In the tight circle that is the world of professional village managers, there are not a lot of secrets. Everyone knows who is looking for a job, about to be out of a job after an election, on the rise, or looking for a soft-landing heading toward retirement. Narrow your search function to the Midwest because there are not a lot of east- or west-coast imports and your circle is tighter still. Then there are the pricey search firms which are all staffed by retired village managers, and the feedback loop becomes an echo chamber.

This comes to mind as Oak Park closes in on choosing its next village manager. Our Stacey Sheridan reports today that a first round of finalists will be interviewed by the board’s personnel committee in early January via Zoom. Three or four of those finalists will be invited to town for a two-day drill in mid-January. 

While that visit will take them to Hemingway’s house, they’ll also tour village facilities, meet with department heads, be interviewed by three panels of stakeholders, attend a likely virtual public meeting with average citizens, and sit for an interview with the full board.

And yes, it sounds exhausting for anyone who is not already a village manager and expects every meeting to go on until midnight.

What’s newsworthy in this flurry of gatherings is the public nature of at least the virtual meeting with ordinary citizens. It means the public and journalists, too, will meet the finalists, be able to ask questions and, of course, do some vetting of their careers before a final choice is made.

It will be instructive for village board members to see how the finalists hold up, even shine, under the scrutiny. It is also a welcome step toward transparency, a virtue this current board has pledged to honor. One member of the board’s personnel committee, Lucia Robinson, expressed concerns about outing the finalists. This is a worry we’ve long heard from elected officials and have always rejected. 

It is the nature of these jobs that managers move. The tenure of managers keeps shrinking as the demands on them increase and elected officials and the public become more impatient. No one is surprised to hear a veteran manager has got the itch or is just looking for an escape route. Twice in the past year Oak Park has seen reporting that its village manager was a finalist for another job and that the elementary school superintendent was also testing the market. Both searched until they found a new opportunity.

That’s the nature of this business today. More light, not less, is preferred and the village president and her board get credit for bringing the public into this critical process.

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