No Employment Contract Required


Almost a year ago we welcomed the arrival of Shawn Hamilton as Acting City Manager in our post: “Will Interim ACM Create New City Manager Paradigm?”

At that time we branded him a “high-risk, high-reward selection” – the former because of his minimal public sector experience as the Grundy County Administrator managing a $14 million budget, the latter because of his more extensive background in private-sector banking and management consulting.  We expressed our hope that he might dispel the notion that private-sector skill sets don’t work all that well in a government setting.

Now, almost a year into this noble experiment, we think the results remain decidedly mixed in light of some significant mis-steps by Hamilton during his first 10 months in office.

For example, last October Hamilton stumbled badly out of the gate in what looked to us like an attempt to play “politics” with the new ICOPS contract.  He authorized and/or prepared an “analysis” demonstrating why the new ICOPs contract was better than the old one – but only after the new contract had already been passed, vetoed, and that veto sustained.

In December we discovered that Hamilton inexplicably had been sitting on the contractual “accounting” required from Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) for a couple of months before reporting the results to the City Council.  Not only was that accounting non-compliant with the contract’s requirements, but Hamilton’s delay let the clock tick down on the City’s option of putting the 2013 Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”) out to RFP; and, consequently, TOPR 2013 was given to Taste Inc. on a no-bid basis because there was no time to do anything else.

In January, we wondered whether Hamilton and new Finance Director (Hamilton pick) Kent Oliven would be up for the City Manager’s biggest test: the 2013-14 budget process.  They weren’t.  In fact, they were so discombobulated that the Council had to delay the start of its budget workshops for a couple of weeks while Hamilton and Oliven stumbled around just trying to fill in the blanks of the budget template that had worked so well the previous year.

By March, Hamilton was aiding and abetting Fire Chief Mike Zywanski’s attempt to end-run the competitive bidding process on a $150,000 contract to replace the Fire Department’s ambulance cardiac monitors.  Hamilton stood silently by as Chief Z tried to stampede the Council with a questionable-bordering-on-bogus “analysis” of comparable products, along with dire warnings about the endangerment of public safety if the no-bid deal wasn’t cut immediately.  Only when pointedly questioned by Ald. Dan Knight did Chief Z finally admit that delaying this procurement really wouldn’t jeopardize the health or safety of Park Ridge residents.

Also in March, Hamilton aided and abetted Human Resource Mgr. Mike Suppan in botching the contract negotiations with the union representing the City’s public works employees – the one that contributed $1,000 to the candidate challenging Mayor Dave Schmidt’s re-election bid.  Apparently Hamilton and Suppan couldn’t, or wouldn’t, follow the Council’s direction that any contract be cost neutral; i.e., that any wage increases be offset with union concessions on other items.  The result: Hamilton recommended a contract requiring the City’s expenditure of $75,488 of “net new dollars” over the contract’s 3-year term, with no explanation from him of why this was such a good deal for the City’s taxpayers.

And in April we wondered what Hamilton was thinking in recommending that the City Council pass a resolution proposed by the next-to-worthless Northwest Municipal Conference, encouraging the federal government to adopt a plan of immigration reform.  Hamilton’s recommendation was properly dismissed by the Council, which gave it a unanimous “no” vote with barely any discussion – except to criticize it.

These incidents, although few in number, raise enough questions about Hamilton’s priorities and  judgment to deny him “permanent” city manager status.  At least for the time being.

But apparently these and other gaffes by Hamilton aren’t enough to prevent the City Council from offering him the permanent City Manager position at the Council’s May 28th meeting.  To the contrary, the Council – with the exception of Ald. Jim “Sleepy” Smith (3rd) – sounds pleased with Hamilton’s performance, and has directed Schmidt to “negotiate” an employment agreement with him.

Frankly, we wonder whether they are as “pleased” with Hamilton’s performance as they are dubious about finding anybody better if they go through the time, effort and expense of conducting a formal search to fill that position.  Given the City’s recent experience with the likes of Jim Hock and Tim Schuenke before him, and what we read and hear about the city and village managers in other communities, they may be right.  And despite all these whiffs, fumbles and shanks, Hamilton still might be able to raise his game to the level of what we hoped for when he arrived.

But why give Hamilton a contract?

According to H.R. Mgr. Suppan, such a contract “solidifies the city’s position and the candidate’s position.”

That bit of squishy H.R.-speak may sound nice, but how does an employment contract solidify “the City’s position” when we all know that the moment Hamilton – or any other City employee, for that matter – says he wants to leave, the Council will most certainly bid him bon voyage on the theory that somebody who doesn’t want to be here won’t do a good job if he/she is kept here?

Let’s call a spade a spade: these kinds of employment contracts protect the employee.  Period.

So even though we’re confident Schmidt won’t negotiate the kind of fiasco deal then-mayor Howard Frimark cut with then-incoming city manager Jim Hock, a deal made exponentially worse by the Council’s demented contract extension months before five Frimark holdovers (Don Bach, Jim Allegretti, Robert Ryan, Tom Carey and Frank Wsol) left office, we question the wisdom of any employment contract at all.

The overwhelming majority of Park Ridge taxpayers who pay Hamilton’s salary don’t have employment contracts in their jobs.  They’re subject to Illinois’ “employment-at-will” laws, which permit their termination at any time for virtually any reason, or for no reason at all.

So why does Hamilton, or any public employee for that matter, deserve an employment contract when the private-sector employees who pay those public employees’ salaries don’t?

And if he doesn’t deserve a contract, then why was Schmidt directed to negotiate one?

To read or post comments, click on title.

20 comments so far

Thank you for pointing out the stupidity of giving public employees fixed term contracts. For a city manager to make $150,000 and also have a fixed term contract is mind boggling. While I trust Mayor Schmidt to not give away the store like Frimark did with Hock, there’s simply no reason for a contract at all.

Mayor Schmidt,

There is no reason for an employment contract for Mr. Hamilton. Please don’t allow it.

Thank you

Illinois is an employer-at-will state. There is no good reason for a contract.

…… Mr. Hamilton ups the focus on his job search…..

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the real world, government bureaucrats.

He’s the usual mediocre, territorial-at-the-expense-of-function dude, and you got it right: The Council doesn’t have the wherewithal or the optimism to search afield for better. Wonder what that Park District wunderkind Ray Ochromowicz is doing these days? That was a guy who got it right; applying private-sector metrics and tactics to public-sector needs, and won a bunch of fans and gold stars in the process. Where’s that guy on the municipal side?


Mr. Ochromowicz accepted a job in St. Charles as executive director of the PD after only being in PR for only about 1 year (1 year and 3 months according to his own linkedin page).

Here is the kicker. He just announced he is retiring. According to linked in he graduated in 1977 so if you assume a normal college grad age that would make him 58 yrs old. He has only been on the job in St. Charles for about 2 yrs.

Want to know his stated reason for retiring??…..and I quote….”I will be fully vested in my pension by August and have decided to explore other opportunities”. Our hero!!! How is that for ” applying private-sector metrics and tactics to public-sector needs???”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Depending on what you read and what you believe, he made significant, money-saving improvements to the St. Charles P.D. while he was there – presumably by “applying private-sector metrics and tactics to public-sector needs.” But when the pension system lets somebody retire after 30 years, this is what you get.


Congrats!! Ya beat me by three minutes!!

The headline of this post says it all! We got stuck bigtime with Hock’s contract, why go down that road again? He gets paid, he gets benefits, why does he need a contract? More importantly, why do the taxpayers need him to have a contract?

Definitely no contract needed. However very unhappy with the lack of process. It appears the mayor was successful in avoiding a thorough process long enough until his new rubber stamp aldermen from the 2nd and 4th ward were elected to force the issue of making Hamilton the permanent city manager without one. If this lack of process becomes the norm the council is setting a dangerous precedent. The result of this precedent was the hiring of an acting city manager with no previous experience at double the salary from his previous job? Then asking the city finance director if Hamilton should get a contract was comical as he himself was hand picked by Hamilton and was hired at practically double the salary from his previous employer. Sorry but this doesn’t sound like being fiscally conservative or responsible. What’s completely shocking is how Jennifer and Craig or other media people missed this……or did they and chose not to report on it. Seems like it would be something residents would want to know about.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A “process” produced Hock’s hiring.

As for Hamilton’s hiring “at double the salary from his previous job,” his previous job’s responsibilities involved a budget of $14 million, one-fourth the Park Ridge budget. If “double the salary” means anything, so should quadruple the responsibility.

Anon. 6/8 at 7:49 pm, totally sympathize with your point. The publisher quibbles with your word choice, “process”, however, and maybe has a point in saying that process alone won’t guarantee a good result. Maybe we should say that no one discussed the objective — i.e., all assumed we would just write a contract like it’s been done all the years in the past.

Times have changed, and it’s also no longer valid to say “this is how nearby cities and towns do it.” Why is it necessary for Park Ridge and its taxpayers to commit via contract to any city manager candidate? Because they might leave the job? (Anon. 6/6 11:10 am, “…as Mr. Hamilton ups the focus on his job search…”) That’s a more acceptable risk than someone we can’t take OUT of the job.

Which brings us to the case of Mr. Hamilton. Never met the guy and I am admittedly going by what I read in the press, but it seems he has made some bush league maneuvers. Why lock those in?

Speaking of the press, I hold no brief for the local stenographers—uh, reporters, but it’s not up to them to suggest that locking in Hamilton with a contract might not be the best route. It’s up to those we elected. (Unless you meant they didn’t report on this at all? Now THAT would be amazing.)

It is so funny how folks have outrage about some things yet other very similar things cause them no concern at all.

You rage on about what happens in the private sector versus the public sector yet when the poster mentions doubling of salary that seems to shrug as if it is no big deal.

The reality in the private sector is that companies love nothing more than to give you more and more responsibility with out commensurate pay increases. “You are now Senior VP or yada yada and here is your 5%….” but immediate doubling of salaries….are you kidding!?!?! Even in job changes where a new company is recruiting you this almost never occurs in the private sector, even at a CEO level.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We didn’t “shrug” about the almost doubling of Hamilton’s salary from his previous position: we pointed out that he went from running a $14 million entity to one more than 4 times that size, so salary doubling isn’t unreasonable.

Why is an employee’s prior salary at a different job for a different employer even relevant to what a new employer pays? By your rationale, the City would set salaries for new employees by what they made at their previous jobs – which is demented, whether measured by private OR public standards.

I also am unhappy about some of the things you complain about Hamilton about. On the other hand, he seems like an improvement over Hock, who was paid more than Hamilton. So firing Hock and hiring Hamilton is a plus, and the only question should be whether there is a reasonable expectation that we could get a better candidate if we did a full search and whether it is worth $30,000 to find out.

I am just catching up. I could have saved people a lot of consternation. I have no intention of entering into a formal contract like the one Frimark gave Hock. There will be a letter of understanding which memorializes the agreed-upon salary and benefits. There will be no term. Mr. Hamilton is now and will remain an at-will employee.

As far as his salary as Acting City Manager is concerned, right now it is barely higher than his highest paid department head. That salary was established after a healthy discussion by the prior Council. It is not out of line for a person with his responsibilities.

It’s been a few years since you went job-hunting, I guess; in the private sector, shamelessly trying to get employees for what they made at their last job is extremely frequent, regardless of how little equivalence there might be between old and new responsibilities. Prior or Current Salary is a basic question and if you don’t answer it, truthfully or otherwise, you’re out of the running automatically.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve always taken the position that, bottom line, a subjectively “fair” wage is whatever an employer and an employee agree upon. If an employee is willing (or desperate) to accept whatever a prospective employer offers, that’s generally “fair.” That being said, there also can be a certain degree of objectivity in determining what’s appropriate compensation for a particular job; e.g., “comparables.”

Geeze, good thing those damn dems created minimum wage laws or we would have lots more jobs at $2 an hour and lots more “desperate” working families living on the street.

I have a suggestion: Find and read the old book, In His Steps. Fair is not whatever the desperate will settle for. Fair is one of the top two requirements for salvation. You know, #1, love your God and #2, love your neighbor as you love yourself. Nobody comes close to meeting that requirement but it’s simply shameful to say that it’s not worth trying for. You’re better than this.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Geeze, too bad those damn dems’ minimum wage laws don’t seem to have done much to reduce chronic intergenerational unemployment for certain segments of our society; or that LBJ’s 48-year old “war on poverty” hasn’t put a real dent in…wait for it…poverty, which is at rate only slightly lower now than when LBJ declared “war.”

By your standard, there appears to be no room for atheists in this country – or anybody else for whom the 10 Commandments isn’t the religious dogma of choice.

Anon 404, you’re kidding me right……do you live in a cave? It’s your kind of thinking that’s gotten the city into the financial crisis it’s in now.

You’re trying to muddy the waters, as it were. I appealed to your religiosity because I know you profess it. Ethical humanism would be just as nice. And the only cave I live in is Plato’s — the obvious macro solution is the only one your ilk won’t countenance; hence In His Steps reference.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t see the relevance of “religiosity” to this discussion – or “ethical humanism,” for that matter. But feel free to share your “obvious macro solution” with our “ilk.”

You don’t see the relevance of religiosity — or religion, if you prefer — or ethical humanism to the question of whether “fair” is whatever an employee is “desperate” enough to settle for?

You’re kidding, right?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We consider “ethical humanism” religion-lite, and we don’t think Felix Adler is qualified to tie the shoes of Jesus or Martin Luther.

“Whatever an employee is ‘desperate’ enough to settle for” is just the recession/high unemployment version of “whatever an employer is ‘desperate’ enough to offer” during boom times/low unemployment. Neither one is morally superior to the other, which brings us back to whatever bargain two parties are willing to strike, however grudgingly, being “fair” to them.

Shame on anyone who reads something in the newspaper and believes it as gospel. Ray Ochromowicz is resigning from his position in St Charles effective August 31, 2013. He never announced his retirement. He never issued a quote to the press. He does not possess the years of service or age to receive his full retirement, and, in fact is resigning because of the government waste. He has been and always will be a taxpayer advocate.

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