Evanston newly-appointed city manager, Luke Stowe, says he’s started developing a budget for next year that will let the city fill many vacant positions.
“We’re short-staffed across the board,” Stowe told 5th Ward residents at an online meeting Thursday evening, and the city has hired a consultant to do a staffing analysis and compensation study.
High inflation and low unemployment levels have created a perfect storm when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, he said, adding that he plans to bring a report to City Council Sept. 12 on the consultant’s study.
Staffing shortages have been most dramatic in the Police Department, where 27 of a normal complement of 154 positions for sworn officers are vacant.
But Stowe noted a range of other vacancies — from a digital services specialist working to make city data accessible online to the job of chief equity officer for the city.
Stowe, who’s in his second week in the city’s top job after spending a decade working his way up through other city roles, said he wants to see the city do more to promote workers from within.
That drew an endorsement from Ald. Devon Reid (8th) who was attending the virtual meeting. Reid — noting that neither he nor Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) nor Stowe have bachelor’s degrees — said, “What’s really important is having people with direct experience.”
In making hiring and promotion decisions, Reid said, the city shouldn’t place too much value on “a fairly elitist system of college education.”
Resident Cindy Frederick complained that the city doesn’t promote from within — above the rank of supervisor.
“If you’re a supervisor and don’t have a college degree, it limits your opportunities, even though you may have the experience,” Frederick said.
Stowe said he’d been lobbying for a shift to focusing more on experience for years, “but I’ve never been in a position until now to effectuate change on that front.”
He said such changes would create a more diverse hiring pool and allow for city employees to move up and “not be held back by arcane HR rules.”
He offered, as an example, that a lot of managers in the Public Works Agency are likely to retire in the next few years, and said the city needs to do more to provide opportunities for current employees to move up into higher-ranking positions.
The new manager did not discuss what impact the increases in staffing and compensation levels would have on taxes for city residents.
The city’s budget has been enhanced recently with an influx of pandemic-related federal grant money that is unlikely to be seen again in future years.