Cary debates next village administrator's role

Updated 7/18/2011 5:12 AM

Depending who you ask, Cary is either suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or from a case of much ado about nothing.

Over the last couple of weeks, village board members have been debating whether to modify the ordinance that defines the role of the village administrator, a position that has been vacant since longtime Administrator Cameron Davis was dismissed in April.

Last month the board approved hiring a firm to conduct the search for a new administrator.

Should the next administrator continue to supervise and evaluate all department heads, as the ordinance states? Or should the administrator merely coordinate their work?

The answers differ greatly among board members.

"We need somebody that is a person that runs this town. I am absolutely not in support of terminology that says 'coordinating.' That person has to be a supervisor, it has to be a leader," Trustee Rick Dudek said at the board's administration and development committee meeting last week.

Trustee Raymond Chisholm agreed. "Someone day-to-day, hour-to-hour should say, 'You do this.' They don't always have time to call six trustees and a mayor or president and get the daily guidance."

But others believe the heads of the police, finance and public works departments, just like the administrator, should report directly to the board.

"In my mind, they are all on an equal plane, they are all running individual departments within our village," Trustee Karen Lukasik said.

Trustee Bruce Kaplan questioned why department heads report to trustees at village board meetings, but answer directly to the administrator otherwise.

Public Works Director Chris Papierniak, however, pointed out that the administrator shields village staff from the politics of the board.

"If the administrator is ignoring my grave concerns, I have to go to the board," he said. "But it's easier for me to report to one person as opposed to report to a political body."

The administrator's position is defined by ordinance within each municipality, unlike a city or village manager's position, which is defined by state statute, said Larry Frang, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League.

"The ordinance can say the administrator can fire or hire anybody except the police chief or ... anybody except the superintendent of streets, " Frang said. "It's whatever the ordinance says. The administrator's position might have very little power, it might have exactly the same power as a manager, or it could have more."

Usually, a city or village administrator has a supervisory role, said Dave Nord, president-elect of the Illinois City/County Management Association.

"The norm is the administrator will typically supervise the department heads, by organizing and directing and making sure everyone is carrying out their duties," Nord said.

"Those job descriptions will vary based on the needs of the community itself. If the council feels it needs someone with a particular set of skills to do a particular set of jobs, they will customize it," he said.

Some say the only reason Cary is having this debate is because of Davis' leadership style -- a decisive one, according to most.

"(Davis) absolutely ran this town with an iron fist," said resident Marshall Lowe, a trustee in the 1980s. "People in this town were definitely afraid of him, believe me."

Trustee Jeff Kraus said Davis "had too much control over everything."

Whatever opinions people may have of how Davis performed his job, the next administrator should continue to supervise the village's department heads, Village President Tom Kierna said.

"Regardless of what happened before, we have a clean slate. The previous administrator isn't here, you can't focus on the past," Kierna said. "The village board maintains supervisory responsibility over the village administrator. If the village isn't comfortable with this person handling their job responsibilities in the manner required, then it can sit down (with the administrator) to have a conversation to either correct the issue, or make a change."

Trustees Kraus and Robert Bragg agreed, saying the board must take hold of the village's reins going forward.

"It's a matter of the board being a little more assertive," Kraus said.

"We should be involved in all aspects of the village, not just sit back and say 'Yes,' " Bragg said.