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Local News

Jones sails away after turbulent year as Joliet's second interim city manager

Steve Jones this week was still sipping coffee from his Mortimer Snerd mug, something he picked up months ago after one of his critics compared him to the dopey ventriloquist's dummy of yesteryear.

It's the sort of unflappable response that probably maddened his critics even more as Jones served as interim city manager with the self-assurance he could always walk away, an option he exercised Friday.

"I was not operating in a situation that I needed to be here," Jones said. "My kids are out of college. My house is almost paid for."

That would be the house in La Grange Park – another piece of ammunition for critics on the City Council and off who would point out that Jones did not live in Joliet.

Anyway, Jones is gone now.

He's sailing off into the sunset literally.

An avid boater, Jones' immediate plans after leaving the turbulent city manager's office at Joliet City Hall is to take it easy on Lake Michigan.

"My goal is to sail until October – the end of the sailing season," he said.

Jones had been the upbeat and generally liked economic development director serving a dual role as deputy city manager before he was put into the city manager's office in June 2019 after the controversial removal of Marty Shanahan, a move that has divided the City Council ever since.

Jones had tried to avoid the interim city manager job. Once he got it, he urged the council to find someone permanent, so he wouldn't need to say stay long. Once it became evident that the divided council wasn't going to decide on a city manager, he offered to stay until after the April election when the results could determine the future of the office.

Then, Jones announced a month ago that he would leave Aug. 7.

"You do what you can," Jones said of his decision to leave. "What's the old definition of insanity? You do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. If you keep getting the same results, you look at making a change."

Jones would not talk specifically about the people on the council with whom he was at odds.

But he and Mayor Bob O'Dekirk did not get along.

And the council minority that joined O'Dekirk in their opposition to giving Jones the job in the first place was often critical as well.

Meanwhile, the council majority, rarely supported Jones when he faced criticism.

Jones said he stayed as long as he did because of respect for his colleagues in city government.

"Joliet city government has a very professional staff that has a good sense of where the community needs to go in the future," he said. "At the same time, we have challenges from a lack of political leadership and the occasional ethical forays that distract us from our goals."

He wouldn't name names.

Whether that was a shot at the mayor or not, Jones would not say, although Jones pointed to a few incidents involving O'Dekirk in a resignation letter he gave to the council.

O'Dekirk, meanwhile, on Thursday made his own oblique reference – apparently to Jones – as he spoke highly of incoming interim City Manager Jim Hock, who previously was Joliet's city manager.

"I worked with him (Hock) for two years as mayor," O'Dekirk said. "Never did I find he was dishonest or lying to me. It will be good to have him back now."

The council vote for Hock on Thursday was unanimous

Councilman Larry Hug, another one of Jones' critics, noted that Hock was suspending his pension and not "double dipping."

Hug and O'Dekirk occasionally would point out that the council majority gave Jones a contract in March that allowed him to work for the city after retiring as an employee, thus collecting a pension while also earning a paycheck.

Jones said he plans to keep working in some capacity, probably as a consultant, after his excursion on the lake.

"I'm going to be doing something," he said. "I'm not going to retire. I've already had someone reach out to me."

As for Joliet, he said, "It's an incredibly diverse city that has a lot of influence and power because of its size. The potential here is just outstanding."

At the same time, Jones said, he's found in Joliet what he calls "an inward cynicism, an inward criticalness unlike any other community I've worked in."

Jones was a city or village manager in six other towns before coming to Joliet.

"If people focus on the negative, it's never going to be a great city," Jones said. "I think there's got to be more community engagement. I think people need to stand up and be leaders."

Hock will be Joliet's third interim city manager since the last permanent city manager, David Hales, left in October 2018 with a buyout after less than a year on the job.

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