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On Sept. 27, I will conclude my service as Evanston’s City Manager. It has been quite a ride.
A Guest Essay By City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz
It is hard to properly put into words what it has meant to serve Evanston as its City Manager. My family and I have been fortunate to work and live 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 my co-workers and I do here every day enhances these experiences, regardless of our role. Community members have high expectations of what is means to be an Evanstonian, and I have welcomed the challenge to meet these expectations.
During my 10 years as City Manager, I am most proud of the team I have assembled to serve the community. 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.
Working together, the City has accomplished a great deal in the last 10 years.
• Public safety improved. Since 2009, Part One crimes have decreased over 30% and violent crime has decreased over 60%. The Evanston Fire Department was designated as a “Class 1” department, one of only 305 fire departments in the United States with this classification.
• Customer service and government transparency were enhanced. Evanston 311 was launched in 2011, handling more than 1 million phone calls in its first eight years and providing residents with a one-stop shop for City services. The City now communicates and engages with residents daily through more than 30 electronic newsletters, regular ward and town hall meetings, dozens of social media channels, community outreach initiatives on the budget and major City projects, an open data portal and an award-winning website.
• A focus was placed on human and social services. The City assumed the role of Evanston Township, established a Federally Qualified Health Center and created the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division.
• Evanston’s economy grew stronger. Evanston enjoys a robust 94.2% office occupancy rate. Two new Tax Increment Finance districts at Dempster/Dodge and Main/Chicago were created. Howard Street was revitalized. The Main-Dempster Mile SSA and four new neighborhood business associations were established. Two closed Dominick’s grocery stores were filled. The Autobarn car dealerships were expanded and retained. A new Hyatt hotel, Trader Joe’s, downtown Target and countless other small businesses and restaurants opened, continuing to make Evanston a vibrant shopping and dining destination.
• Housing options increased. Since the Great Recession, more than 2,000 new market-rate housing units have been added or are under construction, and the City has added or supported affordability of over 500 units of housing. The City recommitted itself to affordable housing issues through the $18.5 million NSP2 initiative and a revised inclusionary housing ordinance.
• Evanston strengthened its partnership with Northwestern University. The first Good Neighbor Agreement was established, bringing $5 million to the City over five years to support a variety of projects and services.
• Water sales expanded. The City increased wholesale water sales to Niles, Morton Grove and Des Plaines, and in 2020, Lincolnwood. These new partnerships bring Evanston drinking water to over 400,000 customers in the region and a steady stream of new revenue to the City.
• The Evanston Public Library evolved. The Evanston Public Library was revitalized with the creation of a dedicated property tax levy and control of services transferred to the Library Board in conformance with Illinois law. Library services now extend beyond borrowing books to include tax assistance, social services, job counseling and much more.
• The City invested in its infrastructure. The City placed a new focus on street and alley revitalization, water and sewer improvements and protected bike lanes. The Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center was created, Fountain Square was renovated, and later this year, a new Robert Crown Community Center will open.
• Evanston became a national leader in sustainability. The City adopted a Green Building Ordinance, raised awareness for environmental sustainability and livability through two climate action plans, implemented an electricity aggregation program, earned two Four Star STAR Community designations and was selected as the 2015 US Earth Hour Capital.
• Equity was prioritized. The first Chief Equity Officer and LGBTQ Liaison positions were created. In conjunction with City’s Equity and Empowerment Commission, the City began work on equity training for all staff and a review of City programs through an equity lens.
• Transportation options and planning were enhanced. The first Transportation and Mobility Coordinator position was created to focus efforts Citywide on transportation issues. The City brought Divvy Bikes to Evanston, providing residents with a new transportation option, and the City invested $500,000 with the Chicago Transit Authority to begin Purple Line modernization north of Howard Street.
• Evanston’s arts community thrived. A new focus on arts planning and coordination was established with the “EvanstARTS” initiative, a revitalized Evanston Arts Council, public art program and planning for a new downtown performing arts center.
I have been privileged to work for 17 Evanston residents who have served on the City Council since 2009. These individuals truly care about this community and contribute an enormous amount of time and energy to the governance of Evanston. My thanks to each of them for their support of me over the years and their tireless work on behalf of Evanston.
Evanston will always be a special place for me, not just because of the accomplishments above, 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.
Let me conclude with a final observation: The business of government at all levels is in crisis. Government is asked to provide many services which all come at a cost.
The balancing of these needed expenditures and the resources to provide them are difficult work, at best.
Please remember that the elected officials and the staff that work for them are people too, trying to deliver that needed balance. For everyone in the community.
Please appreciate how difficult this work is and make sure that your individual voice is heard. Too often, a very small group of people work hard to make their loud voices heard above all others. For democracy to work, every voice must be heard.
Thank you for the privilege of working for all of you. It is has been the honor of my professional career.
Mr. Bobkiewicz has been Evanston’s City Manager since 2009.