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updated: 3/6/2013 3:05 PM

Staff retention divides Villa Park president candidates

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As former police chief John Heidelmeier runs for Villa Park village president, he's hearing concerns about how he would work with the staff members in place when he was shown the door last year.

Heidelmeier, who opposes Trustee Deborah Bullwinkel in the April 9 election, says he can work with anyone and he will retain staff members based on merit.

But Bullwinkel makes a stronger commitment to maintaining current staffing, saying key employees such as the village manager and economic development director have gotten Villa Park on the right path and should be with the village for the long haul.

Bullwinkel and Heidelmeier are seeking a 4-year term as village president to succeed Tom Cullerton, who is not running for re-election after winning election to the state Senate for the 23rd District.

While some are concerned Heidelmeier would move to fire Village Manager Richard Keehner, the former chief said that decision is beyond his power.

"There seems to be some concern that the village manager is going to get fired," Heidelmeier said about Keehner, who was hired in April 2011. "It needs to be understood that the village president can fire no one. The village board can do things, but the village president by himself can do nothing basically except lead the village the best he can from that position."

Bullwinkel, a 44-year-old self-employed communications consultant, said Villa Park's department heads have the right credentials and experience for their positions and are helping the village plan for its future, especially in the realm of economic and community development.

"I plan on maintaining the existing staff as we move forward," she said. "We have a good team in place -- a lot of synergy, a lot of chemistry, and we're on the right track. I can feel it."

Heidelmeier, 50, said he will not retain or dismiss staff automatically, but based on merit. He said he would expect all employees "to treat everyone with respect, fairness and kindness, period."

"I see that as something that will change with the staff," he said. "I'm not saying they're rude. There's problem employees everywhere. I would expect that of them."

He also said he would instruct employees to exceed resident expectations instead of just meeting them and to remember the village's success is in their own best interests. He said he instilled those values in police employees before he was removed from his job as chief last January by an agreement he said he cannot discuss.

"Much of the staff doesn't live in this town, but their personal futures and personal prosperity are tied to it," Heidelmeier said. "If Villa Park prospers, they prosper, their families prosper. You have to have them understand that."

If Bullwinkel wins election, she said she first will work to restore leadership and communication between the village president and trustees.

"There's a big gap right now between the president and the trustees, and it's been a challenge to navigate, but we persevere and we're still getting things done despite the challenge," Bullwinkel said. "The first thing I want to do is restore the leadership, and by doing that it will be restoring the communication flow."

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