After three failed outside searches for a city manager, Evanston City Council members may be looking closer to home to fill the position.
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 pm, 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.
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.
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.
With Mitten not going forward, 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, Mayor Daniel Biss suggested that 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 the Community Alliance for Better Government, the citizens activist group that led a strong campaign against her selection, expressed gratitude 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 the leaderly at its meeting July 1 on Stowe’s appointment as interim city manager to succeed Kelley Gandurski, who left city to take a job in private sector.
The city’s chief information officer, Stowe’s 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 was not allowed.
He’s 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.