By Anna Lothson
The Oak Park village board could select the firm to help hire the next village manager as early as its next meeting Monday, May 7.
A four hour meeting held Tuesday night hosted a representative from each of the four finalist firms that were recently narrowed from 11. Each firm was given a 50-minute time slot to present their background and qualifications before engaging in questions from members of the board's personnel committee.
Each firm appeared to have its own approach in suggesting how to find the right fit for the job, but each one expressed that if hired, they knew who their boss would be: The Village of Oak Park.
Trustee Ray Johnson, who was a trustee last time the village underwent this process five years ago, said it won't be easy to pick from the candidates.
"I walked out thinking there are four very strong firms before us who could potentially do great work for us," he said. "Whoever we pick will do a great job for us."
Because the consulting field has evolved since the last time around, Johnson said he thinks the firms focused on performance management tools, a tool he was pleased to see included.
"The level of professionalism seemed to be quite strong," he said. "It really seems like the field has advanced quite a bit."
Johnson was encouraged to see that each firm said they could abide by the Sept. 1 timeline of having a person hired.
Of the four firms which presented, each stressed they'd be diligent in reaching out to key stakeholders, connecting with the community, be responsive to the village board and staff, and help guide everyone through the process in an open and fair manner.
The candidates hit on items like community forums, stakeholder interviews, panel discussions and meeting one-on-one with trustees as various tactics they could exercise as the process moves forward.
Following the meeting, Village President David Pope said the board will take the information to review before meeting Monday. Members of the personnel committee were given a score sheet by the human resources department to rank candidate firms.
Johnson said he expects the board will be able to approve their initial choice Monday, which will allow it to have a firm formally hired by the following meeting.
The first firm at the meeting – Affion Public, from Pennsylvania – was represented by Scott Reilly, its chief executive officer, who said he spent the day exploring Oak Park.
"We don't have any predetermined idea of what it takes to run Oak Park," he said. "We have to listen to you; we have to work with you."
All the firms said they'd spend a handful of days to kick off the search in Oak Park by working with village leaders on how they want to approach the search. From there, each said they'd create a community brochure that would be used to market to potential candidates.
Reilly has nine years of experience working with the public sector, and the firm started about three years ago. Around 90 percent of its work is in local government, he said. Their process involves having two recruiters go through each round of interviews, and giving the candidates "homework" before presenting the finalists to the board.
"We want to present everything we know about them – good, bad or indifferent," he said. "It's not our job to get resumes in and shuffle through them. A big thing we do is prove up front, in the first phases, is call them."
Reilly said he observed Oak Park is fairly well "built out" so it's probably more important to bring in a person to focus on re-development than development; that is, if that's the route the board chooses.
Each of the candidates said they have databases of clients, but more often start the process by starting over so they can find the person best fit for a specific job. All stressed they have repeat municipal clients, but don't recruit from places they've placed candidates in.
Bob Murray & Associates
The second presenter was Renee Narloch, vice president of Bob Murray & Associates which has offices in both Florida and California. She's been in the business for 25 years, and formed the current firm 12 years ago.
One item she stressed above all was that the firm is dedicated to working with leaders every step of the process. She said it's important to learn how the board works, how the board and staff work together, and what the strengths and weaknesses are in the organization.
"You would see my face and here my voice all the time. We work very closely with you to develop [the recruiting] strategy," She said. "We want to give you the comfort that we are here for the long term."
Like the first firm, Narloch said she researches the town, but prefers to "come in with a clean slate and pick your brains and see what you're all about," she told the board.
She said their process goes beyond just getting a job description posted, and involved being responsive to leaders.
"We've got to have a two-way fit here," she said, later adding that having offices on both coasts can help bring in a diverse pool of candidates.
"It's very important you get the right person for the right time," she said. "Mis-stepping can be very costly."
The third firm – Voorhees Associates, from Deerfield – was the only local pick and was represented by the group's president, Heidi Voorhees.
She highlighted she's a stickler for a schedule and doing due diligence from day one.
"The hallmark of our work in our front-end work," she said, saying her firm has a strong record of being repeatedly hired. "That's the best testimony I can give to service."
She also stressed the need for meeting with individual stakeholder groups and said outreach will be key to a successful match.
"It really depends on you," she said. "We screen people based on the requirements you have given us."
Following Oak Park's mantra, Voorhees said her firm's process is "very transparent" and they'll be willing to divulge any information during the search.
Despite being Illinois-based, she said they work well across the country and could draw candidates from any region desired.
"We're very open minded in our approach," she said. "I know Oak Park just from working in the area … But I still want to learn a lot about the area."
Slavin Management Consultants
The final candidate – Slavin Management Consultants, from Georgia – was represented by Robert Slavin, the group's president. His group has been in the business for 33 years and has worked in 44 states.
His technique is "not an off-the-shelf approach," he said, rather it's one that's tailored to fit the needs of each community. He said they'd want to talk with commissions, leaders and residents to understand what Oak Park needs.
"We understand who our boss is," he said. "You folks are."
One unique tactic Slavin discussed, which caught the attention of trustees, was going to the place of business where the candidates worked in a way to observe the daily life of the person in a manner in which only the candidate was aware of. He said it helps them gauge how they work with people and how people respond to them in their own atmosphere.
"What's going on in our mind is your profile," Slavin said. "We want to assist with the entire process from the beginning to the end."
They also offer a follow up once the candidate is placed to ensure they fit the profile correctly and ensure the leaders are content.
"We'll continue to work with you until you're happy," he said. "This is a marriage. We are seeking them for a job and the same time making sure it's a job they want."