Q&A: Evanston City Manager Luke Stowe talks priorities and policy

Luke Stowe

Source: City of Evanston

The Daily sat down with Stowe to discuss goals for his tenure.

Jacob Wendler, Reporter

After a months-long search that cost Evanston upwards of $95,000, City Council unanimously voted in August to appoint Luke Stowe as city manager. 

Stowe, who previously served as Evanston’s chief information officer and interim deputy city manager, will develop the city’s annual budget and manage government operations, among other responsibilities. 

The Daily sat down with Stowe to discuss goals for his tenure.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: Evanston has gone through dozens of potential candidates since 2020 to fill the role of city manager. What are your short- and long-term goals in the role?

Stowe: When I first came into the role, there was a lot of instability in leadership, not just in the city manager’s office, but also in the police department. That’s been a big part of my first couple of months as permanent city manager, bringing some stabilization. 

On a shorter-term basis, I intentionally tried to reach out to community groups and some critics of city operations to try to learn more about what their perspective is on certain issues. I’ve also tried to find common ground and have a professional, open, working relationship with those groups, so I can hopefully better calibrate and address some of the issues or concerns that they have. Longer-term, I’d love to maybe reevaluate, reinvent the budget process. I think there’s lots of room for improvement there.

The Daily: Considering residents’ dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency in the city manager search process, how do you plan to prioritize transparency as city manager? 

Stowe: I’ve talked with the mayor, council and staff about the whole notion of this “open by default” philosophy. I came up (to this role) through technology and open data, and so those are some of the things I’ve worked on in my career, even before we were talking about open government transparency. That was a big component of my earlier career and I want to continue to carry that on going forward.

The Daily: One of the biggest projects the city has undertaken in the last few years is its reparations program. How will you ensure the city continues to make progress on distributing reparations?

Stowe: We did innovative, nation-leading work. How do we continue that momentum? I want to make sure that everybody across the staff feels that they are part of that process going forward, and it’s not just a small group of staff that are working, collaborating, contributing. We’ve got 135 people or so that are on a waiting list  — how do we speed that process up?

The Daily: Numerous city officials — including Mayor Daniel Biss — have expressed concerns about the proposed 2023 budget, specifically regarding a $42.1 million increase from last year. What are your thoughts on the proposed budget, and what do you hope to see prioritized?

Stowe: Part of that $42 million increase is a once-in-100-year project with the water intake, which is a $45 million project. This year, we brought forward more of a full menu of selections (for City Council to invest in), knowing that the Council would not approve the full package and knowing also that staff would not be able to even execute on all of those projects. But we wanted to allow the Council to have greater say this year in the prioritization and choosing which projects go forward.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jacob_wendler

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