Email exchanges show little tension between forest commission, director
Email exchanges during the five weeks before Arnie Biondo was dismissed as executive director of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District show no obvious signs of tension between Biondo and the commissioners who let him go.
The 331 pages of emails, obtained by the Daily Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request, are exchanges Biondo had with members of the six-member forest preserve commission between June 30 and Aug. 5, the day the board announced Biondo had been placed on paid leave.
Biondo, who signed a three-year contract in December, was given the option to either retire early or be terminated without cause. He decided to take early retirement and will step down Sept. 2 after less than eight months on the job.
Following a search that took less than two weeks, commissioners selected John Lapinski to replace Biondo. Lapinski is scheduled to start Oct. 1.
During an interview this week with the Daily Herald, Biondo said he was surprised to learn the board was moving in a different direction.
"If the board had any issue with what I was doing, they did not communicate that to me," said Biondo, who came to the district after serving as executive director of the Carol Stream Park District.
In his emails, Biondo kept commissioners informed about a variety of topics, including ongoing projects, state grants, meeting dates and the employee summer picnic. He also did a weekly informational memo for the board.
Almost all the emails commissioners sent to Biondo dealt with how to resolve issues and complaints from residents. The commissioners who emailed Biondo the most were Mary Lou Wehrli and Shannon Burns.
Some officials have said Biondo's ouster came because he wasn't moving quickly enough on several proposed structural changes to the district, including reducing the size of the administrative staff. Part of the plan was to have the district participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund's early retirement program.
While Biondo acknowledges the board wanted the reorganization completed sooner, that issue wasn't mentioned in the emails provided to the Daily Herald (although some portions of some communications were redacted).
When commissioners did complain in an email, it was to express disappointment over how certain situations were handled.
Burns, for example, sent a July 22 email to Biondo after a Warrenville resident complained about the noise caused by crews doing weekend demolition work on land purchased by the district.
"There's no reason why it continues to happen," said Burns, who directed Biondo to get an apology to the resident.
Three days later, Commissioner Tim Whelan sent an email to Biondo complaining about not being notified about an effort to unionize the district's rangers. Forest preserve police already are represented by a union.
Biondo, who was on vacation at the time, responded on July 28 by saying the union effort was "hearsay" on the day he left.
On Aug. 4 -- one day after returning from vacation -- Biondo received a letter from the board informing him his services no longer were needed.
The next day, at 5:48 a.m., Biondo received an email from Whelan asking him to call before attending that morning's forest preserve commission meeting.
Two hours later, at 7:49 a.m., Biondo sent an email to his secretary and commission President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. It read: "I'll be out indefinitely tending to some personal issues. Thanks."
The Aug. 5 announcement that Biondo was on paid leave came after the search firm that found him asked commissioners in late May to evaluate his performance.
The Daily Herald asked for the results of that survey through the Freedom of Information Act, but the district denied the request.
Biondo said the survey results were largely positive about his performance.
"In so many words, it said, 'Things are going great,'" Biondo said. "'Keep up the good work. Speed up things a little bit (with the restructuring).'"