By Anna Lothson
Sticking to a hiring process for the next Oak Park village manager that protects the candidates, yet is transparent to the community isn't an easy task. Trustees, however, think it's achievable.
Robert Slavin, president of Slavin Management Consultants — the selected village manager search firm — assured the board last month that he has managed that balancing act for more than 30 years.
Trustee Ray Johnson, who sits on the selection committee, said one concept that Slavin outlined that may be beneficial would be a panel review. That technique engages various stakeholders, such as business owners and organization leaders, in private meetings with the finalists.
"It's a helpful and valuable component that could serve us well," Johnson said. "You are getting a wide cross-section of input on one of the most important decisions we are going to make."
Johnson stressed that the search process with Slavin has not been decided and will be part of larger conversations moving forward. But he said being transparent and professionally confidential with respect to the applicants is one factor he thinks must be kept in mind throughout the process.
"There's absolutely a way to do it," he said. "I think there has to be a way to have a benchmark to strive for."
Johnson said he looks forward to discussions about what worked and what didn't in Slavin's past searches. Determining the best methods of keeping the public involved in discussions is another topic he is interested in exploring.
One technique Slavin discussed was going to the candidate's workplace in a discrete manner to observe how he or she interacts with others there and throughout the community.
Johnson said one quality Slavin offered that no other firms mentioned was his attention to performance metrics and performance management in the hiring process. Since Oak Park is currently analyzing how to execute such a system, he thinks having a candidate who understands this could lead to a good fit.
Slavin's ability to create interview panels while keeping candidates' identities confidential, as well as assisting in individual performance reviews were two factors that put the firm in the number one spot for Johnson.
Trustee Colette Lueck agreed it was possible to keep candidates confidential and still keep the public informed.
"It's a hugely important question that I'm hoping the board has more discussions about," she said. "I want to talk about the focus group up front."
When it comes down to finalists, however, she thinks it's a good practice to inform current employers that they are applying elsewhere.
"Hopefully there are ways to manage this that maximize our opportunity for public input," Lueck said. "To me, that's an important step."
She also said the board will keep the public updated, and will offer opportunities to speak at public meetings regarding thoughts on what the candidate profile should be. This may include community forums, focus groups and regular updates at board meetings.
The first public meeting to provide input about the process will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, at village hall.
"There will absolutely be opportunities for public opinion," she said. "There isn't going to be any debate about that."