Oak Park Development Corporation leaders returned to village hall Monday with an updated plan for reorganization, which includes establishment of a new board of directors and executive committee, a new name – Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, and, on both sides of the negotiations, a new sense of urgency.
OPDC also announced Monday it had received the resignation of its president, Sara Faust, who will remain with the organization for up to the next six months to assist with the transition. Faust's resignation had been expected and was seen by some at village hall as a necessary condition of the increased funding and autonomy the group sought.
The reorganized economic development group will establish an eight-member board of directors and executive committee to include the village president, a village trustee and the village manager as non-voting members and five at-large directors with voting authority. The Oak Park EDC also will establish an executive director position.
The group also is asking for a 2014 appropriation of $721,500, more than double the 2013 appropriation of $300,000.
Trustee Colette Lueck, who said last month that the village should not invest "three quarters of a million dollars without understanding the return," said at Monday's meeting that moving forward with the plan makes sense.
"In funding year one, we are making a commitment to year two," she said. "We're making a commitment to $700,000 in year two and going forward. I don't think we have any choice."
The appropriation would include $567,500 for four full-time employees, $84,000 for operating expenses, $60,000 for marketing and $10,000 for employee training. In addition to the executive director position, the overhauled organization will include a development director, a project director and an office manager. Beyond Faust's exit, the status of other current OPDC staff members is not clear.
Village Trustee Adam Salzman questioned the breakdown on salaries versus marketing expenses, noting that 77 percent of the organization's annual budget would go to employees.
"When presented alongside marketing, it can look a little bit lopsided," he said. "(Village Manager Cara Pavlicek) talks about getting the right people on the bus. We need to get the right people in the right positions."
The proposal puts the executive director's annual pay at $120,000, the development director's pay at $170,000, the project manager's at $80,000 and the office administrator's at $40,000. The plan also sets aside $80,000 a year in bonuses for staff for successfully securing development projects. Finding a tenant for the shuttered Dominick's grocery store in Oak Park, for instance, could result in bonuses for staff, Marty Noll, OPDC's longtime chairman, said. Noll is also chairman of Community Bank Oak Park River Forest.
Village Trustee Peter Barber suggested that marketing funds of $60,000 might not be enough to get the group's message out.
"I think the money is enough to start," he said. "I encourage a year two marketing budget at a higher rate."
Oak Park's village board is expected to take final action on the proposal at its meeting set for Jan. 27.
The proposal notes that current members of the OPDC Board of Directors "are expected to submit their resignations" and a nominating committee will meet to pick new directors.
"It will be solicitous of members from the existing board of OPDC and others in the community to provide continuity and also to find the skills and strengths that the new EDC will require," the proposal notes. "Once elected, the new board will name an interim executive director from several identified candidates to operate the company until a permanent executive director has been found."
The interim executive director was expected to be chosen by Feb. 28, according to the proposal. But Village President Anan Abu-Taleb said he'd like to see the organization move faster.
"I would like to have some certainty about having an interim executive director by the end of January," he said. "We have a lot of people knocking on the door today. I don't want to miss another month of not having certainty for the market."
Remaking Oak Park's economic development effort – both at OPDC and within village hall, has been Abu-Taleb's priority since his election last January.
Noll said his organization already has a list of potential candidates for the interim position.
"Some we have spoken with and some we have not," he said. "They will take the position knowing they need to staff the organization. We know we need to be in business quickly."
This is the second time OPDC presented plans to village trustees. In early December, the economic development group presented a preliminary proposal for reorganization, following criticism from the village board for being ineffectual.
Noll told village trustees in December that the reorganized OPDC would be "nimble and agile" and fully accountable to village hall.