Trustee: Village attorney role needs clarification

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Although it's a legal document, Oak Park's village code often sparks debate. With the hiring of the new village attorney, one village trustee says it may be time for code clarifications and upgrades.

Per village code, the selection of Oak Park's village attorney is up to the discretion of the village manager. Because of this, the village board solicited advice on what qualities were desired in a village attorney, but they didn't provide much guidance toward a specific candidate.

The board held an executive session recently where they informally met with newly hired Village Attorney Paul Stephanides, but it was up to Pavlicek to make the final call.

"There was a good sense that there was concurrence about my opinion that he was the most qualified for this position," Pavlicek said in a recent interview.

And while the village manager is charged with filling that position, village code states that, "employment decisions by the Village Manager in relation to the General Counsel shall be reviewed with the board of trustees before final action."

Trustee Adam Salzman, an attorney himself, agreed it was important for Pavlicek to make the choice, but he also wanted clarification on the village board's role in selecting such a position. He'd also like to see that role redefined.

"The village attorney role is very broad," Salzman said. "I think it might possibly be too broad. But that's the way the council of government [model] works."

The general counsel advises the village board, according to the code, and is responsible for "processing and prosecuting violations of Village ordinances." The village attorney and village manager can also choose when to use outside counsel, but Salzman thinks there is room for tightening up the language involving the village attorney's role.

"It's certainly open for debate," Salzman said. "There is nothing in the code that specifies when work should be done in house and when it should be outsourced."

Because former village attorney Ray Heise came equipped with such "institutional knowledge," it never was an issue, but board members have continually brought up the concept of defining how the law department works during "special protocol sessions." Salzman said this is an example of a "lingering question" trustees have pondered updating but have yet to do so.

He doesn't anticipate major changes in the code language happening anytime soon because of the complicated nature of it. Salzman did, however, suggest it's worth at least clarifying.

Salzman said he was impressed with the search process and the diverse pool of candidates the post attracted. What stood out to him about Stephanides was his breadth of experience and personality.

"He seemed very bright, personable and had a good sense of humor," Salzman said. "All those characteristics will serve him well in this position."

And despite questions about the selection process, Salzman agreed it was best to let Pavlicek have the latitude to do what she felt best for the position.

"I do think we ended up with the best candidate," he said.

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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see caption under photo  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 1:10 PM

I hope the change the rules for the liquor commission too and not just the liquer commission. Who spell checks for this woman anyway?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 11:26 PM

I couldn't agree more. Heise's institutional knowledge led to his making decision for the village beyond the scope of a counselor. Institutional knowledge is great, but not when it comes from one head! The board needs to ensure that powers assumed by a staff member are clearly described in the employees job description or specifically assigned by the VM..

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