New city hire draws on time in Peace Corps to tackle issues, stay calm

Breanne Gilpatrick

Evanston’s new assistant to the city manager found his interest in local government in an unusual place — on the other side of the world.

Four years after graduating from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, Evanston resident Gavin Morgan and his wife Melissa spent two years in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic northwest of China. As members of the Peace Corps, the couple spent their time there teaching English to high-schoolers.

At the time the Soviet Union had dissolved only a few years ago and much of the infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan needed to be rebuilt. Seeing this new country being constructed around him impassioned Morgan to learn about local government.

“The whole idea of strong local government within the Soviet Union was a new concept,” Morgan said. “So I learned a lot about what some of the features of local government and what it can do.”

Inspired by his time in Kyrgyzstan, Morgan returned to the United States and decided to study local government at Indiana University. Starting in July Morgan became the newest member of the Evanston city manager’s office after his predecessor, Maureen Barry, left to work in Wilmette.

Morgan, a former employee in the planning department in Elmhurst, Ill., is the second new face in the city manager’s office in the past seven months. His fellow assistant to the city manager, Vincent Jones, started in February. Both have dealt with the departure of longtime city manager Roger Crum who retired in June after eight years of service to the city.

Morgan admitted the void left by Crum did make him a little nervous, but he agreed to accept the position anyway.

“When you lose somebody that important you lose some of the institutional memory of how things were done in the past and why they were done that way,” Morgan said.

But Jones said that since Morgan had lived in the area for several years, he was familiar with the issues facing Evanston.

Morgan also had plenty of experience handling similar issues to those facing Evanston such as housing affordability, preservation and condominium construction.

As for Morgan, his colleagues say he has an ability to work hard while keeping things in perspective.

“He’s not one of those people who’s always huffing and puffing all the time,” said Pat Dungey, who worked with him in Elmhurst. “He’s just very laid back about the work he has to do.”

Morgan cultivated this relaxed attitude and level head when he was in the Peace Corps. His wife, Melissa Morgan, said that when the couple’s apartment flooded in Kyrgyzstan, he was able to remain calm and work through the problem.

“I was running around going ‘What do I do? What do I do?'” Melissa said. “I called him, and he sort of talked me through it and was able to find the humor in it.”

Eventually Morgan hopes to fulfill his career goal of becoming a city manager. For now, he’s happy to live and work in Evanston.

“I’ve always wanted to live somewhere that’s a nice smaller town that was near a university and close to a large city,” he said.

Reach Breanne Gilpatrick at [email protected]