Editorial: Leadership change a costly mistake
After the DuPage County Forest Preserve District hired a new executive director, and then fired him months later at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, there's only one place to look when assessing what went wrong.
That's at the forest preserve commission itself, which somehow changed course so completely or vetted candidates so casually that the man they hired with praise last December after a nationwide search was forced out in August, leaving the forest preserve district without a director ever since.
Wherever the forest preserve commission messed up, it's costing a lot of money that belongs to the taxpayers.
Arnold Biondo was dismissed without cause, so the commission was bound under its contract with him to pay severance equal to a year's pay -- $188,000 -- plus a year of health coverage.
Instead, commissioners let Biondo become the first to take advantage of an early retirement program he put in place. As Daily Herald staff writer Robert Sanchez wrote, that boosted the cost to $303,000 for the forest preserve district to get rid of Biondo, who had led the Carol Stream Park District for 18 years and now is taking his Illinois pension and moving to lead a park district in Ohio.
Forest preserve district spokeswoman Sue Olafson said the deal is "in the best interest of both the district and Arnie himself" and the commission is glad to avoid a lawsuit.
We're glad they avoided that, too, but we're not quite as happy about how things turned out.
The commission's out a lot of money, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund will be sending Biondo's pension checks to Ohio, and the forest preserve has no director.
Why did the commission suddenly dislike Biondo enough to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get him out?
The answer could have less to do with Biondo's job performance than with a change of leadership on the forest commission. Longtime forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr., who retired last week, said he found out about Biondo's dismissal only when new President Joe Cantore and the forest preserve district's attorney asked him to sign a letter getting rid of Biondo.
The letter, which claimed to have unanimous support even though two commissioners later said they didn't authorize it, told Biondo his management style wasn't a good fit. Cantore almost immediately picked a successor, DuPage County trial court administrator John Lapinski, but Lapinski ultimately declined the job because of health problems.
So, we're back to the original premise: Did the forest preserve commission pick a bad candidate with Biondo? Or was the commission playing politics?
Either way, the mistake is on them. The cost, unfortunately, is on us, the taxpayers.
Now, the forest preserve board needs to hire a new executive director again. Let's hope a lesson has been learned. It's an experience that taxpayers certainly won't forget.