City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, right, and Alderman Peter Braithwaite at a City Council meeting.Photo by Bob Seidenberg

Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has tendered his resignation as City Manager to Mayor Stephen Hagerty, to take effect Sept. 27, in light of his appointment as City Administrator in Issaquah, Wash. (pop. 39,378 per 2018 census estimate).

The Issaquah City Council voted 6-0 Aug. 12 in favor of confirming Mayor Mary Lou Pauly’s appointment of Mr. Bobkiewicz. He has been Evanston City Manager since 2009, and is scheduled to begin his new role in Issaquah on Sept. 30.

Mr. Bobkiewicz was the second-longest-serving City Manager in Evanston since the City adopted the Council-Manager form of government in November of 1952. Ed Martin, who served from 1971 to 1982, was the longest.

“It is hard to put into words what it has meant to serve Evanston as its City Manager,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said in a statement that went out Aug. 13 to all City staff.

“We are fortunate to work in a community that is blessed with so many natural and material resources. People want to be in Evanston to live, work, play, shop and go to school. The work that we do here every day enhances these experiences regardless of our role. Community members have high expectations of what it means to be an Evanstonian and I have welcomed the challenge to meet those expectations.

“During my 10 years as City Manager, I am most proud of the team I have assembled to serve the community,” he said. “The men and women who lead the City are a talented, diverse group of people who are at the top of their respective municipal professions. The good work accomplished by the City is done thanks to the leadership of these outstanding individuals.”

The Issaquah job came after several near misses at top jobs in the Pacific Northwest area in recent years. Mr. Bobkiewicz had stated publicly that he was considering jobs in that area if they made sense professionally, with members of his wife, Patrice’s, family living in that region.

 Mr. Bobkiewicz’s “resignation is bittersweet,” said Mayor Stephen Hagerty in a statement Aug. 13, responding to the City Manager’s announced departure.

“I’m happy that Wally, Patrice and their son will move closer to family; something that has been of interest to them as their son has grown older,” Mayor Hagerty said. “Sadly, though, we are losing a strong leader in this community, someone who has worked tirelessly over the last decade to transmit this City better, greater and more beautiful than when he arrived. He will be hard to replace.”

At the same time, “all organizations, including our great City, must at times go through change at the top,” Mayor Hagerty said. “This change offers us an opportunity as a community to define what we want in our next City Manager.”

Mayor Hagerty said the City will contract with a search firm, as well as engage the community, in conducting “a national-level search.”

“In the end,” he said, “the Council and I will select a new City Manager who reflects the values, leadership and character necessary to successfully lead one of the best urban cities in America.”

Mr. Bobkiewicz, who had served seven years as City Manager of Santa Paula, Cal., previously, was named Evanston City Manager in June 2009. At the time, the City had been without a permanent City Manager since the previous year when then City Manager Julia Carroll stepped down due to health reasons.

As City Manager, Mr. Bobkiewicz brought a new emphasis on communications, creating an award-winning website and introducing social media as a tool to get the City’s messages out – stamping Evanston as a cutting-edge, tech-savvy City.

Currently, the City communicates and engages with residents through more than 30 electronic newsletters, regular ward and town hall meetings, dozens of social media channels, community outreach initiatives and an open data portal, Mr. Bobkiewicz noted in his departure message.

Mr. Bobkiewicz also highlighted a number of accomplishments that he and the City staff team had achieved together. They included the launching of the City’s non-emergency 311 system in 2011, expanding water sales and boosting the economy, with a Hyatt hotel, a Trader Joe’s and a downtown Target store opening during his tenure.

“The City placed a new focus on street and alley revitalization, water and sewer improvements, and protected bike lanes,” Mr. Bobkiewicz wrote in his message.

“The Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center was created, Fountain Square was renovated, and later this year a new Robert Crown Community Center will open.”

In addition, Mr. Bobkiewicz played an important role on the financial side, noted Fourth Ward Alderman Donald Wilson, identifying “the actual numbers” the City had to attain in addressing a large pension deficit and building that commitment into the budget.

In his message, Mr. Bobkiewicz said, “Evanston will always be a special place for me, not just because of the accomplishments, but because it is also the place where I started my family. … My wife, Patrice, and I were married only a few weeks when we moved to Evanston. Our son, Wally IV, was born here in 2016 and was able to start his young life in this wonderful, diverse community.

“Thank you for the privilege of working with all you,” he closed off his note to staff. “It has been the honor of my professional career.”

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.