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updated: 9/2/2014 5:12 PM

DuPage forest board may have violated law in hiring executive director

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  • John Lapinski

      John Lapinski

  • Jean Kaczmarek

      Jean Kaczmarek

 
 

DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners will vote again next week to hire John Lapinski as executive director after a resident questioned the legality of their original action.

Commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 19 to name Lapinski executive director -- the same day they announced Arnie Biondo was stepping down from the top administrative post.

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But Jean Kaczmarek, who is hoping to replace retiring county Clerk Gary King in the November election, told commissioners Tuesday the Aug. 19 vote may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The Glen Ellyn Democrat said proposed compensation packages of $150,000 a year or more must be advertised six days in advance. Information about Lapinski's contract wasn't available to the public before the Aug. 19 meeting.

"I'm not an attorney, so I cannot determine if the letter of the law was followed," said Kaczmarek, who will face Paul Hinds, King's chief deputy, during the general election. "I do know the Illinois (Attorney General's) office takes spirit and intent seriously when it comes to open government."

After the meeting, officials conceded Kaczmarek's claim is correct.

"I think she had a point," Commissioner Tim Whelan said.

So the board agreed to have a special meeting next week to take another vote on Lapinski's contract.

Lapinski, who is the trial court administrator for DuPage County's chief judge, already has signed a three-year contract that will pay him $160,000 a year.

Whelan said the board doesn't want there to be any question about the legality of the contract.

"So we're just going to do it over," he said.

Meanwhile, Lapinski's first day with the forest preserve district is scheduled to be on Oct. 1. The 53-year-old Oak Brook resident will replace Biondo, who took early retirement after commissioners made it clear he no longer was wanted after less than eight months on the job.

Kaczmarek said she's pleased commissioners are taking another vote.

"It seems like a good opportunity to re-evaluate their entire hiring process, especially when it involves a position with high responsibility, high salary and high pension," she said.

It's unlikely the board will change its collective mind about Lapinski.

Commissioner Shannon Burns confirmed Tuesday the board parted ways with Biondo because he wasn't moving quickly enough to implement a series of proposals for the district.

"What he was able to do and what we needed were not meshing," she said.

Burns said the district needs an administrator who can get things done. "We have systems that need to get in place fast," she said.

She said commissioners were so determined to move forward that they didn't want to wait until after the November election to replace Biondo.

"The feeling of the entire board was we can't afford to wait," said Burns, who is seeking re-election. "If it makes us look bad right before the election, that's too bad. We can't wait 90 days."

The vote to hire Lapinski was made after he was recommended by Commissioner Joseph Cantore, who is running unopposed to become the next district president.

Burns said she decided to support Lapinski's hiring because she met privately with him for two hours and was impressed.

"This guy may be a strong Republican," said Burns, who is the only Democrat on the board, "but the truth is he's also somebody who can do the job. And that's what we need."

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