Tom Barwin, Oak Park's village manager for two years, has been named a finalist for the managerial position in scenic Boulder, Colo.
Boulder named Barwin, July 25, as one of seven finalists for its vacant city manager's position. He will compete with other candidates from across the country. Barwin was selected from a starting list of about 45 candidates, a spokesperson for Boulder said.
A recruiter contacted Barwin a month ago about this opening. A call to the Colorado-based headhunter was not returned by presstime.
Barwin decided to submit his résumé after mulling the offer over. He said he has not been actively seeking a job and that he is happy in Oak Park. But why not just say no?
"I think I was susceptible to the flirtation," he said. "I'm a community builder and have been for 25 years. And so, it's flattering in that way to know one of the very fine communities would be interested in talking to me."
Boulder is about 30 miles northwest of Denver. It has a population of 103,000, which swells during the school year (29,000 students are enrolled at the University of Boulder). Barwin touts Boulder as one of the great communities in the U.S. Applying for this job was a win-win, he said, as it gave him the chance to visit an innovative community while being considered for a top-notch position.
He's headed there this week but won't say, if he gets the offer, whether he'll take the job.
"Oak Park and Chicagoland are terrific, and we love it here," said Barwin, 53, who lives in Oak Park with his wife, Peggy. "This is just one of those rare, rare situations that I think happens once or twice in a career where an individual is recruited to be considered for a great job."
Boulder plans to have Barwin and the other finalists make presentations to the city council on Aug. 8 from 4:30 to 8 p.m. The next day from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the city council will hold formal interviews, debrief, deliberate, and select a manager, according to the city. The meetings will be broadcast live on Boulder's website at www.boulderchannel8.com.
Boulder's previous manager, Frank Bruno, left his post for another job in June after joining the city in 2003. Salary for the position ranges from $130,000 to $200,000, depending on a candidate's qualifications. There are about 1,200 full-time city employees in Boulder, compared with roughly 450 in Oak Park.
Oak Park hired Barwin as manager in June 2006 at starting pay of $152,000. He vacated a village manager's position in Ferndale, Mich. (pop. 25,000), to start the Oak Park job in August of that year.
Wednesday Journal named Barwin Co-Villager of the Year for 2007, along with President David Pope. In an interview at the time of the story, Barwin said he planned to stay in Oak Park for 5-10 years, which he reaffirmed recently. He doesn't envision retiring anytime soon, since a few of his sons are still in college.
"That's not even on my horizon, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stay in city management till they put me under," he said. "I think I have a good 5-10 years of energy left here."
Barwin currently lives in one of the "Barrie buyback" homes in south Oak Park, which he is renting. He said he has been unable to sell his home in Michigan, because of the state's struggling economy.
Barwin told the village board the week of July 28 about being selected as a finalist in Boulder, Village President David Pope said. Barwin is highly qualified and it isn't surprising that he's sought after, Pope said.
"We obviously want to keep Tom, and I certainly don't think the willingness of any employee to talk to anyone else is an indication that we would necessarily lose him, even if the offer was extended."
Oak Park has a pool of talented and tested professionals, said Trustee Ray Johnson, so it's natural a city like Boulder would recruit here.
"Obviously this is bittersweet," Johnson said. "I don't want to see Mr. Barwin leave; I can't be any more blunt. It would be a significant challenge. At the same time, he's hired some great people ... so we have a pretty strong operation.
"I don't begrudge him checking out Boulder because it's an incredible community and it's an incredible opportunity," he added later.
Pope said it's premature to say what the board will do if Barwin ends up taking the job. But if he stays, Pope does not believe it will affect the manager's relationship with the board. Barwin strikes him as "deeply committed" to Oak Park and hasn't given any reason to believe otherwise.
However, Trustee Greg Marsey worries the flirtation with Boulder might damage the board's relationship with Barwin. Marsey speculated that public scrutiny, long hours, and "intensity of debate" on every issue in Oak Park might have flustered Barwin. The village manager, however, disagreed.
"I happen to thrive on challenges and a community that wants to be about something and that's willing to address some of our really challenging public policy needs," Barwin said.
Still, Marsey worries.
"If he gets the job, we're going to lose him, and that's a bad thing for the community because he's doing an outstanding job," Marsey said. "If he doesn't get the job, then the rest of the board members will be left wondering if and when he might be looking again. It's going to be a bad outcome either way."