An interview with City Manager Luke Stowe was the centerpiece of the annual meeting of the League of Women Voters of Evanston, held on Wednsday, May 10 at Reza’s restaurant in downtown Evanston. LWVE member Helen Gagel interviewed Stowe, asking questions about city staff, city-owned buildings and downtown vacancies in post-COVID Evanston. 

Helen Gagel of the League of Women Voters of Evanston interviews City Manager Luke Stowe at the league’s annual dinner on May 10. Credit: Mary Helt Gavin

The welcoming applause intensified when Gagel said Stowe is the nephew of the late Sue Brady, a civic leader, league member and former City Council member.

Gagel asked who in city government should be the face of Evanston – the mayor, the council members or the City Manager? “The council and the mayor should be the public face,” said Stowe, adding that he also tries to be “accessible and visible.”

Gagel then brought up an issue that surfaced in the last mayoral election: whether Evanston should continue with the council-manager form of government, which it has had since 1952.

“State legislation allowed that form of government in 1951, and Evanston was one of the first [municipalities] to use it,” said Stowe. He added he would not interfere with the council or the voters should they wish a different form of government.

Noting to Stowe that low morale in the Civic Center had been made public by a letter from present and past Black employees and by a memo Stowe wrote about Council Members’ behavior, Gagel asked how those issues are being addressed.

Stowe said Second Ward Council member Krissie Harris, working with staff, has come up with “highly reasonable” recommendations. Further, he said, council members are expected to approve their goals in an upcoming meeting, and these would provide a “roadmap for staff and the city manager. … I remain optimistic that we’re on the right path.”

Takes ‘pass’ on Harley Clarke

Many city-owned buildings need repairs, Stowe said, noting that revamping the police/fire headquarters at Lake Street and Elmwood Avenue would keep the city competitive in attracting public safety personnel.

With a smile and an apparently appreciative response from the audience of about 50, Stowe took a “pass” on addressing the ongoing saga of the Harley Clarke mansion.

Concerning the downtown vacancies, he said, “We have work to do, but we also have tremendous assets.”

Members of the LWVE’s Local Government Committee regularly observe city meetings and post their reports online.

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