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updated: 8/5/2014 5:59 PM

DuPage forest preserve director may be on way out

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  • DuPage Forest Preserve District Executive Director Arnie Biondo has been placed on paid leave while he and the district evaluate his employment options, officials said Tuesday.

       DuPage Forest Preserve District Executive Director Arnie Biondo has been placed on paid leave while he and the district evaluate his employment options, officials said Tuesday.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer/January 2014

 
 

Arnie Biondo's tenure as executive director of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District is in jeopardy just eight months after it began.

Forest preserve commissioners met behind closed doors for roughly three hours Tuesday before emerging to announce Biondo has been placed on paid leave.

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They said in a written statement that Biondo and the district are "evaluating employment options" and details will be made public within two weeks.

Biondo, who signed a three-year contract in December that pays $188,000 annually, was placed on leave Monday, officials said.

"Arnie is going to be making some decisions about his relationship with the board," Commissioner Tim Whelan said. "We've given him some options. So we're asking him to make a decision with regard to those options."

The announcement came after the search firm that found Biondo asked commissioners to evaluate his performance. The results of that survey haven't been released.

"I think some of the comments commissioners may have made may have driven this," Whelan said. "I don't know."

Biondo could not be reached for comment.

According to his contract, Biondo can be terminated without cause by the forest preserve commission. If that happens, the district would have to pay him severance equal to one year of his salary along with one year of medical insurance or an amount equal to the cost of one year of medical insurance premiums.

Biondo, who was 60 when he officially assumed his duties Jan. 13, came to the forest preserve district after serving as executive director of the Carol Stream Park District since 1995. He replaced Brent Manning, who stepped down in June 2012 citing health and family concerns.

As executive director of the district, Biondo helps oversee 60 preserves covering roughly 25,000 acres with 145 miles of trails and five education centers.

Tuesday's announcement comes at a time when the district's top management team already is in flux. Longtime commission President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. is retiring following the November election after 20 years at the helm. He'll be replaced by Commissioner Joseph Cantore, who is running unopposed for the post.

Pierotti and Cantore didn't return telephone messages on Tuesday.

Forest preserve officials said they selected Biondo after a nationwide search that began in June 2013. More than 100 people from across the country applied, they said, and two finalists were interviewed by commissioners.

At the time of his hiring in December, Biondo told the Daily Herald his role would be to help commissioners put their vision for the district into action. He said he would give the district's roughly 300 employees plenty of freedom to do their jobs and encourage innovation.

But in late June, the district agreed to offer early retirement packages to about 65 eligible employees who are 50 and older and have at least 20 years of service credit with the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. Officials estimated the district could cut its annual operating cost by roughly $1 million if just 26 employees retired early.

At that time, Pierotti said the program was a tool that could be used to change the district's operational structure and would enable the executive director and commissioners "to redesign and streamline the entire workforce."

The early retirement proposal was developed after Biondo and other senior staff members considered ways to reduce costs and enhance the district's long-term financial outlook, Pierotti said.

In its one paragraph statement concerning Biondo's situation, the commission said the community "can be assured that there will be no break in the continuity of services or operations."

Sue Olafson, forest preserve spokeswoman, said the district won't release additional information until Biondo's employment options have been evaluated.

"We acknowledge there are a lot of questions," Olafson said. "But this is a personnel matter. We are not able to address it any further."

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