By the time you read this, Oak Park’s village board will have likely chosen a search firm to help find the next village manager. That search process could be a reality series on Wonk TV. Likely it won’t be a special, though, on VOP TV, which is the village’s cable channel for board meetings, event placards and the excellent video stylings of Joe Kreml, the village’s videographer.
That’s because, while we are about to make the plea again, it seems unlikely that the village board will deign to open the interview process for village manager finalists to the public. Search firms don’t like open processes because they say the potential candidates, who are all city managers somewhere already, don’t like an open process. The city managers say they don’t like the open process because they don’t want to tell their bosses back home they’re looking for work until they can hand in their notice.
We get it. It’s like what happens most often in the private sector. An employee with perfect teeth has a series of dentist appointments on a series of afternoons that result in a job offer and an awkward conversation in the boss’ office.
That though would be the private sector. This is the public sector. Our village. Our tax dollars. Our right to some actual transparency. Our chance to get a sense of the village board’s job priorities. Our chance to see a range of candidates who will have major impact on our village. The board’s chance to see how a candidate will respond on a public stage in a town filled with public stages.
There wasn’t much transparency in the departure of the previous village manager, Tom Barwin. Poof. He gone, as Hawk Harrelson might say. This is a chance for this village board to prove finally that their belief in open government is genuine.
Seems to us there is a very small pool of potential candidates for the Oak Park job. There are only so many towns with the manager-council form of government. We are going to hire a credentialed person, likely a member of the International City Management Association. For a village as large and complex as Oak Park, it is near certain that we will hire a person who is currently a manager, not an assistant or a public works chief. The candidates are largely known.
Like baseball managers, village managers work the circuit. They come. They work. Eventually they leave or are made to disappear. No one is shocked at the cycle. So let’s be open about it. Let Oak Park, the bastion of open government, be on the leading edge of forcing the process open.