Forest preserve needs third vote to hire executive director

  • John Lapinski

    John Lapinski

 
 
Updated 9/18/2014 4:38 PM

For the third time in five weeks, DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners are slated to hire the same person to become the district's next executive director.

This time, the board must take another vote on John Lapinski's employment contract because he can't start as executive director until December -- two months later than planned.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Commissioner Joseph Cantore announced during this week's board meeting that Lapinski, who will replace former Director Arnie Biondo, can't begin on Oct. 1 because of a medical issue.

"Everything is still on track," said Cantore, who then asked commissioners to push back Lapinski's start date to Dec. 1.

It was an unexpected delay for a board that moved quickly to pick Lapinski to replace Biondo, who retired after less than eight months on the job when commissioners made it clear he no longer was wanted.

"Most of us on the board did not want to spend another year looking for an executive director with a search company," Commissioner Marsha Murphy said. "We didn't have good results the first time."

Commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 19 to name Lapinski executive director -- the same day they announced Biondo's departure.

Lapinski, who is the trial court administrator for DuPage's chief judge, was offered a three-year pact that was to start Oct. 1 and pay him $160,000 a year, but he did not immediately sign the agreement.

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Commissioners were forced to take a second vote on Lapinski's contract after a Glen Ellyn resident and county clerk candidate Jean Kaczmarek questioned the legality of the original action.

Kaczmarek informed the board 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.

The third vote on the contract -- this one setting Lapinski's starting date as Dec. 1 -- is expected next week. A special meeting needs to be scheduled.

Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli said she's planning to vote against the contract because she opposes "the whole process" that was used to select Lapinski.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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 the decision was made to part ways with Biondo, Cantore -- who is running unopposed in November to become president of the district -- suggested Lapinski 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.

"This has been a behind-the-scenes, noninclusive move by the (board) majority to make this happen," Wehrli said.

Wehrli said she also doesn't like "the uncertainty that anything can happen" between now and Dec. 1. "We're just limping though one more Twilight Zone of a leadership vacuum," she said.

Longtime district employees Michael Palazzetti and Robert Vick are serving as interim executive directors until Lapinski assumes his responsibilities. Palazzetti, who is deputy director of operations, and Vick, who is deputy director of natural resources, aren't getting additional pay for their extra work, officials said.

Commissioner Shannon Burns said the board decided to give Lapinski extra time to heal because his medical issue required surgery.

But, she said, "if we go a month and it looks like he's not bouncing back quickly or not going to be able to start on Dec. 1, we need to abandon that and move forward with another search."

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