While the community was able to virtually meet the three original Oak Park village manager finalists, Kevin Jackson’s late arrival prevented him from participating in a public forum. Now that his appointment to the post is expected to be approved by the village board Feb. 22, after Wednesday Journal’s print deadline, Jackson is excited to introduce himself.
A father of three daughters and the husband of a public-school teacher, Jackson said he was drawn to Oak Park for its family-oriented nature and its status as a multicultural community. That diversity will soon be reflected in the upper echelons of village administration as Jackson will be the first Black person to take up the mantle of village manager.
“It’s really exciting and amazing to be part of a historic milestone for the community,” he said. “Not many of us across the country are at this level, managing cities.”
Jackson said the achievement is likewise significant for him, as it is the first time in his long career that he will be in the top leadership post of a municipality. Becoming Oak Park’s highest-ranking administrative official is also momentous to Jackson for more personal reasons.
“I grew up very poor in a single-parent household. It’s a very unique moment for me, just given my upbringing,” he said. “It’s actually pretty magical.”
Before becoming a government official, Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology and a master’s in public administration both from Arizona State University. His career in government began in 1997 when he served as a project management assistant for the city of Phoenix. In 2002, he left Phoenix for its neighbor, the city of Glendale, where he worked as the neighborhood partnership administrator. Jackson then went on to spend nine years in Central Illinois as the city of Champaign’s neighborhood services director before becoming deputy city manager in Long Beach, California – his most recent post.
While in Champaign, a substantial portion of his time as neighborhood partnership administrator was spent bringing affordable housing to the city through public and private partnerships. Jackson expanded city contracting opportunities for small, women-owned and minority-owned companies. He enhanced code enforcement strategies, including developing the nuisance vacant structures ordinance to address derelict and abandoned structures.
Jackson also facilitated the inclusive redevelopment of the Bristol Place Neighborhood, a privately and publicly funded venture to revamp an area of Champaign blighted by crime and disinvestment.
“The whole idea of the redevelopment was economic empowerment,” said Jackson. “People were disadvantaged.”
The project included the construction of 64 single-family homes and 26 townhomes. A senior housing development is also in the works. The entire redevelopment area was about 100 acres, according to Jackson.
“For each one of the subdivisions in that larger redevelopment area, we had a plan for addressing various issues,” said Jackson. “One was a mobile home park and we wanted to make sure that we get a shelter for severe weather protection for the residents of that area.”
That led to the construction of an emergency family shelter. Jackson’s team also worked with the park district and the Boys and Girls Club to build a recreation center there.
The multi-million-dollar project, which Jackson called “complex” and “controversial,” has spanned roughly 12 years. Jackson left Champaign in 2017, so he was not there when the first round of residents moved into the neighborhood in 2020.
He said he still has strong relationships with the team of individuals continuing to redevelop Bristol Park. While a representative from the city of Champaign confirmed the extensive amount of work Jackson accomplished during his time as director of neighborhood services, Champaign city officials were unable to comment directly about their former colleague.
As deputy city manager of Long Beach, Jackson managed the U.S. Census, which coincided with statewide independent redistricting in 2021. As Long Beach prepared to have its city council boundaries redrawn, Jackson was working to engage the community and city staff in census planning and the recruitment efforts to mobilize a charter commission to lead the redistricting.
“We actually became the example for the rest of California,” he said. “They’re still talking about the kind of work we did here.”
He also oversaw an independent study of the city’s citizen police complaint commission. The commission had been put into place by city charter about 30 years ago and had never been evaluated up until that point, according to Jackson. Wednesday Journal has reached out to the city of Long Beach for confirmation.
The intensive nature of redistricting and evaluating the city’s citizen police oversight model actually prevented Jackson from formally applying for the Oak Park job, although he was interested in it.
“I just didn’t have the bandwidth to get into the process,” he said.
After the first of the year, he checked back in with GovHR, the village’s recruitment firm for the village manager search, to see whether the position had been filled. He departed from his post as deputy city manager of Long Beach Jan. 3 for reasons he did not disclose.
“When I got a call that there was a willingness to look at me [as a candidate], I was pleasantly surprised,” he said.
While there were three original finalists at the time Jackson was being considered, his work experience is what ultimately led the village board to offer him the position, according to Village President Vicki Scaman. Interim Village Manager Lisa Shelley, one of the finalists, will be staying on as deputy village manager.
Jackson’s expected start date as village manager is March 21, but he will be in Oak Park sooner. His family will join him in June when the school year ends. Jackson’s wife intends to find a teaching job in Oak Park public schools, where their daughters will attend. The family is excited for the move, especially Jackson’s two youngest.
“They reminded us, when we were talking about this, that Gianna was born in Illinois,” said Jackson. “And Leila, who was two when we moved to Illinois, was like, ‘This is really just like going home.’”