Sean Stegall was one of the youngest city managers in the country when he was hired by the City of Elgin in 2009.
Seven years later, Stegall, 43, will become Cary’s new town manager this summer, bringing with him about 20 years of experience in municipal management. He will replace longtime Town Manager Ben Shivar, who retired Sept. 30.
“Cary has always represented something special to me,” Stegall said Tuesday. “It represented a dream job. It really is the opportunity of a lifetime for me.”
The Cary Town Council unanimously approved his hiring May 26 after going through a lengthy selection process, which generated more than 80 applications over two searches.
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His first day will be Aug. 4, and his salary will be $210,000. Stegall will relocate to the Triangle with his wife, Michele, and 9-year-old daughter, Emma, later this summer.
Stegall, originally from Galesburg, Ill., previously worked as assistant city manager in Batavia, N.Y., before joining the City of Elgin staff in 2000. He was Elgin’s assistant manager for nearly nine years.
Stegall attributes his accelerated movement through the ranks of local government to good mentors, hard work and knowing at a young age that he wanted to pursue a career in public service.
“I just knew that I wanted to serve the public,” he said.
In his role as manager, Stegall said, he strives to be a mentor and leader, just like those who helped him achieve his goals.
“I am very passionate about that, because that is paying it forward. That is giving back what I’ve been given,” he said. “That is one of the hallmarks of the city management profession.”
Serving the public
The City of Elgin – the eighth largest municipality in Illinois – is about 35 miles northwest of Chicago and has about 111,000 residents, or about 70 percent the population of Cary. It has a median household income of $59,832, compared to Cary’s $91,481, according to 2014 Census data.
During his tenure, Stegall helped guide the city through the recession by reshaping the organization with fewer people and an emphasis on technology.
In particular, he created the town’s 311 program, a centralized contact center designed to more efficiently respond to requests and inquiries from residents, visitors and businesses.
“The most rewarding part has been seeing ... (our staff) flourish and our performance continue to go up with less people, less resources, because of how we have embraced new tools and technologies,” Stegall said.
Stegall also assisted in relieving an over-reliance on property taxes by helping come up with new revenue streams and ultimately lowering the property tax rate.
“Sean is a very personable guy,” Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said. “I think he drills into issues. He’s certainly strong on finance and budget.
“I feel a great loss for our city because I think Sean has done a very good job here, and he’s learned the things that he needed to learn.”
A shared vision
Although Stegall will not start his new position for another few months, he is no stranger to Cary.
He has stopped in Cary every year for the last 15 years on the way to visit family in Emerald Isle. He always stops for pizza at Mellow Mushroom.
Stegall even arrived in Cary a day before his second interview to learn more about the town. He said he observed a well-planned municipality with multiple generations of residents.
“I wanted to see and feel Cary up close,” he said. “I was stopping in a lot of businesses and just walking around and taking Cary in, so to speak.”
He also has become well acquainted with Cary’s nationwide reputation. He said he has even received notes from other city managers in Illinois congratulating him on landing a position in a top-notch municipality.
“It just shows how Cary’s reputation has gone well beyond the borders of North Carolina,” Stegall said.
While Elgin is still building and creating much of what Cary already has, Stegall said, the challenge in Cary will be to continue to let the town evolve while maintaining its small-town character.
“I think when it comes to Cary, it’s success can never be taken for granted, and that’s what impressed me so much about the Town Council,” he said.
Members of the Cary Town Council said they also are looking forward to Stegall bringing an infusion of new ideas to the community. Many said they don’t want to rest on the town’s laurels but hope to continue to strive for excellence.
“There’s always room for growth, and that’s the opportunity that I think he brings to the Town of Cary,” councilwoman Lori Bush said.
Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said Stegall stood out to the council during his second interview.
“He really shined,” Weinbrecht said May 26. “You could really see his people skills and how warm he is as a person, and I think that resonated with me how he would fit so well with Cary’s staff.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon