As a child growing up in Petersburg, Va., Vincent Jones knew that his hometown could have been a better place.
“(Petersburg) had a lot of potential, and I just don’t think the powers-that-be at that time took advantage of it,” Jones said. “As a result, you can see that it’s not doing well. It’s lost a lot of population, and it really could be a jewel.”
As the new assistant to the Evanston city manager, Jones has an opportunity to make the government in this city better.
More than 200 people from around the country, including California and Florida, applied to fill the position left open by Mark Franz’s exit in September, City Manager Roger Crum said. They selected Jones after a telephone interview, an in-person interview and a set of written essay questions. City officials announced the decision at the city council meeting Feb. 23.
“(Jones) has a background with education,” said Crum, who plans to retire by mid-summer. “He has good experience. He has good people skills. He just came across as the best person for the job.”
Before he came to Evanston, Jones worked as a budget analyst for the Maryland state government. There he worked with several state universities, an experience that could prove valuable in his work in Evanston and with Northwestern, Jones said.
Jones got experience with local government when worked for the city of Orlando, Fla. While he was there, he worked with the city to redevelop its economically sagging downtown area. Jones said the revitalization project was just taking off when he left for Maryland, but he’s eager to see the results of the city’s work.
The project in Orlando gave Jones extensive experience with development and housing issues, which he thinks may be useful in Evanston. His work in Florida also gave him a chance to see just how much city government can affect its residents.
“I like local government because you directly get to work with citizens, and that’s the deciding factor for me,” Jones said. “When you’re with the federal government or state government, you seem a bit removed from the people who are actually affected by what you do.”
Jones has only been in Evanston for about three weeks, but he said he’s already had a lot of relatives ask him how everything is going.
“Everybody has been calling me to make sure I’m settled,” Jones said. “They wish me well.”
As assistant to the city manager, Jones will work with Maureen Barry, senior assistant to the city manager. Barry said she thinks Jones shows a lot of potential.
“He’s just been great,” Barry said. “He’s jumped right in. He’s got good initiative.”
Evanston faces a lot of the same issues that urban areas face, Jones said. His experience in larger cities will help Evanston, but Jones said he prefers a challenge.
“If you go into some sort of perfect community or utopia and they’re running well, then they don’t really need you, so you want to go somewhere that has a couple of issues that you can work on,” Jones said.
Someday, after he has more experience, Jones said he wouldn’t mind going back to be the city manager in Petersburg. But he said he does not plan on leaving Evanston anytime soon.
“I’m stuck here for awhile,” Jones said. “I told them they’d be stuck with me until some force of nature moved me.”