The search for a new Plainfield Park District executive director is beginning.
A little more than a month after the resignation of Garrett Peck, trustees agreed to pay the Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD) $9,490 to conduct a search for his replacement. Peck remains a trustee on the Plainfield village board.
Park commissioner Mary Kay Ludemann said the IAPD search will move quickly, and a new director could be hired in three to four months.
A committee made up of Ludemann, fellow commissioner Janet Silosky, interim Executive Director Gene Coldwater, retired Executive Director Greg Bott and board attorney Matt Campbell met last week to begin drafting the parameters and qualifications the IAPD will use in the search.
Based upon the qualifications specified by the committee, the IAPD will narrow down a field of applicants and conduct background checks on eligible candidates, according to Ludemann.
“We would only interview the candidates that meet that criteria,” she said.
Campbell said since the qualifications list is still in draft form, it could not be released to the media. Ludemann, however, said candidates must have at minimum a bachelor’s degree and five years’ experience as a park district executive director.
The committee is slated to meet again Wednesday, according to Ludemann.
Asked whether recent turmoil at the park district — from controversy surrounding the hiring and resignation of Peck and allegations of ethical misconduct by board members to a ruling that staff violated state labor law — might deter potential candidates, Ludemann said the IAPD will work to recruit them.
“That’s part of their job — to market us [to applicants],” she said.
Ludemann did not say what the salary range will be for the job. Peck’s salary was set at $110,000.
“We want it to be competitive enough that we attract qualified candidates,” she said.
Ethics committee discussion tabled
The board tabled discussion on the creation of an independent ethics commission until the April 1 meeting.
The idea came from president Peter Hurtado, who has faced ethics violations of his own in recent weeks.
“I thought it was a great idea to bring this for discussion,” he said. “We have so many issues, so many ethics violations [allegations],” Hurtado added, saying an independent commission could look into the issues further.
Board member Larry Newton, however, pointed out that the board already has an ethics ordinance in place.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Ludemann said. “Yes, there’s been some questionable activity, but law enforcement is looking into it,” she added, referring to a recently launched investigation by the Illinois State Police at the request of the Will County State’s Attorney’s office.
Ludemann also said she didn’t think another suggestion by Hurtado — the creation of a public advisory committee — was necessary.
Hurtado said the committee could provide guidance from the public on park district issues.
“We already have — I should say, some of us have a very open relationship with the public,” Ludemann said. “This would have to be another layer that they would have to go through to communicate with us.”
The board also tabled discussion on a 10-point transparency checklist — also Hurtado’s suggestion — until the April 1 meeting.
Newton pointed out that some of the items on the checklist could add to the workload of already shorthanded staff.
One of the items on the checklist recommended online transparency for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Until recently, FOIA request information was posted to the park district website, but was recently taken down.
“We were getting hit with so many of them that it was a struggle to keep up,” Executive Assistant Wendi Calabrese said.
Campbell, the board attorney, said he advised officials to remove FOIA requests and responses because some of the posted information included details on severance agreements.
Hurtado questioned whether sensitive information could simply be blacked out, an issue Campbell said he will investigate.
‘You will not gain the public trust’
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several community members spoke up to say the suggested committees and transparency checklist seemed like too little, too late.
“This public has been coming to meetings for months and months and asking questions,” and not getting answers former park board member Michelle Kelly said. “Your actions aren’t following your ideas.”
Plainfield Village board member Margie Bonuchi said the board majority of Silosky, Hurtado and Peter Steinys should heed residents’ requests to resign.
“I’m not a person who gives up on things, but I’ve got to tell you, this ship has sailed,” she said, adding the board majority will not win back public support after all the controversy. “You guys are the only ones who haven’t figured it out — it’s over.”
That sentiment was echoed by Plainfield Township trustee Ernie Knight.
“It’s the same majority that created the problems in the first place,” he said. “You do not have the public trust; you do not have the public confidence. You will not gain that. You blew it in the first week,” he said, referring to the hiring of Peck just says after new board members were sworn in.