Round Up The Usual Suspects?


The City of Park Ridge, with an annual budget of over $50 Million, is a business that mainly provides services to a customer base of 37,000-plus residents.  The more efficiently and effectively those services are provided, the less expensive they should be – and, consequently, the lower our taxes should be. 

So one might expect that when looking for a replacement for early-retiring City Mgr. Tim Schuenke, the City Council might want to at least consider candidates with experience successfully running private-sector service businesses of comparable size.  After all, as reported in this week’s edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Aldermen suggest qualities, traits for picking a new city manager” January 17), Schuenke is currently receiving a base salary of $174,046 – plus benefits that include full-time use of a city vehicle, free gasoline, a cell phone and a lap-top computer.  Not exactly slave wages.  And if the new city manager had the ability to operate with less of those expensive outside consultants the City loves to hire, there could even be extra money available for some additional performance-based compensation.

But, instead, the Park Ridge City Council hired The PAR Group search firm, which specializes in recruiting public executives from the ranks of public executives.  We can almost hear Casablancas “Inspector Renault” now, ordering his men to “round up the usual suspects.”  And just to make sure that the search process is confined to public bureaucrats, the Council has come up with a list of “must-have” qualities the candidates must possess, which include things like: “[a] strong working relationship with elected members of government”; “[i]nvolvement in community organizations”; “[a]n ability to get citizens to participate in local government”; and “[a] background in community preservation.” 

No offense to The PAR Group, but when you specialize in placing government employees in government positions, you run a strong risk of Kool-Aid intoxication.  And no offense to Mr. Schuenke, but we’re not aware of any of these qualities being required when he was hired – and we’re not too sure how many of them he possesses even now, after many years on the job.  So what’s the point of requiring these new “qualities”?

And how is the presence and extent of these “qualities” going to be accurately and objectively measured?  Exactly how, Mr. Aldermen, do you plan to measure the degree of citizen “participation” in local government – and how exactly do you plan to determine just how much credit a city manager deserves for it? 

We also don’t see the point of Ald. Rich DiPietro and his Finance & Budget Committee offering a starting salary of $150,000-$160,000.  If the city manager position truly deserves the compensation we’ve been paying Mr. Schuenke, then why are we trying to low-ball his successor – especially if we have all the hiring competition (from places like Des Plaines, Orland Park and Rolling Meadows) The PAR Group is telling the Council we face?

It’s time our City Council stopped doing the same old thing and started thinking outside the box.  Rather than look for a new city manager exclusively from the ranks of candidates who know nothing but the “tax, borrow and spend” governmental model, why not at least consider candidates who know what it takes to aggressively manage expenses and wring “profits” (in our case, “surplus”) from the existing level of revenues?