New DuPage forest preserve leader looks to shape district's direction

Posted12/12/2013 5:11 AM
  • Arnie Biondo has been named executive director of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District. He will assume his new duties in January.

      Arnie Biondo has been named executive director of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District. He will assume his new duties in January. Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Arnie Biondo was the one person DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners unanimously agreed should become the district's next executive director.

Now that he has the job, some say his biggest challenge will be to get the commissioners to see eye to eye on other major decisions.

"You can't have six elected officials going in different directions and be successful," said forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti, who described the sitting board as fragmented. "That's the hardest part of his job. He's going to have to get this board to start thinking as a unit."

Biondo, who currently serves as executive director of the Carol Stream Park District, says he's no stranger to working with politically divided boards.

Chatting with the Daily Herald a day after his hiring, Biondo said his focus when he starts with the forest preserve on Jan. 13 will be to ensure he and the board are "heading in the same direction."

"My key role is taking the vision of the forest preserve board and helping to put that into action," Biondo said.

He said he's aware of the political situation on the board, which has two commissioners -- Mary Lou Wehrli of Naperville and Joe Cantore of Oak Brook -- running for the district's presidency in the March 18 Republican primary to replace Pierotti, who is retiring.

One way the district hopes to develop a common direction is by putting together a strategic plan next year. The process will cover issues such as what programs and services the district should provide and whether it should expand its land holdings.

With 60 preserves covering roughly 25,000 acres, Biondo said the district has done a great job acquiring land. But because the amount of available land in DuPage is limited, he said, the district likely will need to focus on acquiring properties that expand existing preserves.

"There might be a 2-acre parcel that the forest preserve would jump at buying because it's going to give a buffer to a waterway," he said.

Biondo also talked about creating partnerships with park districts throughout DuPage to promote forest preserve programs.

"That gives us an opportunity to get some of these programs and services we're already doing to reach more people," he said.

When asked about his management style, Biondo said he believes in hiring good people and staying out of their way. He said he wants to help the district's administrative staff members realize their potential.

"There are not many people here who need me to hold their hands," he said.

At the same time, he plans to encourage innovation.

"You have to continually innovate and make sure you're doing things the best way they can be done," he said.

The 60-year-old Biondo has served as executive director of the Carol Stream Park District since 1995. During that time, the district received two National Gold Medal Awards for excellence from the National Recreation and Parks Association.

Biondo admits it will be bittersweet to leave Carol Stream.

"I have been there almost a third of my life," he said. "But I am comfortable in knowing that we have a really good senior leadership team. They know their stuff and the board has confidence in them. I have a lot of confidence in them. So I don't think they are going to skip a beat."

Carol Stream park board members are expected to meet Monday to discuss how they'll find his replacement.

As for Biondo, he said he always wanted to work on the conservation side of the parks and recreation field. With his first day at the forest preserve about a month away, he said he's going to spend time meeting district staff and bringing himself up to speed.

"I will be doing a lot of reading," he said.

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