Let’s play, ‘Pick a County Administrator!’

By John Guevara 

For the first time in nearly four decades, Winnebago County will have a new County Administrator. County Administrator Steve Chapman has retired and the Board will vote on his replacement and a new CFO, Thursday.

It was earlier in 2016 that the previous Chairman, Scott Christiansen, came to the County Board and asked to retain GOV HRUSA, an executive search firm to hire a new CFO. I remember the discussion revolving around the eventual choice, Carla Paschal, in part because of her familiarity with the county budget through her work for Sikich LLP, the county’s auditing firm.

The resolution appointing Ms. Paschal to the position references GOV HRUSA’s retention and multiple board members confirmed the extensive process in which she was interviewed and selected for the position.

The resolution appointing Steve Chapman’s replacement, Amanda Hamaker, does not read the same. The Chairman consulted with appointed and elected officials, including at least three board members: Gary Jury, Ted Biondo and David Kelley. GOV HRUSA interviewed the candidate. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is transparency. Board members fought against transparency initiatives until the new board was seated. Incoming Chairman Frank Haney has been working hard to prepare his team – met twice with the Operations Committee and introduced both nominees.

The resolution expresses that he “researched the position qualifications for County Administrator.” I know that’s true. He and I discussed it at length when I was still on the board, because it is in the hands of the board to understand the process, vet the process and assure the public that the right people are taking these roles.

Let me explain. The Illinois City County Management Association says it takes on average 17-22 weeks to choose a new administrator. Dixon’s Mayor, Liandro Arellano, said Dixon’s search for a city administrator in the wake of their Comptroller’s massive theft from city coffers took 5-6 months.

How is it that not one board member, in a single meeting on filling the office of the administrator, asked for a copy of the county ordinance outlining the qualifications for the position? I was asked by two board members to provide the qualifications, which I did. Maybe others researched it in private. If so, how was it that neither caucus spoke about how the candidate met the qualifications?

For those who don’t know, Winnebago County Code- Article III Division 2 Sec. 2-122 specifies the qualifications of county administrator. It reads, “The county administrator shall have a bachelor degree in public administration or some similar degree and/or comparable experience and a minimum of five years of supervisory and administrative experience, including employment relations.”

These are not strenuous qualifications, especially when compared to the descriptions posted by Lee and Rock Island Counties in their search for an administrator both of which require a minimum of five years progressive experience in municipal or local government role.

The year 2016 was one for change in government and one of the rally points was transparency. The board will vote on the new county administrator, without having asked the most basic questions in any of the open meetings.

The big knock on government is that decisions are being made behind closed doors. This board spent twice as much time in open meetings over a six-week period talking about spending $5.5 million on a necessary expenditure for the Sheriff’s Department than they did on replacing the person who will be in charge of responsibly spending $200 million a year of your taxes.

Now, I believe the chairman when he says that she’s the best person for the job. But, as you can see, I’ve done my homework. It’s up to the elected board members to demonstrate the same to their constituents. Let’s hope they find their voices on Thursday.

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