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With little chance for the public to weigh in, city council members are moving ahead with the appointment of a longtime city administrator who has distinguished himself on the technology side of the administration as Evanston’s next city manager.
Officials announced their intent to appoint interim city manager Luke Stowe as Evanston’s next city manager in a release issued late Friday, Aug. 12.
Council members have set a follow-up meeting for 1 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 16, with the appointment of Stowe to the city manager position listed as that meeting’s lone agenda item.
A minimum of six of the nine Council members voting will be necessary to appoint Stowe as the tenth permanent city manager in Evanston history.
The council announcement came after a several-hour executive session interview with Stowe, the city’s Chief Information Officer, on Aug. 9.
Council members turned to an inside candidate for their choice after three national searches held over the last 14 months failed to secure the city’s next top executive.
A fourth prior national search for city manager resulted in the hiring of Erika Storlie, who would leave the job in roughly one year’s time.
In the latest search, city officials announced Aug. 2 that they would not be moving forward with Urbana city administrator Carol Mitten, the lone finalist in the process, after mutually agreeing she wasn’t the right fit for the job.
Another search ended messily in May during final contract negotiations after John Fournier, an assistant city manager in Ann Arbor and the council’s choice, had already been introduced to the public.
Fournier and council members disputed the reasons, with Fournier responding sharply after a city release suggested he tried to reopen negotiations to request additional compensation.
Fournier said he had sought to restructure the compensation in the contract, without increasing it, to better manage housing and other costs.
In January, City of Baltimore administrator Daniel Ramos, the council’s consensus candidate, pulled out to take a job elsewhere as council members were still mulling their decision.
The city manager position, the city’s top executive job, has been vacant since Storlie resigned from the position in October 2021
In announcing its intent in a statement today, the City Council acknowledged some of that history:
“Qualified candidates withdrew from the process at every phase, including the most recent stage when, before a single candidate was introduced to the public, two of three finalists removed their names from consideration for personal and professional reasons. Simultaneously, the City experienced significant challenges that come during a time of interim leadership, including staff departures, service cutbacks, and more. These experiences led the City Council to determine that Evanston would be best served at this time by an internal candidate with vast institutional knowledge and broad respect from community members, City staff, and elected officials.”
Mayor Daniel Biss said, “Luke earned this appointment through his distinguished service to the City, demonstrating during a uniquely contentious era an extraordinary ability to build bridges and work constructively with just about everyone,” said Biss. “It is time for our organization to get moving again, and to do so in a way that includes and respects all stakeholders; Luke is exactly the right person to make that happen. Let’s get to work.”
Council members previously named Stowe as interim city manager at their July 12 meeting, after the person then holding the position, Kelly Gandurski, left the job for one in the private sector.
Stowe has been with the city since 2012, starting under then-city manager Wally Bobkiewicz. He has held a number of positions, mostly on the technology side, including director of administrative services, chief information officer and digital services manager, the city noted in its release. Stowe also played a critical role during the pandemic, serving in roles for the Emergency Operations Center during the height of the pandemic, according to the release.
Stowe brings nearly 25 years of local government experience to his role. Before his service in Evanston, he held related management and technology positions in Lake County and Champaign governments and the private sector, according to the release. Stowe was previously recognized as one of the “Top Doers, Dreamers & Drivers” by Government Technology Magazine and was nominated for Local IT Leader of the Year by StateScoop, the release said.