Mayor Mary Lou Pauly officially announced that she is appointing Wally Bobkiewicz as Issaquah’s next city administrator.
The city council confirmed the appointment during its Aug. 12 meeting.
“I am honored to be selected as the city administrator in Issaquah,” Bobkiewicz said in a statement. “The city is the jewel of the Seattle area. I look forward to working with Mayor Pauly, the city council, city staff and the community as we work together in creating a sustainable legacy for future generations while addressing the practical challenges of growth, mobility and affordability. I will be a fierce advocate for Issaquah in achieving these goals.”
Issaquah has been seeking a new city administrator since Emily Moon announced her resignation on March 25.
“Managing this replacement process has been my number-one priority since I learned this spring that our current city administrator was departing our team this August. I recognize that this decision will be one of the most significant decisions I will make in my first term,” Pauly said in a statement.
She said she is excited to bring Bobkiewicz into this role.
“I have seen the positive outcomes in his current community and am confident he is a great match for Issaquah,” she said.
The hiring process
The city administrator works under the direction of the mayor and is responsible for managing human, financial and material resources. The administrator coordinates the activities and functions of the various city offices, departments, commissions and boards in implementing the requirements of city ordinances and the policies of the city council, as referenced in Issaquah’s job announcement for the position.
The job description stated that the ideal candidate will be a big-picture thinker. The applicant gives attention to details and is able to implement direction from policymakers and deliver the level of services and quality of life that residents expect and value.
The hiring of a new city administrator is a long and extensive process.
Upon the news of Moon’s departure, Pauly said she and her staff weighed the options as whether to conduct the search for a new city administrator using internal staff resources or an external resource.
After interviewing three to four consultants, the city hired Karras Consulting to conduct the job search.
Karras Consulting interviewed city staff members, Pauly and elected officials and asked what they wanted in a city administrator. From that feedback, Karrass developed the job description and application.
According to Pauly, some 80 candidates applied for the position. Karras narrowed the applicant pool down to 40 candidates based on whether they met the basic position requirements.
From there, Karras conducted background searches and narrowed the applicant pool to 29 candidates. With extended research and vetting, Karras recommended 12 candidates to Pauly.
Karras presented Pauly with all data and background research on each candidate.
Pauly conducted Skype interviews each of the 12 candidates. She invited six candidates to come to Issaquah and spend a day with her and city staff. Each candidate was questioned by three different panels made up of combinations of city staff and officials.
“I wanted them to get the flavor of how to work with different teams and partners,” Pauly said.
Pauly took feedback from the three panels and narrowed the candidate pool from six to four.
Pauly met with each of the four candidates for 90 minutes. Two candidates emerged—Marty Wine and Wally Bobkiewicz.
Pauly invited Wine and Bobkiewicz to spend the day with the community and city team on July 25. Marty Wine, the city manager of Tigard, Ore., and Wally Bobkiewicz, the city manager of Evanston, Ill., spent time with individual councilmembers. They took a tour of the city with deputy city administrator Andrea Snyder, and they attended an open house with city staff at City Hall. That evening, Pauly hosted a two-hour open house at the workshop on Front Street as an opportunity for the community to meet the finalists.
Before his current position at Evanston, Bobkiewicz was a city manager in Santa Paula, Calif., for seven years and an assistant city manager in Novato, Calif., for more than four years.
“I have been doing local government for a long time,” Bobkiewicz said at the open house. “After 10 years in Evanston, I am looking for a new challenge.”
He received a Bachelor of Science from Syracuse University before earning a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California. Bobkiewicz and his wife want to raise their 3-year-old son, Wally IV, in the Seattle area.
“When my son was born, it was a wakeup call,” Bobkiewicz said at the open house. “I’m sold on Issaquah.”
From his time as a city manager, Bobkiewicz said he is most proud of helping to reopen a hospital that went bankrupt in Santa Paula. Saving hospitals is not normally in the job description for a city manager, he explained, but the next closest hospice was 20 miles away, so he needed to take action.
Following the open house, Pauly said she received written comments from the community, elected officials, city staff and city council.
From the comments, Pauly said she received more comments in favor of Bobkiewicz.
“Commenters cited his related experience and how he answered questions. That said, a few people have also expressed their concerns over a 2017 lawsuit where a former city of Evanston employee accused Wally Bobkiewicz and the city of Evanston of racial discrimination,” Pauly said in a statement.
Further, Bobkiewicz has been subject to controversy over the city’s response to a contentious arrest.
In Evanston, Bobkiewicz faced criticism from residents over a lack of quick action surrounding a 2015 arrest of a black man. Lawrence Crosby was suspected of stealing a car, which turned out to be his own, and was arrested in October 2015, according to reporting by the Evanston Review.
The Evanston Review wrote that Crosby was driving to Northwestern University, where he was an engineering doctoral candidate, when police arrested him. Police footage of the altercation released in 2017 shows officers commanding Crosby to get on the ground, as the man was standing with both hands up in the air. When he didn’t comply quickly, a group of five officers brought Crosby to the ground.
After the video was released in 2017, Bobkiewicz announced he would work with the Evanston police chief on procedure changes, the Evanston Review reported.
Bobkiewicz was also a defendant in a 2016 race discrimination case, filed by the former Evanston director of public works.
Dennis Karras, co-founder and CEO of Karras Consulting, said the firm was aware of the discrimination case and read the news reports on the lawsuit and associated documents. They spoke to those involved, including Evanston city council members and staff.
“The key to it is to find out what’s behind it and to make sure you interview those people who know the truth to determine whether or not that action is one that would have any bearing on the appointment of the individual to a position,” Karras told the Issaquah Reporter for a past article. “You can’t be a city manager without litigation and controversy that arise from one time or another.” He added that the firm had “no qualms at all about Bobkiewicz.”
Pauly knew of Bobkiewicz’s background before she interviewed him the first time.
“I take such allegations very seriously,” she said.
When she first learned of his background, she said she was concerned.
“It was concerning, of course, but you have to take a breath and know you have to get more information,” she said.
In addition to performing her own review of the background research Karras provided, members of the selection team and Pauly also interviewed key stakeholders involved.
Pauly visited Evanston on Aug. 2 to conduct additional research on Bobkiewicz’s current community by connecting with community members, council, staff and senior leadership.
Pauly She based her vetting process on other local cities’ processes. However, she added a few steps — a site visit and the Skype interviews.
“In my discussions with Wally over the last month, we have discussed allegations against the city of Evanston and himself that were covered in print and social media,” Pauly said in a statement. “I take allegations very seriously. During this search process, I have worked with our team to do our homework on each candidate, including comprehensive background checks.”
Pauly said allegations are not uncommon for executive level positions, and city settlements are not necessarily an admission of wrongdoing.
“I am confident in Wally’s background and decision making as a leader; commitment to leading a diverse and talented team; and passion for serving Issaquah,” she said.
Bobkiewicz’s first day at Issaquah City Hall is scheduled for Sept. 30.