After three failed outside searches for a city manager, Evanston City Council members may be looking closer to home to fill the position.

Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss talks about the search for a city manager at the Morton Civic Center July 12. The event was hosted and conducted by the RoundTable. Reporter Bob Seidenberg (left) questioned the mayor. Credit: Richard Cahan

Council members are expected to interview Luke Stowe, the city’s interim city manager and its chief information officer, in a special meeting set for 2 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 9, the RoundTable has learned.

Council members have also set a special meeting for the following day at which the city manager position is also expected to be the focus.

Mayor Daniel Biss could not be reached for comment Friday morning about the specific nature of the meetings.

City Council members have been holding  meetings in closed sessions during their search for a city manager to gauge the interest of members moving forward to an official vote.

The move to consider Stowe came after city officials announced last week they were not moving forward with Urbana city administrator Carol Mitten, the lone finalist in their latest search, saying it was mutually agreed upon that she wasn’t the right fit.

Local activists waged a strong campaign against Mitten’s selection, widely circulating articles from an Urbana website critical of her record on open meetings, policing and free speech issues.

One council member, Devon Reid, 8th Ward, backing up a story in Evanston Now, said that a city staff assessment was key to the City Council’s decision.

Carol Mitten Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

Reid said three staff members met with council members after the town hall meeting and conveyed an impression that Mitten was not a good fit for Evanston.

Reid reported the staffers came to that conclusion after she allegedly told them the city staff was “broken” and she intended to fix it.

“This idea that city staff needed fixing is something staff didn’t believe,” he said, and didn’t reflect the Evanston where they work.

At the town hall meeting July 28 in which she appeared, Mitten likened her role to that of a coach, working with city employees to “help set a path forward on a lot of your aspirational goals that need to be made tangible and then prioritized.”
Mitten couldn’t be reached for further comment in a call to her office today.

With Mitten’s candidacy having failed, the city has conducted three city manager searches this past year and four overall since longtime City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz left in September 2019.

Council members could keep Stowe as interim, much as they did with Kelley Gandurski, a one-time corporation counsel elevated to fill that role after then-City Manager Erika Storlie resigned in October 2021.

At a town hall meeting hosted by the RoundTable on July 12, Biss suggested the city’s lack of a permanent manager was having an effect on morale and the work the city could take on.

“The number of vacancies that we have in key positions explains exactly why I feel such a high degree of urgency about filling this position,” Biss said. “There are balls being dropped now, not because a single person on our staff is dropping a single ball, but because we just don’t have enough people to do it anymore. That’s happening today.” 

In a statement after the Mitten announcement, members of Community Alliance for Better Government, the citizen activist group that led a strong campaign against her selection, expressed gratefulness to the City Council and staff for not moving forward with Mitten as city manager.

‘’We hope they will take time to reevaluate the process before starting a new search,” the group said in its statement. “In the interim, Luke Stowe has our confidence and support to continue the day-to-day operations of Evanston.”

Council members voted unanimously at its meeting July 11 on Stowe’s appointment as interim city manager to succeed Kelley Gandurski, who left the city to take a job in the private sector.

The city’s chief information officer, Stowe is best known for his work in digital services and information technology. His department has played an important role, particularly during the COVID pandemic, allowing citizens to stay connected when attending in-person meetings wasn’t allowed.

Stowe has spent most of his time on the technology side, though, and has not taken the traditional career path that other candidates in the city’s city manager search have.

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.

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  1. Am I the only one seeing the red flags with equity here? A white female city manager was hired and pretty much forced out. The interim was another white female who was picked over a black female with a longer tenure as deputy and a much longer history in the city manager’s office, with previous experience. She disappears without a peep and takes a bigger role in a bigger city (but her name never surfaced as an interal candidate here). After multiple failed processes, the only serious and well received candidate to emerge is a white male with no degree or experience in city management?!?!? I don’t know Luke and have no qualms with him at all but this will surely serve as a “no fly zone” for career professionals. You have to have a bachelor’s degree and be in grad school just to intern in city management. Professionally, he is likely to stand any chance running the city’s day to day operations at what would be considered an average level of competence. It’s not because there’s something wrong with him, it’s because he’s not qualified for entry level city manager positions and he is being looked at for the top job. Contact the Illinois City Management Association or the Illinois Municipal League and see if the tenured professionals are not mortified with this decision. The bad governance is happening on the dais not in the manager’s office.

  2. I am happy the Council is looking within for a City Manager as I think we have talented people working for our City!!!

  3. What kind of professional process is this?

    First, Carol Mitten is announced to the public as a “finalist” for the City Manager job. This tells me that the City had done — or should have done — all of its own internal due diligence (including polling staff).

    Then we read that staff members met with Ms. Mitten AFTER the town hall meeting and, based on their comments to City Council, Ms. Mitten was no longer considered finalist-worthy.

    If the City hadn’t done its full internal due diligence already, why was Ms. Mitten named a finalist in the first place? Why jerk the public around like this?

    For lack of any further understanding of what’s really going on in Evanston, I’ll stick to two earlier observations: (1) That this process, from Search #1 to Search #3 has been one of mission drift. Details, including a recent personal example of mission drift, can be found in my recent blog https://foodfarmsdemocracy.net/mission-drift-in-city-manager-search-evanston-il-3-searches-counting/. (2) That the City of Evanston needs to update its City Code regarding the interlocking duties and powers of Mayor, City Clerk, City Council, and City Manager as described in another blog and printed by the RoundTable as a Letter to the Editor on May 31, 2022 https://foodfarmsdemocracy.net/update-city-code-to-assure-city-council-accountability-shared-knowledge-base-letter-to-editor-evanston-il/