From Village of Lakewood President Paul Serwatka:
Friends and Neighbors,
I am excited (and quite relieved) to announce that we have a new Captain at the helm of our village administration.
I hope you will all help to congratulate and welcome, Ms. Jeannine Smith!
On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, our village board voted 6-1 (although my vote really only counts when breaking a tie) to hire Ms. Smith as Lakewood’s Chief Administrative Officer.
The timing couldn’t have been better, with an ensuing, mandated December deadline for establishing Lakewood’s Annual Property Tax Levy, followed by the upcoming deadline for the 2018 budget.
Ms. Smith offered a somewhat atypical and intriguing combination of both public sector experience as well as private sector & entrepreneurial experience with particularly notable experience in what I feel are some critical elements that have been missing from our village administration.
A few noteworthy items are:
▪ 9-years as Administrative Officer – Village of Prairie Grove
▪ Notable work in Economic Development (A Huge Plus)
▪ Experienced in developing/implementing budgets, tax levies, etc.
▪ 5-years as Economic Development Officer – Village of West Dundee
▪ Former Secretary of McHenry County StormWater Commission
She is also currently earning her MPA (Masters in Public Administration)
Ms. Smith received high recommendations and regards from:
▪ Village President, Prairie Grove – David Roback
▪ Village President, West Dundee – Chris Nelson
▪ Local Municipal Leaders
▪ State Legislators
▪ Illinois Municipal League, Legislative Director – Joe McCoy
▪ Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, Executive Director – David Bennet
▪ Village Engineering Firm Baxter & Woodman
Collectively, all spoke as to Ms. Smith’s professionalism, drive & leadership qualities, deeming her as “an opinion leader among her peers”, having “fortitude to get things accomplished”, “skills in creating & implementing budgets”, and “Out of the box thinking.”
Employment Terms and Salary
It is important to note that this was virtually a “No Risk” hire for our village as several protective measures have been afforded our village, in this employment contract.
Ms. Smith will serve as an “At-Will Employee” at an annual salary of $138,900. The initial contract runs through the end of our fiscal year, April 30 2018. On May 1, 2018, a new 12-month contract will go into effect, and will renew annually, unless terminated no less than 60 days prior by either party.
One month of severance pay will be earned per year of employment – only to be paid in the event that any annual contract is terminated prematurely – with a total severance not to exceed four months salary (after 4 years of employment). IMRF pension and typical benefits are included as with all other full-time village employees.
*Important to note – Municipal Administrator contracts customarily run for a 4-year term with immediately earned severance pay of six-months salary should the contract be terminated short of the four year term.
The Challenge We Faced
As I reported back in June, the newly elected Village Board recently made several changes to key ordinances that essentially restructured the village’s administration, including eliminating the position of Deputy Village Manager and merging both the Village Manager and Finance Director positions. This restructuring, if successful, would bring a quite substantial savings in administrative costs for our village – with no decreased services.
We knew going in, this was an altogether new and unorthodox approach and that this approach this would come with some challenges – none more challenging than finding a LEADER, capable of not only the multi-faceted skills of managing our village, but also the capability of handling village finances, creating & implementing budgets, levying property taxes, etc.
Another aspect in which I had strong feelings was finding someone with private sector experience, someone of a “reform” mindset, who was not, what I refer to as “indoctrinated into a typical municipal government mindset.”
In the public postings for this position, as well as the many conversations I had with prospective hires, we spoke of “a reform mindset”, we spoke of seeking to create efficiencies, of zero-based budgeting, of eliminating redundancies and waste, of outsourcing and privatizing, etc.
My hope was, and is, to never again hear the all too familiar statements: “it is what it is and add 3% on next year” or “we must ask for the maximum tax increase each year, or we lose that money forever.”
You may not be aware, but the above two statements are actually quite the norm in municipal government thinking – and I assure you this has absolutely been the incontrovertible dogma of Lakewood government for many, many years!
My goal remains to put an end to the “tax to the max” & spend & hoard way of thinking – and to begin to impose taxes only as necessary, leaving the “left-overs” in the resident’s pockets.
As we began fielding resume/application packages, it became quite apparent that this would indeed be a challenge. After interviewing several candidates, over a period of several weeks, there were three candidates that I felt were truly qualified – with two, in particular, that I felt confident could lead our village according to the core principles, and in the direction, that I had promised and was elected to pursue.
At this point, my intention was to present these three candidates to the entire village board to begin the process of a full board resume-review, formal interview, Q&A and deliberation (as I believe is quite customary) so as to obtain the input, advice and consent of the board, as per village code, as we moved forward in choosing from among them.
In the following days, however, two of the candidates withdrew from consideration. Remaining, was Ms. Smith, who as it happens, was in my Top-2 of the candidates – particularly due to her notable experience in both Economic Development and the McHenry County StormWater Commission – both of which are quite critical to Lakewood.
With the December deadline of establishing our Annual Property Tax Levy, it was important that Ms. Smith’s hiring was deliberated upon by the board at the November 14th meeting.
In the week or so prior to, and in preparation of, this meeting, I selected four trustees to preview the resume/application package and to meet with Ms. Smith for individual “pre-interviews” before scheduling a formal presentation for a full board interview.
Trustees Phil Stephan and Carl Davis took this opportunity and met with Ms Smith. Trustees Pat Rexroat and Jason McMahon did not take the opportunity. Both trustees, Phil Stephan and Carl Davis felt confident Ms. Smith was quite qualified, capable and a good-fit for the job.
There are several trustees who would like to have been involved in varying degrees of the screening process itself. Some made clear they did not like that there was only one candidate to choose from. I, myself, wished there were more candidates to present.
I have absolutely no problem in discussing a formal, more inclusive, selection process for future hirings of our Chief Administrative Officer (though I certainly hope it never becomes an issue again). My intention was never to exclude anyone. Trustee Ric Ritchie did request to be a part of the screening process itself. He and others feel that all trustees should be given all resumes and have “equal say” in who is moved forward in the process.
Agree or disagree, I can not say that I am completely comfortable with this idea. There is certainly no requirement that trustees be part of the initial screening, nor do I believe it is customary that they be.
This is not to say that I am not open to the idea.
I am not necessarily opposed to the general scope of this idea. I do believe an organized, systematic and pre-conceived process could be implemented, with certain parameters set, that could make this a feasible approach. That said, I also believe quite strongly that any President/Mayor MUST have additional discretion in whom is to be selected to implement the policies set by the board and oversee the day to day administrative activities. And I must say, I believe this is particularly important for any President/Mayor who has promised, and was elected to pursue, the many bold commitments, that I have.
I simply can’t achieve “No More Business as Usual!” as I have been touting for the last 3 years, without having some additional discretion in who is put in control of implementing policy and running village operations.
Any leader who is to be held accountable as to their promises, must be afforded discretion in choosing the right “cabinet” of leaders necessary to fulfill them.
I am confident that future discussions will arrive at a consensus that all board members can feel good about. In the meantime, my hope is that we can all get behind, and show our support for, Jeannine moving forward, as we begin to tackle, perhaps, our two most important tasks, in establishing our annual property tax levy along with next years operating budget.
As always, your thoughts, questions and concerns are always welcome and always valued.
For a better Lakewood,
Paul D. Serwatka