Want to get a rise out of readers? Just report on the latest plan to hire a consultant for some project or another. Traffic studies. Architectural reviews. Rethinking policing. Hiring a new superintendent.
“You just need to use some common sense,” is the refrain. “Just wasting taxpayer money,” is the shout. “This town is filled with professionals who would volunteer their time,” is the bold claim. “Your darned study is just going to wind up on the shelf,” is the often truthful rejoinder.
This cynicism is fed by what is certainly a historic overuse of consultants in Oak Park. Maybe it is fed, too, by the common contagion in this nation against anyone with expertise. God keep us from people who actually know something.
Here’s my concern about consultants though. It is a closed loop. And inside that loop too often are people who benefitted from working in government service, retired fairly young from a public service job with a decent pension, want to keep their hand in the game and make some money, know all the likely candidates from the conferences they attended.
Let’s focus on recruiting new village managers and school superintendents. It is something River Forest and Oak Park are very familiar with these days. We just hired a new superintendent at OPRF. District 97 just picked the superintendent search firm it will use to find the district’s next leader. That firm is Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. Same firm that OPRF just used. One of the people Hazard, Young assigned to both these searches is Constance Collins. She’s an Oak Parker and, oh yes, a former D97 superintendent.
Certainly her hometown experience has added value and also drawbacks. D97 has plowed through multiple superintendents in the past 15 years. It is a big-time, hard job. I’d have to think for a while to come up with a list of Collins’ accomplishments.
Before the month ends, Oak Park’s village board will choose a consultant to lead the search to replace Cara Pavlicek as village manager. Pavlicek is heading to Northbrook as its manager. This week a committee of the village board reviewed five applicants, cut two and will now interview the final three before making a recommendation to the full board.
Think about it. Oak Park has a village manager form of government. That means Oak Park is hiring from the pool of active village managers. Assume we don’t want a rookie for a town so complex as Oak Park. Assume we don’t want a person taking one final lap before retirement. Know for certain we want a manager with a mindset on equity, hopefully expertise in an urban/suburban town. And we need a person who is motivated to move but isn’t being actively pushed out the door. We’ll want to ensure there are women and candidates of color in the mix.
That pool isn’t very big. And they all know each other. Inevitable.
Also, Oak Park’s village board is working to hire a consultant to do something in the police department. Some call it an “audit,” though that seems like an odd term. Some want a “reimagining” of public safety. A long span between those two visions. And again, inevitably it seems, the two firms being vetted as recently as Monday night by the board have listed out the teams they want to assign to the project. Heavy on people retired from law enforcement.
All consultants now spell out their “community engagement” processes. Baseball, hot dogs and community engagement are now required as “listening” is the new “listen up.” But the need for genuinely open minds in education, in policing is so profound that the tension between hiring the usual suspects for recruiting and consulting and finding fresh takes on intractable issues is central to each choice our elected bodies make.