Sporting a nearly all-female leadership team, Hawthorn Woods is an anomaly in Lake County.
Women now occupy four of the five top administrative spots (a sixth remains unfilled for now) in a town that touts its rural character. A converted barn is used as the village hall and 20 full-time workers serve about 7,500 residents.
"I'm a token," jokes Public Works Director James Maiworm, fresh from a staff meeting at village hall. "It's fun, actually. This is the first time I've worked with all women. We tend to laugh a lot more."
Visitors shouldn't be fooled by the loose atmosphere. The ensemble operates with a tangible sense of unity and purpose where a sometimes manic pace can stretch well into the evening and resume early the next day.
The mission is to rebuild from the foundation up how Hawthorn Woods' government operates and what services it provides to residents.
"Some trustees were concerned there might be competition among females," said Pam Newton, a former Lake County Board member hired last June as chief operating officer. "Just the opposite has happened. We're unified as a team."
Newton is one of only two female village managers in Lake County.
Hawthorn Woods' roster also includes: Jennifer Paulus, the only female police chief in the county; Donna Lobaito, chief administrative officer; and, Kristin Kazenas, chief financial officer.
The titles are evidence of the government's goal to operate as a business, a clear directive from a new administration elected last spring.
"The new hires were hired not because they were female, but because they were the absolute best applicants we had," Mayor Joe Mancino said. "They really, really bonded. Because they are all female, there's a tremendous support structure not only professionally but personally."
During Newton's tenure, the village staff has been reorganized with everyone offered new positions; a police contract settled; a golf driving range planned and approved; and, permits secured to install utilities along Midlothian Road in advance of establishing a commercial corridor.
In the midst of that heavy lifting, top staffers know it's OK to work from home if their child is sick, for example. Bringing a child to work isn't out of the question either.
All employees meet as a group once a week, as do department heads. All went to Newton's house for a holiday party.
"We have really expanded from being family friendly to being family supportive. There's a big difference," Newton said.
Lobaito is the veteran having started part-time in the village's highway department 20 years ago. She has served six village administrators, with Newton being the fourth in five years.
Paulus has been with the village 11 years, the last five as chief.
"It's been a welcome change," she said of the apparent shift in attitude. "The first thing I learned from Pam is it doesn't cost anything to smile. It comes from the top down."
Kazenas, who started Jan. 1, regards the Hawthorn Woods post as a chance to make a difference. For the previous 12 years, she had been employed as a consultant, including twice a week in the village.
"When you're a consultant, you're the Band-Aid. There's a problem," she said. "You never get to see the result of your efforts."
While their association happened as a coincidence, the women in power positions in Hawthorn Woods don't regard themselves as having anything special to prove. There is a different kind of incentive.
"We are vested in each other's success," Kazenas said.
Mancino agreed there is a unique bond and working relationship among the chiefs.
"You walk in unannounced and you'll see the same type of cooperation, the same type of enthusiasm," he said.
"I call them the 'Fab Four'. They get a kick out of it."
According to the Illinois City/County Management Association, 25 of 231 or about 11 percent of its managers and administrators are women.
Ghida Neukirch, deputy village manager in Buffalo Grove, is a mentor in Northern Illinois University's program for female students with masters degrees in public administration.
According to Neukirch, many people, including herself, think men could equally benefit, and the program shouldn't be limited to women.
"We don't want to be looked at differently," she said.
Neukirch also is involved with an informal group known as Women In Government. Formed about a year ago, it draws about 15 female municipal executives for a monthly lunch and has an e-mail list of about 35.
Newton said developers or others doing business with the village have sometimes done a double-take when seeing the all-female team.
"They come in a little concerned but when they're finished, they're absolutely assured we know what we're talking about," she said.
All have multiple responsibilities: Paulus as emergency management coordinator; Lobaito as village clerk and head of the building department; Newton as interim parks and recreation director and head of economic development; and, Kazenas as human resources director.
"It's a great environment," said Dan Thake, the village's most recent hire as code enforcement officer about a month ago. "There's nothing that can't be done with hard work, planning and good leadership. It's all here."
There are other touches like wooden blinds, candles and art on the walls. A small room at the entrance to the village offices is being remodeled as a more user-friendly public space.
Newton and the others say hospitality should be the signature of the community.
"Come stop in and have a cup of coffee. That's who we are," she said.