Maller Departure Creates Second Reason To “Go Private”


Beginning on August 11, Park Ridge will be without the services of Acting City Manager Juliana Maller for the first time since 1996.  And barring any emergency hiring by the City Council, it also will be without the services of both a city manager and a deputy city manager for the first time in memory.

Maller, who has been in the “acting” position since Jim Hock was fired by a unanimous Council vote two months ago, also served in that capacity when Hock’s predecessor, Tim Schuenke, made his 2007 run for the border – the Wisconsin border, that is – in search of another public paycheck to supplement his Illinois public pension.  She is heading to Hanover Park as its new village manager.

Don’t be surprised to hear howls of concern from certain quarters about how the City is being left with no city manager or deputy.  And don’t be surprised if those howls are accompanied by finger pointing at Mayor Dave Schmidt and at least some members of the Council for presiding over a sandbox that bureaucrats don’t want to play in anymore. 

Frankly, in this economy we’re betting on multiple applications for both positions. And we are confident that quality replacements can be found in the public sector ranks.

But even if it turned out that public sector candidates were scarce, that could very well be a good thing.  With both top bureaucratic spots vacant, the City has an unprecedented opportunity to consider hiring from outside the bureaucratic ranks for both spots!  And by so doing, it would reduce the likelihood of tensions and conflicts between a new city manager from the private sector and a top subordinate mired in his/her public sector culture.

This gambit does not come without some risk, however.

Private sector managers are trained for, and driven by, the quest for profit.  Their public sector counterparts, on the other hand, are often stuck with activities and responsibilities (like infrastructure maintenance and social services) that are chronically, if not inherently, money-losers – which is one reason those activities and responsibilities are not private sector enterprises in the first place.

And while most private corporate boards of directors generally stay out of the way of a good private CEO so long as the company’s balance sheet remains solid, public “CEOs” like city or village managers must deal with more active political constituencies and competing interest groups.  Many management decisions, therefore, tend to require at least some form of approval from elected officials.

Unfortunately, one of Hock’s major failings – in our opinion – was his preoccupation with playing politics.  Consequently, his management “style” tended to be finger-in-the-wind rather than principled, which cost him the confidence of Mayor Dave Schmidt and, subsequently, of the “new” aldermen who took their seats at The Horseshoe in May 2011.    

One thing private sector managers can bring to City government is an appreciation of the need to streamline bureaucratic labor-management practices and rethink compensation policies, concepts that are too often foreign to public sector managers.  Public sector compensation systems, relying on longevity and equity instead of productivity and excellence, breed complacency and mediocrity.

Another benefit of private sector experience is the tendency toward more pro-active management practices, ones that constantly re-evaluate and re-positions the goals the enterprise is seeking to achieve; that identify and assess the resources the enterprise has (or can acquire at reasonable cost) to achieve them; that determine how that achievement can be accurately and routinely measured; and that redirect capital and revenue, whenever possible, from services of marginal desirability and/or value to more productive ones.  

What public sector managers can’t seem to grasp, or simply don’t want to grasp, is that money spent on unproductive and inefficient programs and practices is money that cannot be spent on the productive and efficient ones – at least not without additional revenues through taxes and fees.  Or a winning PowerBall ticket.

After 16 years of relatively lackluster management from the City’s high-priced “CEO”s that effectively has forced the mayor and the Council to extend themselves beyond their policy-making roles into more active managerial roles, more of the same old same old is not what the City and its taxpayers need.   Attempting to recruit a new city manager and deputy manager from the private sector is an idea whose time most definitely has come. 

Whether the Council can muster the courage to consider such a bold step remains to be seen. 

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9 comments so far

I have several reservations about the transferability of private sector management skills and practices to the public sector. But after observing Schuenke and Hock dumb down the existing bureacracy even further than it already was, I agree that the city council should open up the hiring process to private sector managers of companies roughly the same size as the city’s budget. And to a point you made in a previous post, they should consider giving a priority to current residents of the city of Park Ridge who already have a commitment to the community beyond just the paycheck they will be drawing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The residency requirement is a double-edged sword. But watching Schuenke promptly depart as soon as he retired, and understanding that Hock is looking to do the same, suggests to us that their concern about Park Ridge didn’t extend beyond the paychecks.

To your knowledge, is there a detailed job description for each of the open city management jobs? If not, why not. And if so, where posted?

EDITOR’S NOTE: 3-6-2 of the Municipal Code, “Appointment” states:

The City Manager shall be appointed by the affirmative vote of four (4) aldermen upon recommendation of the Mayor. The City Manager shall be chosen solely on the basis of executive and administrative qualifications, with special reference to actual experience in or knowledge of accepted practice in respect to the duties of the office. Such qualifications are hereby declared to be of a nature as to require special training or knowledge. At the time of appointment, the appointee need not be a resident of the City or of the State of Illinois, but shall reside within the City within six (6) months of appointment. No Alderman or Mayor may be appointed as City Manager during the term for which he/she shall have been elected, nor within on year after the expiration of that term. During the absence or disability of the City Manager, the Mayor with the advice and the consent of the City Council may designate some properly qualified person as Acting City Manager. (Ord. 2008-45, 07/21/2008)

We assume a similar description exists for the Deputy CM position, but you can check the City Code on the City’s website.

Not surprising that the (not so old) boys’ club the Council has been for two cycles since Frimark “improved” it did not see the value in Juliana Maller’s contribution, holding down the damned fort through two incompetent and self-serving men’s tenures (Skanky and In-Hock). It was an open secret that she was kept instead of the very competent Kim Uhlig because Juliana was doing Hock’s job — and once Kim left, Juliana shouldered economic development, too. Citizens who worked with her saw first-hand how much she did with how little (for example, what other civilized city of nearly 40,000 has absolutely zero dollars budgeted for basic communications and marketing and fobs it off on whatever IT guy is available – or not – at any particular time?)

Penny-wise, pound-foolish, par for the course.Congratulations to Juliana on her promotion. And sympathy to us, who will no doubt be saddled with some bloodless beancounter who agress with you that it’s a shame the public sector is “stuck with” providing social services and infrastrucure maintenance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If the Council’s estrogen level doesn’t suit you, your beef is with the Ya Ya Sisterhood that only fielded 2 candidates in 2011, and its 3 incumbents in 2007 who fled the Council rather than stand for re-election.

Frankly, we’d love to see City Finance & Budget Director Allison Stutts be given a shot at the Acting CM position – but we suspect her proven and accomplished “beancounter” status trumps her gender in your world view.

The public sector is stuck with virtually everything unprofitable, including all those allegedly “private” social service organizations that do their best to feed at the public trough while at the same time using their “private” status to conceal what they’re doing from the same “public” that’s feeding them.

Thank you for the job description reference. Now I think I see part of the problem: it’s a lousy job description. Would anyone (with any experience) accept a “marketing plan” that consisted only of the line “We’re going to sell lots of stuff and make lots of money.” You’d demand a lot more info in the marketing plan than that.
But that’s what we’ve got in that alleged job description. There simply is not enough detail to define the specific qualities, knowledge, experience and skills the person we hire needs to bring to the task. This is a recipe for failure…QED. If anyone needs a clue about why it seems that the acquisition of a city manager by almost any city in the country involves the shuffling of existing city managers from one city to another, you’ll find it in the “safety play” necessitated by a poorly defined job description.

EDITOR’S NOTE: 85 applicant’s sought the Hanover Park job that Ms. Maller got, and we’d bet at least 80 of them were public sector folks. Unfortunately, there is a question of whether the City’s Director of Human Resources (promoted to that position by Hock) has the credentials or the experience for that position. In fact, the more we hear about City staff, the more we hear that specialized/job-appropriate qualifications have been in painfully short supply for many years.

I have spent most of my working life in private sector dealing with the public sector, and rarely do I see more competent and motivated people in the public sector. On good days, the good public sector employee is the equal of teh good private sector one, but that doesn’t happen enough to be a rule.

The City looking for its city manager from the private sector sounds like a good idea.

Yo – It’s not about estrogen except for whatever role that plays in helping a brain multi-task and balance competing priorities. In a democratic republic, citizens are not just successful or unsuccessful consumers, target markets or not target markets, as they are for the private sector. Citizens are supposed to have some intrinsic value. But I do agree with you that private sector operations, non-profit or otherwise, should submit to public scrutiny if they don’t want to be at risk of “mere” charity being withdrawn for beancounter reasons.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Then why the reference in your previous comment to the “boys’ club” and “incompetent and self-serving men’s tenures,” or the contrasting of “Skanky and In-Hock” with Maller and Uhlig?

“Citizens are supposed to have some intrinsic value”? Are you implying that “citizens” have more “intrinsic value” than non-citizens?

Do you have any interest in the city manager job?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No. Unless, by “any interest,” you mean giving a rat’s derriere that we finally get somebody in that position who is (a) competent; (b) competent; (c) competent; (d) give’s a rat’s derriere about the long-term well-being of this community; and (e) competent.

I’m having a hard time trying to imagine exactly what kind of private sector position/career would translate to the city manager position. CEO? CFO? Does the type of business matter? And should knowledge of/experience with local government be a requirement?

I’m also struggling to imagine someone actually wanting to make the transition from the private sector to this position. I’d like to think it’s possible…the idea is intriguing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We suspect a competent CEO, COO or CFO, depending on the exact nature of his/her experience, should have the basic skill set, especially if their experience is in a “service” or “retail” industry.

We’re thinking that someone who may have taken early retirement or been forced out due to corporate mergers or consolidations would be interested, especially if they live in Park Ridge and could walk to work or drive 5 minutes instead of commuting 1/2 – 1 hour each way. The $200K+ (all in) Hock received would likely be a step (or two or three) down in compensation, but someone in his/her mid-late 40s (or older) whose kids are pretty much through school and who has some financial security might not have a problem with the pay – especially if they are interested in “giving back” to the community.

Look for a retiring US Marine or Army colonel with combat experience…who is action oriented, can knock heads, but, because he made it to colonel must have passed charm school, too. Lots of organizations are having good results with ex military at all levels

EDITOR’S NOTE: We understand there is at least one of those in Park Ridge, although rumor has it he is more interested in being mayor than city manager.

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