Will Interim ACM Create New City Manager Paradigm?


A little over four years ago, then-mayor Howard Frimark welcomed new city manager Jim Hock by announcing that Hock wasn’t Frimark’s first choice.  In retrospect, that might have been one of the few things Frimark actually got right as mayor – even if most of us didn’t realize it at the time. 

By contrast, Monday night current Mayor Dave Schmidt got his first choice for interim Acting City Manager.  Well, maybe not quite his first choice – because Schmidt and a majority of aldermen reportedly were ready to offer the post to Finance Director Alison Stutts before a consensus was reached that the Finance Department needed her services more than did the city manager’s office.

But once the position was publicly advertised and resumes of 12 applicants were received and reviewed, Shawn Hamilton became Schmidt’s top choice.  And he was approved at Monday night’s “special” Council meeting, after a lengthy closed session, by a vote of 5 (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Knight and Mazzuca) to 2 (Alds. Raspanti and Maloney).

Hamilton, an interim choice hired under a contract that extends only through this coming April, might be considered a high-risk, high-reward selection. 

The high-risk part comes from the fact that he has less than a year of public-sector experience under his belt, as Grundy County Administrator running an annual budget of only $14 million – less than a quarter the size of Park Ridge’s.  For those of you who subscribe to the theory that top-level public sector positions must be filled by career bureaucrats, Hamilton is clearly not your man.

But as we often have argued, we think that such a bureaucrat-centric theory is largely responsible for the widespread (although not without significant exceptions) mediocrity that afflicts government service today, driving up the cost to the taxpayers without commensurate increases in service.

Hamilton’s resume reflects a varied background in banking and management consulting that should come in handy in the not-so-brave new world of municipal government, where economic and personnel issues have assumed increasingly prominent, if not dominant, roles.  And his 10+ years of service as an elected member of the Coal City School Board suggests that he will have a better understanding than his predecessors of the mindset and concerns of the elected officials arrayed around The Horseshoe.

This creates the opportunity for a new paradigm for how the City is managed and City services administered.  That’s the potentially high-reward part of the equation.  And given the fact that Hamilton’s appointment is only for 9 months, we have almost-laboratory quality conditions for conducting this kind of private-to-public-sector experiment. 

If Hamilton is up to the challenge – as the mayor and 5 alderman appear to believe he is – the City will have 9 months of solid ACM service and a real-time audition for the permanent city manager position in which Hamilton has expressed interest.  If not, the City will have nine months to conduct a more thorough and deliberate search for a permanent replacement for the departed Hock and Juliana Maller.

Under these circumstances, the “no” votes on Hamilton’s appointment by Alds. Raspanti and Maloney are both noteworthy and instructive. 

Both of them professed unhappiness with the selection process – especially with what they viewed as a too-small pool of candidates.  And we would agree with them …IF this had been the hiring process for a permanent city manager, or if the City was given more time than the approximately one-month fire drill that resulted from Maller’s announcing her departure for scenic Hanover Park on July 5, a month before her last day as Park Ridge ACM.

According to articles appearing in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate and Park Ridge Journal, Raspanti “would have liked to have seen [the City] get 100 resumes and really broaden the search,” while Maloney complained about the Council’s doing nothing about finding a new permanent city manager after it terminated Hock back on May 4th.

We can’t find any record of how many resumes the City received when it used a professional search firm to conduct the “nation-wide” hunt that spirited Hock away from the wolverines in Michigan.  Both Raspanti and Maloney voted to sack him in May – without either of them clamoring at that time for the immediate commencement of an interview and hiring process for his replacement.  And as best as we can tell, neither of them started beating the drum for an expedited comprehensive search process until now.

But we’ll take their words and their motives at face value, while offering the mayor and the rest of the Council the following bit of advice: No matter how much you guys may like Hamilton and think he might fill the bill for the permanent slot, begin a search process for the permanent slot now.

And to ensure that process is as good as it can be, we suggest that Schmidt and the Council deputize Raspanti and Maloney to run it.

Let the quest for 100 resumes begin! 

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