DuPage forest commission hires executive director -- again
DuPage County Forest Preserve District commissioners voted Tuesday to hire John Lapinski as executive director.
The commission had voted unanimously on Aug. 19 to hire Lapinski to replace Arnie Biondo, but was forced to take a second vote after a resident questioned the legality of the original proceedings.
This time around, Lapinski still got the job, but the vote wasn't unanimous.
Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she didn't support what she felt was an unfair and secretive process to select a new director after Biondo agreed to step down from the position and take early retirement effective Sept. 2.
"It is not just about bringing in someone at the top," Wehrli said. "It is also about how we as a board treat each other, how we communicate, how our executive communicates with the staff and how the staff perceives our leadership and how the community perceives our leadership. I think this last example of it is poor."
Wehrli said Biondo was "shabbily treated" and "blindsided" by the commission.
Biondo told the Daily Herald he received a letter Aug. 4 informing him he could either retire early or be terminated without cause. Some officials said Biondo's ouster came because he wasn't moving fast enough on several proposed structural changes to the district, including reducing the size of the administrative staff.
Once Biondo agreed to leave, Commissioner Joseph Cantore -- who is running unopposed in November to become president of the forest preserve district -- suggested Lapinski, a trial court administrator for DuPage County's chief judge, for the position.
Other board members agreed to have one-on-one interviews with the 53-year-old Oak Brook resident to learn more about him, including Wehrli.
"I am disappointed in the process," she said Tuesday. "I think the one-on-one interviews do not benefit the whole, as we do not know, then, what each person is looking for in an executive, we do not know what each person brings to the table."
On Aug. 19, however, Wehrli voted along with the rest of the commissioners to approve Lapinski's three-year contract, which begins Oct. 1 and pays an annual salary of $160,000.
At the time, Wehrli would not comment on any personnel moves, saying only that she was "strictly looking forward to Oct. 1 and continuing improvements at the district."
The commission agreed to take a second vote on the contract after Glen Ellyn resident and DuPage County Clerk candidate Jean Kaczmarek questioned the legality of its original action at a meeting two weeks later.
Kaczmarek informed the commission that under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 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 commissioners approved it Aug. 19.
"To the best of my knowledge, we're doing everything properly," the district's attorney, Jim Knippen, said Tuesday. "We brought this back to the board for purposes of avoiding any allegation of a violation."
When Wehrli finished her comments during Tuesday's meeting, President D. "Dewey" Pierotti said she had an opportunity to state her opinion and "it's not necessarily the facts, it's the way you interpret things." Wehrli shot back, saying, "They are the facts."
Commissioner Tim Whelan said he "somewhat concurred" with what Wehrli said regarding the way the commission handled the situation with Biondo.
"I don't want to see a repeat of that," he said. "I just think we need to have better communication between ourselves than we did previously."
Commissioner Linda Painter said she's spoken with a number of people who gave Lapinski an outstanding recommendation.
"I've done my due diligence," she said. "I'm looking very forward to working with him."
After the meeting, Wehrli said she believes in transparency and felt "the public needed to know more than they were told." She said her vote was against the contract and not Lapinski.
"We're still making baby steps and we will have a stronger district I think because of Mr. Lapinski, but we need to have more voices that share their opinions so that we all do the best for the citizens and their tax dollars," she said.