for long. 

After $95,000 spent on search firms, City Council had a single candidate for the job—Carol Mitten, the city administrator for Urbana. Mitten has over 35 years of management experience, and according to the city’s news release, a “deep passion and appreciation for local government.” 

A town hall was hosted on Thursday, July 28 where Mitten addressed many questions from Evanston residents. The meeting was monitored by Mayor Daniel Biss and had many attendees, virtually and in person. 

“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,” Mitten explained during the town hall. “I think that Evanston is a place that reflects the way that I want to live and engage in the community.”

However, residents raised concerns about Mittens’ record on important issues such as police accountability, affordable housing and public safety. They urged the city council not to approve her because of this. 

And, as of August 2, Carol Mitten announced that she will not be taking the position as the next City Manager. 

So the search continues, with, as of now, no new candidate for the job.