DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners ended two weeks of speculation on Executive Director Arnie Biondo's employment status by naming his replacement Tuesday.
John Lapinski, 53, the trial court administrator for DuPage County's chief judge, has signed a three-year contract that will pay him $160,000 a year, officials said. He will assume his new duties on Oct. 1.
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Biondo, who signed a three-year contract in December with a $188,000 annual salary, will take advantage of the early retirement program he helped implement a few months ago.
"Our previous executive director, Arnie Biondo, took it upon himself and made the decision to avail himself of the early retirement program, and he is going to take that next step in his life," DuPage County forest preserve President Dewey Pierotti said.
Biondo's retirement is effective Sept. 2. He has been on paid leave for the past several weeks and will remain so until his departure date. District spokeswoman Susan Olafson said the exact worth of Biondo's retirement package has not yet been determined.
He'll be getting his retirement through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, she said, "so that's all he'll be receiving. There are a host of considerations before IMRF provides us with a final calculation."
Neither Lapinski nor Biondo attended Tuesday's meeting.
Biondo's departure comes just weeks after the search firm that found him asked commissioners to evaluate his performance. The results of that survey haven't been released, but not everyone was happy with his performance.
"It was just a matter of him not meeting the expectations of everybody on the board. Luckily we had created that early retirement program so that he was one of the people who would have fallen into that category, so that's what he chose to do," said Commissioner Tim Whelan. "I'm not sure anything went wrong. It just didn't work out in terms of what he wanted to see done and what the board wanted to see done."
Commissioner Joe Cantore stuck to a more concise script.
"Arnie elected to take the early retirement, and that's it," he said. "Am I disappointed? No. It wasn't my decision, so I have no reason to be disappointed."
Commissioner Shannon Burns, despite having just voted to approve Biondo's retirement and Lapinski's hiring, had nothing to say.
"You're catching me completely off guard," she said as she exited the board room. "I'm just not prepared to say anything right now."
Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli said she was not commenting on any personnel moves.
"I am strictly looking forward to Oct. 1 and continuing improvements at the district," she said. "Arnie laid a good foundation by getting the early retirement incentive up and running. He also pulled together our capital improvement plan and got us moving along with our strategic plan."
Biondo, who was 60 when he 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 retired in June 2012.
As executive director of the district, Biondo helped oversee 60 preserves covering roughly 25,000 acres with 145 miles of trails and five education centers.
In late June, the district -- at least in part at Biondo's urging -- 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 costs by roughly $1 million if 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.
The early retirement program takes effect Aug. 31, officials said, just two days before Biondo officially steps down.