It's not often that you see a homeless $160,000-a-year administrator, who has a son playing football in the NFL. But such may be the case, unless things change for Oak Park Village Manager Tom Barwin in the next couple of months.
Since leaving Ferndale, Mich., in 2006 for Oak Park's leafy pastures, Barwin has been living in a government-owned house in south Oak Park. It was supposed to be a temporary fix until he sold his house in Michigan, but the economy tanked and Barwin had a tough time selling his Michigan property.
In April 2008, he started paying rent for the two-bedroom, two-bath house, which the village bought a few years earlier during a massive remediation of Barrie Park across the street.
In the spring, around the time that Barwin's last employment agreement was renewed, the village manager made an offer to purchase the home, which he had most recently been paying $1,200 a month to rent. He made another offer in the summer, but Barwin said the village board did not accept his offers, and his home of the last four years will be put on the open market in the spring.
"The village wants to take competitive prices on it. So be it," he said. "I'll miss the neighborhood. I love living in that part of Oak Park."
Barwin and his wife, Peg, are still deciding whether they want to make an offer when their home goes on the market in April or May.
The personnel subcommittee of the village board—which consists of Village President David Pope and trustees Ray Johnson and Colette Lueck—made the choice not to accept Barwin's offer. The discussions were held in closed meetings, according to Lueck, as the matter involved property disposition.
Pope emphasized the importance of getting market value for the village-owned home, which is on the 1000 block of South Lombard Avenue. That would involve the village obtaining three appraisals for the property and using the middle of the three to set the price.
Selling the home at a discounted rate would amount to additional compensation for the manager, Pope said, which Oak Park is not going to do.
"My sense is that our board is not at all interested in going in the direction of providing the house for sale at less than a market rate," Pope said. "I think our board feels strongly about the importance of safeguarding the fiscal interests of the taxpayers."
Pope said selling the home is a completely separate issue from the village manager's performance. The board is slated to take up Barwin's next annual employment agreement sometime in January or February.
Last March, the board gave Barwin favorable reviews, awarding him a $15,245 cash bonus and 2.24 percent raise that would have boosted his base pay to $165,411. But Barwin asked that the incentives be deferred, since the other 90 village employees who aren't in unions haven't received pay boosts since 2008.
Lueck felt that Barwin's proposals to buy the home were more conversational than concrete offers. She didn't get into the nitty-gritty of the numbers — nor did Pope or Barwin — but said that the home needs repair, and the village no longer wants to play landlord. The talks weren't as simple as the manager making an offer and trustees saying no, as it also involved his general compensation package.
"It wasn't that he just, that he said 'Can I buy the house?' and we said, 'No, we want to sell it.' It was more complicated than that," she said, later adding, "And I think the proposal before us wasn't one that was looked at favorably."
Oak Park hasn't done a recent appraisal of the home. The village bought it in December 2004 for $341,722. Molly Surowitz—a Realtor with Baird & Warner, who specializes in southeast Oak Park—said it will be a tough sell, as most families are looking for three bedrooms not two. Based on comparable sales in the neighborhood, she guessed that in this down market the home would sell for between $260,000 and $280,000. Surowitz also represented the village in selling five other Barrie Park homes, and advised the village when it was figuring out how much to charge Barwin in rent.
The home had previously sat on the market for 341 days while Barrie Park was shut down and remediated.
"That was a hard sell," Surowitz said.