New City Manager Appointed by Mayor
Sudden move to permanent position draws criticism.
In a move that was a surprise to at least one alderman, Mayor Martin Moylan appointed Michael Bartholomew to the position city manager during city council’s closed-door, executive session on Monday. Aldermen voted in favor of the appointment, 5-1, during the city council meeting, following the executive session. Patricia Haugeberg, first ward alderman, and Dan Wilson, seventh ward alderman, were not in attendance.
Jason Slowinski, acting city manager since 2010, announced last week he would leave his position in Des Plaines in order to take a village administrator position in Lake Zurich. His last day is April 20.
In a press release last week announcing Slowinski’s departure, Moylan said he would appoint Bartholomew, director of community and economic development, to be acting city manager. He said this would allow for several weeks of transition before Slowinski left so Des Plaines “will not miss a beat.”
Instead, Bartholomew was named city manager, a position that has not been filled since 2010, when the previous city manager was ousted, according to a report by Journal & Topics Newspapers.
James Brookman, fifth ward alderman, voted against the appointment because, he said, he had no forewarning it was going to be discussed that night.
“I think that we should have known ahead of time,” Brookman said. “I had no time really to think about it or consider it before the meeting or talk to anyone. I don’t have a copy of Mr. Bartholomew’s resume.”
Brookman said he thought Bartholomew was going to be appointed to acting city manager, and, with the sudden departure of Slowinski, that would be the appropriate thing to do.
“And I just think that jumping to making a decision of this magnitude, we thought about it for maybe an hour, I think is inappropriate,” Brookman said. “I think there should be consideration or discussion as to whether or not we should do a search for a city manager or not.”
Brookman said Slowinski had been acting city manager for two years and three months, and that had worked well.
“I don’t think there’s any need to make a sudden decision tonight to go to a permanent city manager in one meeting without the public knowing about it, or even the council before tonight,” Brookman said.
Brookman said he would like to see a survey that showed what other municipalities pay in terms of salary and benefits for such a position. He said Slowinski was making about $131,500 per year, and Bartholomew would make about $148,000 per year.
“Now that may be good or bad; I don’t know,” Brookman said. “But I don’t know how it compares to other cities.”
Brookman added there was no contract with Bartholomew, and discussion of the terms would take place after the appointment.
“I think this is backwards,” Brookman said.
In an interview with Patch, Moylan said he appointed Bartholomew without a search process because he didn’t want to cost taxpayers any undue expense.
“We know the history of Mr. Bartholomew, we’re not going to go out and find anyone better, and I’m going to save the residents much-needed money that we can use in other areas,” Moylan said.
Moylan said Bartholomew’s responsibilities as community and economic development director would be assumed by other staff, and the position would eventually be filled.
In an interview with Patch, Brookman said hiring a permanent city manager was a major decision, and wouldn’t assume a search would be just a waste of money.
“Finding the best candidate isn’t necessarily a waste of money,” Brookman said. “And I think it was a rush. There’s no reason to do this. There’s no reason to rush this through, and I think it’s a mistake.”
Bartholomew was assistant city manager in Sterling Heights, Michigan from 2007 to 2010, when he took the position of community and economic development director in Des Plaines. He said he had more than 30 years in local government.
When asked if he had a vision for Des Plaines, Bartholomew said it was a little premature to get into that, and he wanted to continue building on the work Slowinski had done. He said, while it was unfortunate the city was losing Slowinski, his immediate appointment would lead to a stable transition.
“I think it was important for city council to act quickly and make a decision so there wasn’t a lot of limbo, a lot of questions in the residents’ minds of what was going to happen moving forward,” Bartholomew said. “So I think they made a responsible decision.”