Did Mayor, Council Get It Right On City Mgr. Hire?


Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt caught some aldermanic flak over his hiring of Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton last summer after the Council sent then-city mgr. Jim Hock packing by unanimous vote. 

The flak came primarily from Alds. Sal Raspanti (4th ward) and Marty Maloney (7th), and it was directed toward the process Schmidt employed – because it didn’t include Council involvement other than to approve Hamilton’s hiring.  Those were legitimate criticisms, especially about a process employed by a mayor who not only has talked but also walked “transparency” line for the past four years he has been mayor. 

From the moment Hamilton’s hiring was confirmed by the Council – over Raspanti’s and Maloney’s “no” votes, as we recall – the primary question was whether Hamilton could do the job well enough to keep it beyond his May 1, 2013, contract end date.  His performance also would be a significant test of Schmidt’s theory that a city manager with a strong private-sector background could do a better job than the traditional public-sector bureaucrat. 

So the Council’s solid endorsement of Hamilton at last Monday night’s Council meeting was a significant achievement for the Acting City Manager.

Leading the cheers for Hamilton was Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st), who suggested dropping Hamilton’s “acting” status and making him the regular City Manager – in part because of Hamilton’s efforts in hiring new personnel and executing the Council’s cost-cutting agenda.

Unfortunately, Sweeney promptly left the reservation and began witlessly advocating for a one-year contract extension for Hamilton, insisting that Hamilton was just one Council meeting away from termination; and that he deserved “job security” because the City is “taking [from Hamilton] and not giving.”

Say what?  Since when did a six-figure salary and benefits become all “taking,” Ald. Sweeney?

But we probably shouldn’t expect more from a guy who voted to give Hock his 18-month contract with a $130,000 severance – even while acknowledging that it was a great contract for Hock but not such a great one for the taxpayers.  Apparently Sweeney doesn’t subscribe to the aphorism: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Fortunately, Raspanti nailed it when he reminded Sweeney that job “security” is not a right or an entitlement in the real, non-governmental, world: “Maybe the public sector works a little different…but anybody who works for a living is one bad move away from losing their job.”


While the other aldermen didn’t go as far as Sweeney, it was clear from their comments that most of them approved of Hamilton’s job so far.

Ald. Marty Maloney (7th Ward) said Hamilton has done a “fantastic job,” but noted that the Council “owe[s] it to the taxpayers” to put the right person in the job, and at the right price – pointedly referencing the sweetheart contract the previous Council (including Sweeney and Ald. Rich DiPietro) gave Hock in December 2010…for reasons that make no more sense today than they did back then: “I’m not interested in putting together a sweet deal like you guys did for Jim Hock.”

Despite how well Hamilton’s interim appointment appears to have worked out so far, we believe a more formal search process – even at the $20-30,000 cost being discussed – is the right approach for a position as crucial to City government as city manager.  In our form of government, the city manager is the CEO and COO rolled into one.  Which might explain why the City’s current financial problems and questionable infrastructure can be attributed in large measure to the bumbling and dissembling of the City’s two most recent city managers – Tim Schuenke and Jim Hock – aided and abetted by compliant, complicit, rubber-stamp City Councils.

Meanwhile, the biggest test for Hamilton so far will be the 2013-14 budget process. 

If he and new finance director Kent Oliven nail it, Hamilton might have an inside track to losing his “acting” status when the formal search is commenced after the new Council is seated in May.

If not, however, his honeymoon may well be over.

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