Housing Center chief resigns

Board prez nixes talk of 'politics'

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By DREW CARTER

Longtime Oak Park Regional Housing Center leader Agnes M. Stempniak stepped down Aug. 26 from her post as executive director, a post she held the past nine years.

Though some questioned the causes of Stempniak's departure, Rick Kuner, president of the nonprofit organization's board of directors called the resignation "voluntary," and said her contributions would be acknowledged formally at the organization's annual October fundraiser.

"She's walking away with a wealth of experience and knowledge after having made a fairly significant and lasting impact on the Housing Center," Kuner said.

Stempniak served on the center's board for seven years?#34;three as its president?#34;before learning the executive director role from and sharing the position with Housing Center founder Bobbie Raymond. Stempniak took the helm solely in 1996.

Previously she worked for the Village of Oak Park for 17 years.

Raymond said Stempniak has a "deep sense of commitment for the community and a love for the community.

"She is very concerned about the future of the Housing Center and the future of Oak Park," Raymond said.

In response to requests for an interview, Stempniak sent Wednesday Journal an e-mail, which in part reads, "I strongly support the mission of the Housing Center, however, it was time to move on."

Her plans include expanding work on a "communications business" she had started before joining the housing center staff.

But Paul Hamer, a former Housing Center board member, questioned the resignation.

"I think this is a political move," Hamer said. "It has nothing to do with her performance."

Hamer resigned from the board upset that Whiteco, the company tapped to develop the village-owned property at Harlem and Ontario, was touting its development as having Housing Center approval, which it did not, he said.

"Aggie was doing a fantastic job. She went through two years that have just been horrible for the housing market, and she went through it with flying colors."

He said the Village Manager Association, which lost big in the April election, wanted to "put their people" in the organization.

"The notion that this is somehow a political move and the VMA is behind it...no way," Kuner said.

Kuner said Stempniak received a favorable review recently, but that her performance, like most people's, had strengths and weaknesses in different areas. He said the board, through "informal discussions" with Stempniak, knew a resignation was coming.

"We knew that she was thinking generally about stepping down," he said.

Kuner said Stempniak will be recognized at the Housing Center's October fundraiser, which will be held at the Nineteenth Century Club.

Meanwhile, Louise Varnes serves as interim director while the board is searching for a new executive director, something that leaders say won't be easy.

"I think it's a tough job to fill," Kuner said.

"It's a very complicated position," said Raymond, who founded the organization to ensure integration of African-American families into all sections of Oak Park. Raymond was executive director from its founding in 1972 until she stepped down in 1996.

"It's a job where people call you practically 18 hours a day," Raymond said. "Basically everyone at the Housing Center is doing their job and three or four other jobs."

The executive directorship is tough because it, too, must handle many facets of the operation, including personnel and development. Add onto that the fact that the right candidate must understand Oak Park and the importance of the Housing Center's role in ensuring integration.

Hamer said other communities have tried to copy Oak Park's success, and that those that failed thought the process was over, that the problem had been solved.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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