DuPage forest preserve releases director's termination letter
DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners unanimously agreed that former executive director Arnie Biondo's management style wasn't a good fit for the district and had no chance of becoming one, according to the termination letter they sent him in early August and finally have made public.
Commissioners wanted to keep the Aug. 4 letter that ended Biondo's brief tenure secret, but released it last week after the Illinois attorney general's office issued a nonbinding opinion saying the district was violating the Freedom of Information Act by withholding the document.
The attorney general's office directed the district to fulfill the FOIA request for the letter that Lisle resident MaryLynn Zajdel had filed.
The district also provided the Daily Herald with copies of the letter and Biondo's resignation email in response to the newspaper's FOIA request.
Forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti said the district initially resisted releasing the letter at Biondo's urging.
"I had to take his feelings under consideration," Pierotti said. "He didn't really want it released."
While the district's legal counsel disagrees with the attorney general's opinion, Pierotti said the district released the letter because it has nothing to hide.
Zajdel, who was prepared to file a lawsuit to obtain the document, said she's pleased legal action wasn't needed.
"After reading the letter, it is obvious to me why the (forest preserve) fought so hard to keep it under wraps," Zajdel said.
Biondo retired Sept. 2 after less than eight months as the district's executive director. He told the Daily Herald he stepped down after receiving the Aug. 4 letter, which informed him he could either retire early or be terminated without cause.
According to the letter, the commission reached "unanimous consensus" that Biondo's services were no longer required.
"Since your hiring the commission has scrutinized your management style and the needs of and the internal workings of the district," the letter reads. "The commission has determined that your management style has not and will not function adequately within those specific needs and workings."
That's surprising, Zajdel said, because there are no public records to support the statement that commissioners were scrutinizing the management style of Biondo, who previously served as executive director of the Carol Stream Park District.
Zajdel said she wants to know when commissioners decided Biondo's style wasn't a good fit for the district.
"Wasn't Biondo's management style well established and known during his many years at the Carol Stream Park District?" she asked.
In their letter, commissioners gave Biondo two weeks to let them know how he wanted to leave. Biondo sent them an Aug. 19 email telling them he had picked retirement.
"Please accept my gratitude for the chance to work with the district," Biondo wrote. "I trust we accomplished much of what we need to prepare for a successful future."
In addition to announcing Biondo's departure, commissioners on Aug. 19 named John Lapinski as executive director. But Lapinski, who is the trial court administrator for DuPage's chief judge, since has decided not to take the forest preserve job because of a longer-than-expected recovery from a medical issue.
Commissioners, who voted three separate times to hire Lapinski before discovering he couldn't take the job, have said they hope to develop a plan to search for an executive director on Nov. 18.