DuPage forest preserve director search back to square one

  • John Lapinski

    John Lapinski

Updated 11/7/2014 4:41 PM

DuPage Forest Preserve District commissioners once again find themselves without an executive director and with no immediate plans to find one.

John Lapinski, who was named to the post in August and scheduled to start Dec. 1 to replace the ousted Arnie Biondo, said Thursday he will not take the job because he's dealing with a serious medical issue.


The Oak Brook resident said he recently had emergency surgery and his recovery is taking longer than expected.

"I didn't want to hold up the board because of my health," Lapinski said.

The commission, which voted three separate times this fall to hire Lapinski, already had pushed back his original start date from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1 because of his medical issues.

"I didn't want to make them wait several months and then say, 'I'm not up to it,'" he said.

Lapinski's announcement means commissioners are back to square one in their effort to find a long-term executive director.

The district's problems in filling the top administrative post began when Brent Manning retired in June 2012 after 8 years.

It took commissioners more than a year to settle on Biondo, whom they forced into early retirement this summer after less than eight months on the job.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

"We're two years into this thing and still don't have an executive director," Commissioner Tim Whelan said Thursday. "It's a little bit disappointing."

Biondo was given the choice of retiring or being fired because he wasn't moving fast enough on proposed structural changes to the district, officials said, including plans to reduce the size of the administrative staff.

As soon as the decision was made to part ways with Biondo, commissioners said they wanted to act quickly to replace him.

It took them less than two weeks to name Lapinski executive director on Aug. 19, the same day they announced Biondo's departure.

Lapinski, DuPage County's trial court administrator, was recommended by the commission's president-elect, Joseph Cantore, and unanimously approved after a series of one-on-one interviews with commissioners.


The commissioners voted to hire him a second time a few weeks later after questions arose over the legality of the initial vote and then approved his hiring a third time when they pushed back his start date.

Officials said they're unsure what will happen next.

"I don't think anybody has an answer for that right at the moment," Whelan said.

Commissioner Marsha Murphy said the board hopes to develop a plan to search for an executive director during its Nov. 18 meeting.

"We plan on being there a long day to discuss everything," Murphy said.

Murphy said the board will take "the speediest route" to locate and hire a new director. "We don't want to take a year," she said.

On the flip side, no one expects the process to move as quickly as it did with the selection of Lapinski.

That's because the board soon will have two new commissioners. Al Murphy, who won Tuesday's election, will replace Shannon Burns, and someone must be named to replace Cantore, the commissioner who will be sworn as president on Dec. 2.

"Once the board is seated with two new commissioners and a new president, we will make our next decision on how to proceed attracting an outstanding executive director," Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli said.

Wehrli said she's hoping the selection process takes no more than three months. During that time, the board needs to works together to find the right candidate, she said.

"We need a person of high character and integrity and that person has got to come from the outside."

Burns said she is disappointed that person won't be Lapinski. "I think he would have been so good for us," she said.

On Thursday, the district issued a written statement echoing Burns' sentiments.

"With the pending elected leadership change, the district was thrilled by the prospect of having a well-respected administrator like John lead the agency through transition," the statement read. "All of us at the forest preserve district wish John all the best in his future endeavors."

In the meantime, Marsha Murphy said the district won't "fall apart" because it has "two experienced gentlemen" running it now.

Two longtime district employees, Michael Palazzetti and Robert Vick, are serving as interim executive directors. Palazzetti is the deputy director of operations and Vick is the deputy director of natural resources.

As for the planned reorganization, Murphy said the board is making progress without an executive director.

"Every time we go into closed (session), we work a little bit more on it," she said.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.