Former Evanston official censured by professional group

Marshall Cohen

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The former Evanston director of community and economic development, who is currently city manager of University City, Mo., was formally censured Wednesday by a professional group for local government officials.

The International City/County Management Association issued a news release announcing that its executive board voted Sunday to formally censure Lehman Walker and permanently ban him from the group.

“While working for another local government, Mr. Walker communicated with a University City council member and mayoral candidate about city business; made comments criticizing the University City manager’s performance and did not inform the University City manager about the discussions,” according to the news release. “Mr. Walker also sent his resume to the mayoral candidate shortly before the election.”

The other government mentioned in the news release was, in fact, Evanston. Walker served as Evanston’s director of community and economic development from December 2009 to July 2010. Before coming to Evanston, Walker held a similar position in University City.

After less than one year working on economic issues in Evanston, including the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, Walker returned to University City to become city manager.

Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz announced the “unexpected” news of Walker’s departure in a post on Evanston’s website dated July 17, 2010.

“Lehman will be an excellent City Manager,” Bobkiewicz wrote. “A big loss for us, but the residents of University City are getting back a truly fine man.”

In response to Bobkiewicz’s post, city spokesman Eric Palmer said Thursday that Walker “doesn’t work for us anymore” and declined further comment.

Walker told The Daily on Thursday he did nothing wrong and said the allegations were frivolous.

“The ICMA accepted information that was incorrect,” Walker said. “I was dissatisfied with the way they handled the initial process, given the fact that this was politically motivated by friends of the former city manager and the organization should have just dismissed these complaints.”

University City Mayor Shelley Welsch told The Daily on Thursday she fully supports Walker and praised him as an excellent city manager with strong job performance.

“Furthermore, as the mayor of this city, I am not willing to say that any third party has the authority or right to set ethical standards to our employees here in University City,” Welsch told The Daily. “We do not live by the ethical standards set by any other organization. They have no right to say that their ethical decisions should in any way bind this city.”

Walker resigned from the international organization Feb. 17 because, he said, it was not worthwhile for University City to be an ICMA member, which included $1,100 in annual dues.

Facing allegations that he resigned because of the impending censure, Walker reaffirmed his previous comments Thursday.

“My reasons are financial – it cost the city $1,100 every year,” Walker said. “There’s no direct benefit to the city or to me personally for that.”

The ICMA release also said Walker “failed to fulfill his ethical obligation to serve a two-year tenure by resigning from his (Evanston) position after nine months to take the position as city manager in University City.”

The organization’s code of ethics states “a minimum of two years generally is considered necessary in order to render a professional service to the local government,” according to the ICMA website.

Although Walker had been an ICMA member before resigning last week, he said Thursday he didn’t think the organization should dictate the length of his employment.

University City Councilman Michael Glickert said the alleged ethics violations levied against Walker had no impact on his opinion of the city manager.

“His censuring or not censuring by this organization is irrelevant to me as an elected official and the employer of the city manager,” Glickert said. “It’s not relevant. It has nothing to do with the job performance of the city manager, and it has nothing to do with his professional stature of his ethical conduct.”

University City resident Gregory Pace said the controversy seemed like a “witch-hunt.”

“There are people who are trumpeting it here against the powers to be that are calling this a scandal,” Pace said. “Lehman just brought out his 2013 budget, which was balanced – he went through it with a scalpel precision knife. He cut out all kinds of fat off.”

Walker also said he looked back fondly on his seven-month stint as a top Evanston official.

“I enjoyed my time in Evanston,” Walker said. “I have the highest regard for City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and the other elected officials there, and I wish them well.”