Public Watchdog.org

Gilmore The Right Choice From A Wrong Council Process

07.26.17

Back in 2012 when the Park Ridge City Council sacked then-city mgr. Jim Hock for not performing up to expectations, the chirping began about how the City was getting the reputation as being bureaucrat-unfriendly because Mayor Dave Schmidt and that Council dared to actually demand high performance from the City’s top employee.

The chirping got louder in May 2016 when Hock’s replacement, Shawn Hamilton, resigned rather than be subjected to what was likely to be an unsatisfactory performance review by then-Acting Mayor Marty Maloney and a slightly different Council from the one that launched Hock.

The chirpers made even more dire predictions about how nobody from the “city manager” class of public employees would apply for the job and subject themselves to…um…er…well, objectively measurable performance standards and a Council willing to demand they be met.

Maloney and the Council chose to make relatively new City Finance Director Joe Gilmore (he didn’t join City staff until early 2015) the acting City Mgr. The appointment was intended to be temporary, primarily because Gilmore saw himself as a “finance guy” and didn’t believe he had the chops for the top job.

It actually took some heavy-duty lobbying by Maloney and the late Ald. Dan Knight, the Council’s then-Finance Committee chairman, to persuade Gilmore to accept the position, even on a temporary basis.

But right out of the blocks Gilmore began showing that he could do the job, in large part by eschewing the political maneuvering and gamesmanship that Hock and Hamilton could not resist and, instead, focusing on the nuts and bolts of his own and City staff’s work product. In so doing he provided the Council with what it needed to do its job better. And on those rare occasions when something did not meet the Council’s standards, Gilmore immediately owned the error and promptly made sure it was corrected.

So we applaud the Council for unanimously removing the “acting” part of Gilmore’s title, which it did at its July 10, 2017 meeting. And we fully expect that Gilmore will prove himself to be a significant improvement over his three predecessors: Hamilton, Hock and Schuenke.

As reported in a July 12 article in the Park Ridge Journal (“It’s Official: Gilmore Named City Manager”), Gilmore’s starting salary as City Mgr. is $171,000 – which Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th Ward) observed, for some unknown reason, was  approaching the $174,000 salary of a U.S. Senator.

Irrespective of what a U.S. Senator is paid, we believe $171,000 is a reasonable salary for someone in charge of a $70 million-plus enterprise, especially if he does his job better than his three most recent predecessors.

Mazzuca also lauded the Council for its handling of Gilmore’s new contract. But after reading the Journal story and checking some past Council meeting minutes, we have to disagree with Mazzuca and wonder whether this Council is already starting to walk itself back from Mayor Dave Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. (“Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability.) doctrine.

Let’s start with the Council’s decision to give Gilmore a four-year contract with annual raises based on increases in the cost of living (i.e., a COLA, or a non merit-based raise), which we believe to be unprecedented for a Park Ridge City official. But the real problem is that it appears to have been discussed entirely in closed sessions.

Although the Journal reported “closed session meetings every week to discuss the city manager position and terms of a job offer” since Marty Joyce’s appointment as 7th Ward alderman, our review of the meeting minutes since Joyce’s appointment show only two closed sessions “to discuss the appointment employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employee(s)” prior to the announcement of Gilmore’s contract: At the June 5 and June 19 meetings.

We know that the City’s attorneys from Ancel Glink consistently panic-peddle their opinion that the Public Records Review Act (“PRRA”) – which expressly applies only to Freedom Of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests for documents – also prohibits any discussion of performance reviews in Council meetings governed by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”). We took issue with that opinion in our 05.27.16 post, and we still don’t believe that opinion has been endorsed by even one Illinois court. We have to assume, therefore, that the Ancel Glink attorneys assured the aldermen that they could lawfully hide any discussion of Gilmore’s performance in closed session.

Fair enough, at least for the time being – even if hearing how the Council came up with the $171,000 salary, the COLA raise and the car-use deal would probably be more than a little informative to the taxpayers who will be funding that package.

We are aware of nothing in the PRRA, IOMA or elsewhere, however, that would justify or even permit closed-session discussions of the public policy reasons the Council came up with for converting what historically had been a one-year contract (e.g., Jim Hock’s 07.14.08 Employment Agreement), a 2-year contract ( e.g., Hock’s 2010 renewal), or an “at will” employment arrangement (Shaw Hamilton’s) into the four-year contract offered Gilmore, as well as its automatic COLA-based raises.

And from some quick legal research it appears that limiting for-cause termination (other than for criminal or statutory official misconduct) solely to “nonfeasance” – rather than also to “misfeasance, malfeasance, insubordination or a documented pattern of unsatisfactory performance” – is virtually inviting a lawsuit should the City’s employment relationship with Gilmore sour. So it also would be interesting to hear who came up with “nonfeasance” as the operative “for-cause” termination standard, and why.

Yet all that was hidden from the City’s taxpayers – much like how the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board hides in closed sessions its annual discussions about why they keep adding another year to Supt. Laurie Heinz’s 3-year contract every time a year expires, and how they come up with her annual raises.

We never thought the City Council would compete with the D-64 Board in a lack-of-Transparency contest. Maybe it’s just the natural progression of what Charles Dudley Warner proclaimed as: “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

If there were true justice in verbiage, however, “politician” would be a four-letter epithet; and there would be a sizable bounty on the head of every one of them.

If you’re one of those citizens who prefer that their units of local government treat them like mushrooms (i.e., kept in the dark and covered with manure), you probably find these kinds of closed-session deliberations welcome relief from the past seven years of Mayor Dave and post-Mayor Dave “Transparency” and “Accountability.” Such closed-session discussions harken back to the bad old days of Mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, where meetings weren’t televised or video-recorded, council meeting packets weren’t available in advance of the meeting so that the average citizen could knowledgeably participate in the meetings, and closed sessions were the rule rather than the exceptions.

Not surprisingly, Wietecha, Marous and Frimark endorsed Mayor Dave’s opponent in the 2013 election, as did about 25 of the former alder-creatures who couldn’t spell H.I.T.A. if you spotted them both consonants and let them buy a couple of vowels.

Nevertheless, the appointment of the reluctant Gilmore – who truly earned the City Manager job through 14 months of solid performance in his “acting” capacity – is a very positive move for the Council and its taxpayers.

Too bad such a positive move has to be tainted by the unnecessarily secretive and un-accountable way the Council went about it.

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