Alderman Thomas Suffredin

Sixth Ward Alderman Thomas Suffredin, going directly to the public with his concerns, says that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s uncertain job status has placed the City in an “interminable holding pattern” and has called for Mayor Stephen Hagerty and the City Council to have an open public discussion about the future of the position.

Mr. Bobkiewicz, Evanston’s City Manager since 2009, has pursued several top management jobs in recent years in the Pacific Northwest area, where his wife has family.

Mr. Bobkiewicz was one of five finalists last month for a top County Administrator post in Clackamas County, Ore. Before that, he was on the finalists list for the city manager’s job in Tacoma, Wash.

Responding to a question at an Eighth Ward town meeting last month, the City Manager said has shared with Council members that if positions come up in the Pacific Northwest, “for family reasons,” he would examine them and “see whether they make sense professionally. In the meantime, I’m proud to be Evanston’s City Manager,” he said.

In his Sixth Ward newsletter to constituents this week, Ald. Suffredin acknowledged that “the current City Manager has been very forthright about his desire to leave Evanston for another position, preferably out West, and is to be thanked for his frankness.” 
“But this stagnant, purgatorial existence is not good for Evanston,” he maintained.
Ald. Suffredin said that while the City Manager’s desire to move west to be closer to family for the right circumstances “is admirable and understandable, a city of 75,000 people should not be in an interminable holding pattern waiting for one person’s right circumstances to emerge.” 
“The residents of Evanston deserve to know what is going on,” Ald. Suffredin said, “and I believe the best way forward is through and open and transparent public discussion on this matter.”

 “This is not about one person’s employment, but about choosing the best way forward for the residents of the City we were all elected to serve,” Ald. Suffredin said in his newsletter, which went out by e-mail on Feb. 7. 

“The City of Evanston should not wait with bated breath for a decision by five Commissioners in Clackamas County, Oregon or allow our City’s course to be determined by the vagaries of the Pacific Northwest employment market. There is no succession plan, no timetable, and there has been no public discussion. We have a responsibility to put Evanston’s future above all else.”

City Manager Bobkiewicz declined comment Thursday, Feb. 7 on the matter.

 Mayor Hagerty could not be reached for comment in a call to his office.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who was a member of the original Council team which went to California to interview Mr. Bobkiewicz before his appointment in 2009, said as far as she could tell, “Wally has tremendous support on the City Council.  I support him 100%.”

In the case of a City Manager’s leaving, said Ald. Rainey, a senior member of the Council, on previous occasions, “it’s been pretty much a smooth transition.”

The Council would appoint an interim City Manager.  “We would do a search, we would hire a wonderful City Manager to lead us the next five years or so,” she said.

“He’s new at this,” she said of Ald. Suffredin, in his first term as alderman. “He doesn’t know how the process works. That’s okay. That doesn’t mean you drum out a wonderful City Manager.

“A manager has the right to look for a job,” Ald. Rainey continued. “He is one of the longest serving city managers in Illinois. Even if you didn’t know he was looking for a job, he’s probably looking for a job — but this city manager has the ethics and professionalism to let us know that if something right were to come up he probably was going to apply for it.”

Ald. Suffredin spoke in support of his concerns, noting that the City Manager position is the only position the Council selects.” In turn, the City Manager has authority on all other positions. “So we should have a plan, especially if we’re going to have another city manager,” he said. “It should be on our timetable, our decision – it’s not because he found a job.”

“If a majority of the City’s elected representatives are satisfied with the current situation let them say it publicly and not shielded from the view of their constituents in Executive Session,” Ald. Suffredin said. “The public has a right to know and has a right to be heard on this important topic. This is larger than one person’s employment or any personal matter. This is about finding the best way to move forward for the residents of the City we were all elected to serve.”

Ald. Suffredin told the RoundTable he had received 28 email responses to his newsletter by the evening of Feb. 7, the day he sent the newsletter. Of these, he said, 26 were “overwhelmingly positive” in support of holding a public discussion about the situation. Of the other two, he said, one noted that the City Manager is doing his job; the other criticized his position.

City Council has scheduled an executive session after its regular meeting on Feb. 11.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.