Former Community and Economic Development Director Lehman Walker, who left Evanston in 2010 to take a position as city manager of University City, Missouri, is at the center of a Missouri lawsuit alleging a violation of the state's Sunshine Law when he was hired for that position.
Walker only worked in Evanston for a year, according to a 2010 blog post by Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. He had previously worked in University City as their Community Development Director.
The lawsuit, filed by University City residents, asks that Walker's appointment to city manager be voided, and that the City Council be found in violation of the Sunshine Law, a law requiring government agencies to do their work in public.
that the plaintiffs also want civil penalties assessed as well as reimbursement for attorneys fees and costs incurred in bringing the suit.
According to University City Patch, the plaintiffs allege city officials deceived residents about the city manager selection process, by announcing at the end of April of 2010 that a search was being conducted or would be conducted.
In a press release about the lawsuit, the plaintiffs said, "The city manager’s job was never posted or advertised as planned, no questionnaires were ever distributed to citizens, no search firm was ever contracted with and no search was ever conducted. No meeting was held seeking public input. The only candidate interviewed was Lehman Walker."
The plaintiffs obtained email correspondence from the City of Evanston between Walker and the current University City Mayor-Elect Shelley Welsch.
The email from Walker to Welsch is dated April 1, 2010, five days before Welsch was elected mayor. The email's subject line reads; Resume for Lehman Walker. The text states "Hello Shelley, As discussed. Lehman."
After the council voted to hire Walker on July 12, 2010, Welsch sent Walker an email at 6:42pm, which states "The deed is done. It went well."
Walker, whose hiring is at the center of the lawsuit, told University City Patch he had "no comment on pending litigation."
Click here to read the resume Walker submitted to University City officials.
In an email to University City Patch on Wednesday, Mayor Shelley Welsch defended the City's hiring of Walker.
She wrote,"Under the Charter of the City of University City, the City Council has the full authority in the hiring of the City Manager. Six members of this City Council voted to hire Mr. Walker as City Manager." Councilmember Terry Crow voted against offering Walker an employment contract.
In her email, Welsch said Walker has extensive experience in municipal government - "more experience than any previous City Manager had upon his/her hiring," she wrote. She said in Walker's first eight months in office, University City has been well served by him. She added the City "will continue to benefit from his expertise and professional approach to municipal management for years to come."
In a letter posted on the City's official website that's dated July 29, 2010, Mayor Welsch addressed the City's path to hiring Walker.
"The City Council chose to hire Mr. Walker without going through a national search. Although the Council had planned to do a national search, when we became aware of Mr. Walker’s strong interest in the job, and the equally strong support for him that existed on the Council, we realized he would rise to the top of any applicant pool," she wrote in that letter to residents.
She also said "We felt it was in the best interest of the City to truncate the search, to not spend the money and time the national search would involve."
Plaintiff Paulette Carr said the suit is intended to hold city officials accountable for their actions. “Mayor Shelley Welsch and the city council had the responsibility to select the best person for the city manager’s job and do so in a lawful manner. They failed to meet those responsibilities," Carr wrote.
The plaintiffs obtained copies of Walker's e-mails through a Freedom of Information request.
Residents wishing to read copies of the email exchanges can go to www.ucitycitizen.org.
Click here if you want to know more about Missouri's Sunshine Law.