DeKALB – DeKalb looked very different when Mark Biernacki began working for the city as its community development director in 1989.
Subdivisions such as the Knolls and the Bridges of Rivermist didn't exist. Sycamore Road had not yet become a major commercial corridor, and the city's industrial base was not as large.
"I think the landscape of the city, in terms of its development, has made the city and the community a much better place," Biernacki, who has been the city manager since 2004, said. "At that time in 1989 ... all those projects, all those residential opportunities, all those jobs ... did not exist. I am pleased to be a part of making all that happen."
Biernacki, 55, plans to retire June 14. At Monday's City Council meeting, aldermen will consider proposals from six different headhunting firms vying to conduct the search for Biernacki's replacement.
As the city manager, Biernacki manages the city staff and compiles recommendations from the staff and the public for the City Council. He also carries out the policies set by the council.
Biernacki often has wondered how he deals with those sometimes competing interests.
"I ask myself that question all the time," Biernacki said. "I don't think I can answer how one deals with it, other than constantly striving to seek out common themes in those various differing interests."
Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker praised Biernacki's ability to balance the different demands of the job. Baker was one of four aldermen who approved Biernacki's appointment.
"He has to keep everybody happy," Baker said. "He's the person who represents all of the management staff. ... He has to realize he works for the council, [which] is elected by the people ... and Mark has done an excellent job at keeping most of the people happy, most of the time."
With the election of a new mayor and a new City Council in April, Biernacki said he knew it was time to move on.
"At the same time, I see what I am walking away from," Biernacki said. "The various things we're working on [and] the people I work with, I'll really miss."
Born and raised in north suburban Glenview, Biernacki's first experience with DeKalb was as a college student at Northern Illinois University, where he studied urban-economic geography.
Biernacki's 33 years in local government have taken him across the country. His path began in 1980 as an intern for the city of Elgin, but his first full-time job was as county planner for DeKalb County, a position he held until 1983. He returned for his city job six years later.
Biernacki thought his background in planning and development was essential to his eventual appointment as city manager in 2004.
"I've always had a great affinity for DeKalb," Biernacki said. "It's been very good to me, both personally and professionally. The next logical step for me in my career path, after being a city planner or community director, was a city manager."
Biernacki's initial appointment was controversial. Some aldermen criticized the salary and severance package he was to receive, and his confirmation vote was 4-3.
Biernacki didn't take sole credit for any of the projects that have taken place during his tenure. He said there were many people involved every step of the way.
But DeKalb's economy bottomed out with the rest of the country's in the late 2000s. Biernacki said his focus switched from development to "economic survival for the city."
"Unfortunately, as the economy continued to deteriorate, and many local governments found themselves in this position, we had to resort to layoffs," Biernacki said. "That was probably the toughest time in my 33-year career was the time in which I had to tell people they no longer had a job.
"Of course, it's much tougher for them and what they and their families had to deal with, but it was a very trying time for a lot of people."
Both Baker and Mayor John Rey praised Biernacki for his leadership, especially during those bleak economic periods.
"Those were tough decisions to make," Rey said. "Were they not made, the city would have been forced into more dire financial straits."