New manager no stranger to Evanston

Evanston's new city manager, Walter Bobkiewicz III, isn't a stranger to town.

He grew up in Deerfield and Glenview, and his father, who taught for many years at Oakton Community College, now lives in Evanston.

And, as Aldeman Mark Tendam told residents at a 6th Ward community meeting Wednesday night, Bobkiewicz plans to live temporarily in his father's condominium in the 6th Ward when he first arrives in the city.

"So we'll be Wally's Ward, at least for a while," Tendam said.

Tendam, who along with Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, went to Santa Paula, Calif., where Bobkiewicz has been city manager since 2002, to research his job performance, said they came back from the trip highly impressed.

Tendam says Bobkiewicz has made "a phenomenal impression" on city staffers in Santa Paula who they interviewed.

Rainey, in an interview this morning, said they met with all of Santa Paula's department heads in a group session and then interviewed several officials one-on-one, as well as talking to local school officials, business leaders and an editor at the local newspaper.

"Then at night after we'd met with all these people, we went and knocked on the doors of two fire stations," Rainey said, "and even the firefighters told us they loved him."

Santa Paula has just adopted a budget that requires major reductions in the city's labor force, as a result of cutbacks in state support for municipalities.

"In California people think differently about that kind of thing because of how horribly the state treats localities, taking away revenue that's been there for years," Rainey said.

She added that Bobkiewicz had won praise from city workers for the way he handled the layoffs, and that he's managed to persuade remaining employees to take on additional tasks to fill the gaps.

As an example, Rainey said, when Santa Paula had to cut back on facilities management workers, firefighters agreed to step up and do things like changing light bulbs and making some minor repairs.

Rainey said she had initially favored another of the three finalists for the manager's job, but changed her mind after the California trip.

Tendam said Bobkiewicz, 42, impressed him as "personable, brilliant and a workaholic" and said he'd made big changes in Santa Paula.

Rainey said people they spoke with in Santa Paula said they knew they couldn't keep him forever in the much smaller town, but that he had built a team -- hiring all but one of the department heads -- that works extremely well together.

Two-thirds of Santa Paula's population is Hispanic, and Rainey said Hispanic aldermen "couldn't say enough about the way he reaches out and makes connections in the minority community."

Finding a new job hasn't been the only change in Bobkiewicz's life this spring -- he got married last month, and Rainey says he had just returned from his honeymoon in Hawaii when he when he met with Evanston officials about the job here.

Rainey says his bride, Patrice Frey, who he's known for years, works in Washington, D.C., so it will still be commuter marriage for them -- though with a shorter commute.

Rainey said that in addition to his $185,000 salary, Bobkiewicz will be eligible for a $200,000 no-interest loan from the city to assist with housing costs.

The loan program is something the city offers to all new department heads, she said, adding that once the recipient stops working for the city the loan has to be paid back within a few months.

Bobkiewicz is scheduled to start work in Evanston Aug. 3.

Update 6/12/09: The Ventura County Star has an editorial this morning saying Santa Paula "hit the jackpot" when it hired Bobkiewicz and that Evanston now has "hit it big" as well.

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