By Anna Lothson
Village President David Pope said Monday that a nationwide search to find Oak Park's next village manager proved they already had the best candidate in house.
Interim Village Manager Cara Pavlicek will be officially named manager on Wednesday at a special swearing in meeting, Pope announced during his comments at the regular village board meeting. Her contract will also be approved at that time.
Pavlicek was been serving in the interim role since March 1, following Tom Barwin's Feb. 21 resignation announcement. In May, Slavin Management Consultants was hired for a fee not to exceed $21,490 to assist in the search. Pope said the goal was to have a manager hired in September, but a variety of circumstances delayed the process. Four months later, however, he was confident in the board's decision.
"She has the ability to see how an organization can run more effectively," he said,
"and is willing to engage in dialogue and discussion with the village board with the deployment of resources in ways that will be most effective in helping to advance their policy prescriptions."
Pavlicek won't have to fill out much paperwork or be brought up to speed on village issues when she officially takes over after being sworn in Wednesday. Still, Pope said it's a benefit that she's ahead of the learning curve but noted it wasn't a factor in the decision.
"There's no doubt that Cara's experience in our community and knowledge of the various issues we face and many of the characteristics that really help define who we are is certainly a plus," he said."
Pavlicek, who was the parking services manager before being named interim manager, has worked for 20 years in municipal management, including 10 as a city manager. Most recently, she served as manager of Downers Grove for nearly three years before getting fired. She subsequently filed a lawsuit against the community, alleging breach of contract, and was awarded $73,000, according to a February 2012 Wednesday Journal article.
Following Monday's meeting Pavlicek said she was excited to finally have a permanent position but wanted to reserve extensive comments until after the decision was confirmed.
"It's been nice to do the interim job. It has given me the opportunity to work with all the staff and really get to know the governing body and really get to know the community in a different role," she said. "That's nice and I think it gives me a better sense of the magnitude of the day to day responsibilities."
The only notable difference, she said, is the permanent title.
The village received 41 applications that were quickly narrowed to 13 by a village manager subcommittee, led by Pope and Trustees Ray Johnson and Colette Lueck. The pool slimmed to six candidates, coming from five states, who were each brought in for interviews the second week of December.
Pope said it was not initially known when the search process was launched if Pavlicek would apply, and when she did it was not a guarantee that she would be a finalist. The search process, he noted, was essential to ensure the village had the highest qualified applicant.
"I think it has been from the beginning the strong commitment from the entire village board to hire the very best candidate," Pope said. "In turn, it was necessary to conduct a search process to see who the best prospective candidates could be."
Bob Slavin, the head of the consulting firm, helped lead the board through a comprehensive search to identify what was needed for the next village manager. Pavlicek's name was thrown into the mix and Pope said the group was impressed with her "background and application."
In August, Oak Park sent out a community and candidate profile to attract applicants. The profile cited qualities desired in the village manager. These included, among others, balancing the direction of the board of trustees and building "effective working relationships." … Ability to "recognize the need for diversity. …Be a strategic thinker with an eye for detail with a strong orientation toward customer service. …Willing to play a highly visible role in the community. … have extensive experience in staff development and team leadership. … able to promote green and sustainable initiatives. …[and] an accessible team leader and colleague who is comfortable with delegation and accountability."
"He (Slavin) helped us to refine and think about the types of characteristics and qualities that collectively as a board would be the priorities of the things we were thinking about as we began to initiate the search," Pope said. "That was very valuable in ensuring our board came through the search process in a way that helped to promote a comprehensive and unified perspective in what we might be seeking."
Also in the profile sent out to prospective candidates, professional attributes were named, including "a professionally stable administrator with a record of tenure and consistent career growth. …An active regional leader. …proved track record of staff development. …demonstrated background in guiding and participating in the redevelopment of cities and metropolitan areas. …[and] a person of strong and professional values and ethics; politically neutral [who] must listen and be 'whole village' centered and not myopic."
Pope said the process, albeit longer than desired, garnered a "competitive pool" of applicants and confirmed Oak Park was a desirable place for village manager candidates.
Pope also said the process created positive precedent for future Oak Park manager searches since he believes a competitive, diverse search is always necessary to find the best candidate when a transition occurs.
Barwin resigned with a base salary of $165,411. As interim manager, Pavlicek is currently being paid $125,000. Her new salary will be announced Wednesday.
"Obviously the responsibilities already exist whether you're in that interim position or not. Once you accept the position – there's a lot more responsibility, you can't say well, I'm the interim, let's hold off on addressing the issue. There's responsibility of getting the board's direction and finalizing it and moving forward."
It's that experience with the board as interim that Pope said will serve her well.
"I think the members of the board were duly impressed with her background, both what she's been able to achieve in other communities and in the experience we've had working with her over the past 10 months," Pope said. "Cara ultimately emerged as the strongest candidate and the person best equipped to help us advance the vision of strengthening Oak Park even beyond where it is today."