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Aldermen will turn to a search firm to help them find a successor to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, in a process which Mayor Stephen Hagerty called “arguably the most important responsibility” facing the Evanston City Council.
At the Sept. 9 City Council meeting, Council members approved by a 9-0 vote a resolution directing the City’s Human Resources Manager, Jennifer Lin, to begin to solicit responses from executive search firms. The City has turned to search firms in recent years in the hiring of Police and Fire chiefs as well as Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, staff said in a memo.
Mr. Bobkiewicz, Evanston City Manager since 2009, is leaving the City to take the top City Administrator job in Issaquah, Wash., (estimated pop. 39,378). He is scheduled to step down from his Evanston job Sept. 27, starting his new job in Issaquah Sept. 30.
Under the proposal, search firms will be asked to provide a scope of work along with a tentative timeline and price quote “very quickly, along with a list of recent comparable searches they have performed,” Mr. Bobkiewicz and Ms. Lin said in a memo.
Since 1953, when Evanston began using the Council-City Manager system, seven individuals have held the position of Evanston City Manager, akin to being the CEO of the City. Their terms have ranged from three to 12 years, Mr. Bobkiewicz noted.
At the meeting, aldermen approved a second resolution, in support of Mayor Stephen Hagerty’s recommendation that Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie, the City’s Director of Administrative Services, be named as interim City Manager.
City Code states that once a vacancy occurs in the City Manager’s Office, the City Council must select an Interim City Manager. The Council had the option of selecting an interim City Manager from among City staff or making an outside appointment, officials noted.
In a memo to aldermen, Mayor Hagerty recommended in favor of the appointment of Ms. Storlie, noting “staff recommends adoption” of the resolution.
During Council discussion of the issue, Alderman Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, asked whether anyone else was considered for the position. He also asked who made the decision, recommending Ms. Storlie as the choice.
Apologizing that the memo was not clear on that point, Mayor Hagerty confirmed it was his recommendation.
“Erika Storlie has served as our Assistant City Manager – she’s been with the City for 10 years, and she’s highly capable and qualified to lead us in this transition period,” the Mayor said. “I don’t think it makes sense to bring someone in from the outside, to come in for six to nine months, while we do a nationwide search.”
Ald. Suffredin said that, given the fact that aldermen had received a draft contract setting out the terms with Ms. Storlie that afternoon, “I don’t know why we need to do this tonight.”
The process “seems backwards,” he said.
The Mayor recommended that if the Council were to move on the item, it would be contingent on reaching an agreement with Ms. Storlie. Because the matter is one of personnel, he said aldermen could deal with the item in Executive Session, exploring what the terms of the interim contract would look like.
With Mr. Bobkiewicz not due to leave the job until Sept. 27, Ald. Suffredin asked whether acting on the appointment of an Interim City Manager at the Sept. 23 City Council meeting would be more appropriate.
Mayor Hagerty disagreed. “I think the transition should start as soon as possible,” he said. He said an earlier decision also would allow “the City Manager [Mr. Bobkiewicz] who is leaving the City to know who that next person is going to be that is going to act as interim over the next six-month period or nine-month period, while we’re busy searching.”
Alderman Cynthia Fleming, 9th Ward, argued that Ms. Storlie’s appointment was Council’s responsibility.
“As much as I respect Erika, our Council rules or City Code or whatever say that the Council shall designate,” she said. “I understand why you [the Mayor] made the decision, but the rules are the Council makes the decision.”
Council members likely would not have had any other suggestions, “but it would have been nice for this to be at least considered to see if I had another opinion for whom the interim might be,” she said.
Mayor Hagerty stressed his backing of the appointment was not in the form of a decision. “But as a Citywide elected official, I certainly at times make recommendations, and tonight I’m making a recommendation that our Assistant City Manager be the Interim. Ultimately, you are the body that decides,” he said, referring to the Council.
In conducting the search for a new City Manager, the City will hire an executive search firm that specializes in hiring City Managers and other senior City leaders, he said.
“Once a search firm has been hired we’ll begin a process of seeking community dialog, attaining input on what skills, experience and traits residents would like to see in the next City Manager,” he said. “I envision residents will also have opportunity to provide feedback on the draft job description before it’s posted officially.”
In addition, as part of the final process, the Mayor said he also envisioned that a handful of residents would be asked to serve on a community panel, and that the entire community will have the opportunity to attend a meeting with the final candidates.
“Ultimately, the hiring of the next City Manager resides with the elected body,” he said. “This body, the Evanston City Council, will ultimately hire a professional whose values, skills, experience and knowledge align with the elected representatives of this City. In the course of hiring the next City Manager, the City Council will need to decide whether the hiring and firing of the next City Manager should be made by the majority of the Council or a super majority, including the Mayor.”
As defined by the City’s Rules and past practices, “there is a conflict right now between our City Code and our Rules,” he said. He said the issue would be taken up for conversation at the Council’s next Rules Committee meeting, scheduled for Oct. 7.