A handful of Oak Park residents tuned in Sunday evening via Zoom for a first-of-its-kind event. The village board, now likely closing in on the selection of our next village manager, allowed citizens to see the three finalists in what passed for action.
We are nothing but appreciative that this village board pulled back the curtain a smidge and let the puny number of interested residents hear the finalists answer a generic series of questions posed by Katie Rush, the moderator, a staffer at the GovHR search firm and once the village manager of nearby Riverside.
There is always the distancing that a virtual meeting engenders, but the canned questions were not designed to spark an interesting conversation. There were the “What will your top three priorities be if you are chosen?” and “What will be your biggest challenge if you are chosen?” variety of chestnuts. Tell us about sustainability, infrastructure and, this being Oak Park, what about this darned diversity and equity issue?!
We did not get to the “If you were a tree, what tree would you be” question, which might have actually been more revealing unless they all defaulted to “Oak.”
Lisa Shelley, the current interim village manager and a top administrator in Oak Park for better than two decades, had both the inside track — because she knows and has worked on several of the specific goals already set by this board — and the worry that after all those years she is not better known for leadership in the community.
Lionel Lyons brings 35 years of experience, though mostly as a department head in various capacities within the very large city government in Phoenix. While he is now serving in a smaller Virginia community, he has not led an organization. He touted his hands-on work related to police reform in Phoenix.
Eric Johnson is a village manager in the smaller northwest suburb of Carpentersville. He described himself as a somewhat larger personality and made the case for active engagement across the village and within village hall. He cited the large Latino population of Carpentersville and his efforts in the decade since the village rescinded its hateful “English only” ordinance to create a diverse and inclusive government.
In this COVID moment when the job market is so tumultuous, we were disappointed in the small overall number of candidates who applied for what we have long considered a plum position among city managers. There is also the reality that Oak Park is a tough town to work in. Our challenges are real and complex. The resources are not endless. And there is a level of division in the village that is worrisome.
Choosing a village manager, its single employee, is make or break for a village board. We wish this board the best in its decision, and we thank them for opening up the selection process to public review.