Pressed by several aldermen, City officials will keep open the selection of a firm to search for Evanston’s next City Manager, inviting a trio of firms to give presentations about their service.

Officials had recommended at the Sept. 23 City Council meeting that aldermen approve a $23,500 contract with the Northbrook-based GovHR USA executive recruitment firm, which the City has used in the past.

The City’s Human Resources Department had requested proposals from 20 different search firms, following the announcement that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz would be stepping down from his position to become the top administrator in Issaquah, Washington, effective Sept. 27.

Of the 20 firms, three declined due to unavailability and seven responded with proposals and quotes, said Mr. Bobkiewicz and Jennifer Lin, the City’s Human Resources Division Manager, in a memo to the Council.

The City had used GovHR  USA in previous searches, noted Mr. Bobkiewicz  and Ms. Lin, recommending the Council go with that firm.

Other firms that submitted bids in the $24,500 to $29,500 range included Cincinnati-based Novak Consulting, which has made placements in Virginia, Maryland and Missouri; CPS HR Consulting, based in Sacramento, Cal., which has placed several city managers in the past few years, mostly in California and Colorado; and the Slavin Management Consultants group, out of Norcross, Ga., whose recent placement included the city manager of Oak Park.

Mr. Bobkiewicz and Ms. Lin noted in their memo that GovHR USA has been used by Evanston in previous searches, including those that led to the hiring of Police Chief Demitrous Cook; Lawrence  Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services; and Mark Muenzer, the City’s Community Development Director.

During discussion of the proposal, Ald. Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, asked Ms. Lin whether former City employees now working at GovHR USA would be involved in the process.

Joellen J. Cademartori, listed as GovHR’s CEO on the firm’s website, is the former Director of Human Resources of Evanston. Grant Farrar, listed as the company’s Senior Vice President, was the former Corporation Counsel for Evanston.

Mr. Farrar, Ms. Lin, as well as Mr. Bobkiewicz were listed as defendants in a discrimination suit brought against the City by former Evanston Public Works Director Suzette Robinson that was eventually settled out of court.

To Ald. Suffredin’s question whether the former City officials would be involved, Ms. Lin replied no. “Only because the two people you are referring to don’t do the executive searches, that’s not their role in the organization,” she told Ald. Suffredin. “So there are a few people who handle the HR and executive searches. It’s just a handful of folks that do that.”

“I can definitely talk to [GovHR USA] to see if they’ve already assigned a person,” she added. “Some proposals that you saw already had somebody assigned to the project, selecting them. I can certainly reach out to GovHR to see if they would be willing to give me the person that they would be assigning to this project.”

In discussion at the Sept. 23 meeting, several aldermen pressed for more details about the process.

Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, asked whether officials were able  to determine, in the 20 requests sent out, whether any were minority-owned or women-owned businesses.

Ms. Lin said a number of  the firms based on the East and West Coasts were owned by women.

Ald. Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asked whether the City had personal contact with the firms or whether the process was handled by mail. Ms. Lin said that because there was such short notice on the job opening, she sent out the inquiries through email, seeking to get as much information back as possible to the Council.

“So in such a short time we were able to get seven quotes back. We could certainly wait to receive additional ones that are coming in,” she told Council members. “Another one came in this morning.

Ald. Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, expressed hope aldermen had the chance to talk to GovHr about what  the City is looking for in the position, because “I don’t  want them reaching in a file cabinet and pulling out the oldie-moldies, because they know we don’t want that.”

Ms. Lin assured aldermen the firm would come out to the City and talk with stakeholders about what kinds of qualifications officials would like to see.

Mr.Bobkiewicz noted that Evanston is looked to “nationally as a very progressive community so people who  are progressive in this profession” would want to come here.
“I don’t think the pool [of candidates] is a concern. I think you want to make sure whoever is hired as an executive search firm understands what you are looking for,” he said.

Speaking in support of GovHR, Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3d Ward, said she was dismayed initially to see at how many of the  proposals came from firms on the West Coast, “because  the Midwest is different,” she  said.

In that regard, she said she appreciated that GOVHR is located in this area.

“We are not a run-of-the mill community,” she said, “and we really need a recruiting firm that very much understands us and they [GovHR] have been very successful understanding us before.”

In working with a firm, “a critical element is that they come in and hear from us, they hear from stakeholders and they let  us know what they hear to make sure that their message to whom they’re looking for is clear and authentic with what we want.”

Ald. Fiske said that she would feel more comfortable if the City selected three firms and invited them to talk to the Council to give officials a better picture. “I guess I’m not so concerned that  we find someone from the Midwest, as we find someone who is a match for our community because I think there are other university communities, tech communities and hipster communities that might be not in the Midwest and a better match for us,” she said.

With a few more proposals still “trickling in,” Ald. Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested the Council hold over the issue until the Rules Committee meets and have three search firms selected by aldermen make their presentation then. The Committee is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Civic Center, 2100 N. Ridge Ave.

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.