After 10 years in Evanston, city manager trades Great Lakes for West Coast


Kristina Karisch/Daily Senior Staffer

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz. He will be leaving Evanston after 10 years to start as the city administrator of Issaquah, Washington.

Kristina Karisch, Print Managing Editor

After a decade in Evanston, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz heading to Issaquah, Washington, where he will start as the new city administrator at the end of the month.

To honor the occasion, city and state officials and members of the public gathered at the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave., Friday to thank Bobkiewicz for his 10 years of service in Evanston and to reflect on the ways the city has changed under his management.

Bobkiewicz came to Evanston in 2009 from Santa Paula, California, where he had served as city manager. Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who was on the search committee to hire Bobkiewicz ten years ago, said Friday that Evanston “won” with Bobkiewicz as its city manager.

Rainey, who is the longest-serving member on City Council, said that of the five city managers she has worked with during her career, Bobkiewicz has by far been the best. She said Bobkiewicz meets individually with each alderman every two weeks to discuss their needs.

Rainey said she and other aldermen recently met with the mayor of Issaquah, Bobkiewicz’s soon-to-be boss. The town is located about a half hour east of Seattle and has a population of approximately 39,000.

“We asked her: ‘Why do you find him so interesting and why do you want him?’” she said. “She said: ‘After I read about Evanston and his career in the town, I said this guy is exactly what we need in Issaquah.’”

Mayor Steve Hagerty, a number of former and current aldermen, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, State Sen. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) and State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) attended Friday’s event and read letters to thank Bobkiewicz for his collaboration in matters concerning Evanston and the state.

Hagerty said it is “bittersweet” to see Bobkiewicz moving on.

“We are blessed and have been blessed to have one of the best city managers in all of America,” Hagerty said. “It’s the toughest job in the city. You have 10 bosses you have to listen to; 10 bosses, some of them telling you completely contradictory things. But you’re the CEO of the city and the buck does stop with you. And having the buck stop with you over the last 10 years means that Evanston has gotten a lot safer.”

Under Bobkiewicz’s leadership, Hagerty said, crimes like murder, robbery and aggravated assault in Evanston have dropped more than 30 percent over the last decade. The Evanston Fire Department has risen in national ranks, most recently boasting a Class 1 Public Protection Classification, the highest ranking of ten.

Bobkiewicz also established the Evanston 311 program, which allows residents to access city information through a centralized phone system.

Hagerty and a number of other speakers mentioned the improvement of the relationship between Evanston and Northwestern University under Bobkiewicz’s tenure. He and former mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl were instrumental in bettering town and gown relations between the city and the University, Hagerty said, a coexistence which could previously be described as “a bad marriage.”

Rainey said that because of Bobkiewicz, town and gown relations improved so much that Schapiro now knows all the aldermen by name.

“There is not another (University) president in my 30-plus years working in this town…that would have ever known my first name, last name or even my face,” Rainey said. “You and (former mayor Tisdahl) made that happen.”

In honor of his work with Evanston and Northwestern, Bobkiewicz received the 2019 Evanston MashUp Catalyst Award winner, recognizing individuals and groups for their service to the University and city communities. In the video honoring Bobkiewicz for his win, University President Morton Schapiro called Bobkiewicz “loyal and passionate and sincere.”

“I’m just incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with him so closely over a decade,” Schapiro said in the video.

Assistant city manager Erika Storlie, who will take over as interim city manager once Bobkiewicz leaves Evanston, said the city and its staff won’t be able to realize how much Bobkiewicz improved the city until they look back on his tenure years in the future.

“You never really always remember the things people did or they said but how they make you feel,” Storlie said. “I knew I was going to work harder for this person than anyone in my whole life, and I’ve done that for ten years.”

After Bobkiewicz listened to speeches honoring his career and received a number of gifts from different city departments — including a custom firefighter’s helmet, Hawaiian lei, custom NU football jersey and golden library card — he took time to thank the city staff and officials for their work over the past decade.

“One of my Wally-isms is ‘Don’t ever apologize for doing your job,’” he said. “It’s a difficult job, but you and all who are members of the community need to know how dedicated we all are, elected and appointed alike, how much we truly love this community and that we are always working for it to be a better place … It’s our privilege to contribute to the betterment of the city of Evanston.”

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