Public works director leaves Evanston for East Coast opportunity

Brian Rosenthal

Evanston has lost its second public works director in the past 11 months.

John Burke will be leaving the city next Friday, Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell announced at the Evanston City Council meeting Monday night. Former public works director David Jennings retired last February.

“There’s a consulting opportunity on the East Coast that I’m pursuing,” said Burke, a Boston native, in an interview Wednesday morning. “It’s in transportation and parking, where are really my areas of interest and expertise.”

Calling the two departures a coincidence, he said his decision had nothing to do with his experience at the city, which he called “fabulous,” but instead was because he couldn’t turn down the opportunity in the private sector.

Besides the two public works directors, the city has also lost a city manager, assistant city manager, city clerk and seven other department heads in the past 18 months. Most, including Jennings, left under the city’s Early Retirement Initiative, which is scheduled to save the city $5 million by buying out the salaries of 59 employees.

In addition, four of the city’s aldermen will not be seeking re-election in April’s election.

The loss of experience will not damage the city, said Ald. Edmund Moran (6th), who is one of the four not seeking re-election.

“Heck, any time you lose an employee that is as valuable as John Burke, you have to be concerned,” he said. “But we’ll try to get a good replacement and hopefully he’ll pick up where Burke left off and do a good job too.”

Burke has been with the city since 2005. He served as transportation director for three years before taking over as the department director.

He said he thought he’d “done great stuff” in his time with the city, highlighting work on arterial streets such as Ridge Avenue and Dempster Street which “have been neglected for decades.”

“He’s about as good as I’ve ever seen,” Moran said. “He’s absolutely one of the best employees we’ve ever had. Technically capable, hard-working, friendly, can-do attitude; really one of the best.”

Russell echoed that sentiment at the council meeting Monday, saying the city “will truly miss him.”

Current water and sewer superintendent David Stoneback will take over the department on an interim basis.

– Brian Rosenthal