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Black History Month Spotlight: Mike Pegues, CIO Aurora, IL.

This month at Zencity we’re celebrating the Black civic leaders we have the honor to work with on a daily basis.  

Mike Pegues is only heading into his fourth year in the public sector but he’s already a legend and one of the best-known CIOs in the local government space. It’s true, he has an incredibly rich career behind him – with almost two decades in the private sector and the U.S. Department of Defense – so he did come in with a certain cache. But it goes beyond that. It’s his deep and strategic vision for the City of Aurora’s IT Department which translates into Mike having a hand in solving a large chunk of the problems that come across the Mayor’s desk – even those we don’t traditionally think of as tech “problems”. “Technology is built into everything,” he explains.

Mike also puts a lot of pressure on himself: “There are a lot of uses with technology, and as a CIO in the IT field at my level, where there are probably less than 3% Black executives that fall into this role, I feel that I have a duty to do that much more to drive social impact, to drive purpose. For me it’s not just a job, it’s personal.”

And in fact, Mike’s move from the private sector to the City of Aurora was very personal. When Mayor Irvin was running for his third re-election, he asked Mike – whom he had grown up and served in the military with – if he would join his team. “He told me, ‘we have a purpose being young African Americans to be role models in our community,’” and that’s exactly what Mike Pegues, who grew up in Aurora, has been doing since he joined the Mayor’s team in 2017: serving with purpose and role modeling leadership and change.

“One of the things I’m focused on is conquering the digital divide. How can we bring high-speed, affordable internet access to disenfranchised communities? I grew up here as a young African American. I didn’t have specific opportunities handed to me, I had to go and find mine. But for some of these kids, we can provide opportunities and a pathway by addressing a multitude of different issues – social equity, social injustice, how technology is used, how minorities are disproportionately negatively impacted by the use of technology – these are some of the things I’m working on and thinking about.”

Mike is working on some of the toughest and most sensitive issues of the day – and showing us exactly how important it is not to forget the role of tech. For example? Right now he’s deeply immersed in the City’s RFP around police body-worn cameras.

“I am directly involved and looking at it from a technology perspective and asking – how can we make sure that certain requirements are met when the City is evaluating and selecting this technology. Recently, with social injustice and body cams we’ve seen a ‘this happened and the body cam just happened to be off.’ There are vendors that offer a set up so they can record after the fact – so my job is to ensure that’s a requirement in our RFP. It’s about looking to see how I can be involved with that – in a way that supports the City, the Police Department, the community, and the Mayor’s vision overall.”

Under Mike’s leadership, Aurora’s Smart City program is paving the way forward and broadening the important role a classic city IT department can play in some of the most important issues of today. Mike does this with personal drive and passion and with business savvy.

“For the City of Aurora, we have our mission to provide smart city solutions and services to our city government, to our residents, to our businesses – but how we do that is as a strategic IT business partner for the City. We look at it from the perspective that it’s not just about the technical aspect – it’s how we translate that into business outcomes for the city and fulfilling the Mayor’s vision and purpose.”

It never actually occurred to Mike to join the ranks of local government – even though he spent many years in Federal government – before Mayor Irvin reached out to him. But now that he’s here – and especially with everything that’s happened in the US over the past year – he knows it’s an excellent and maybe one of the best ways to give back and affect change. Whether you’re a citizen, a business, a university – Mike is not only certain that there’s a way to get involved in your local government, he also feels it’s “incumbent to get involved because that’s what makes a difference.”

“We just witnessed this with the elections,” he explains. “Look what happened to Georgia. It flipped because of one person who came in, made a difference locally, got out there grassroots style, said we’re gonna change this, we’re gonna make a difference.” Mike is talking about the work of Stacey Abrams – who he deeply respects and credits for impacting the outcome of the US election on a national level and in the Senate. Stacey, he says, “is a real-life example of how getting involved in local government can make a difference.” His call to action and words of advice:

“You don’t necessarily have to be on the board – but you can. You can be on committees, you can join different neighborhood groups, you can get involved in the city council meetings which are public – talking about different topics and issues. Get involved. I’m sure there’s something there for you and that every individual can find their place.”

Despite only being in the job for a short period of time, Mike has made unparalleled contributions in his role as CIO, in advancing technological innovation and leading an era of cultural transformation to the benefit of community elevation. Mike is an absolute philanthropist, who is undoubtedly sewing a timely legacy as a humanitarian and champion of change.

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