'The Tony Principle' and knowing your limitations

Opinion

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Bill Dwyer

Back in 1969 Dr. Laurence J. Peter's book "The Peter Principle" posited that "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Allow me to state the political corollary of the Peter Principle, which I call "The Tony Principle."

The Tony Principle holds that "In an outmoded form of governance with an uncritical board majority headed by a clueless power monger, that clueless power monger tends to assume responsibilities for which he has no qualifications."

Laurence J. Peter's original concept assumed that individuals would be promoted to their level of incompetence. But in the case of people such as our current mayor under our Model-T Commission form of government, he apparently simply takes a gander at some activity that strikes his fancy, says, "Hey! I can do that," and unilaterally assumes resonsibility for the task.

It's a common pitfall for injudicious elected officials who happily rise to their personal levels of incompetence. Happy for them, that is. The rest of us often get royally jobbed and stuck with the bills.

According to Laurence Peter, one way that organizations attempt to avoid this effect is to refrain from promoting a person until that person exhibits the skills necessary to properly deal with the demands of the new position. Unfortunately, voters sometimes pick people to run governments based on criteria other than competency, such as, "he's a nice guy," or "he scratched my back, so I'm scratching his."

Some would argue that over reaching by elected officials can be controlled with a few simple checks and balances. But the majority of our elected officialsâ€"i.e., Commissioners Tim Gillian and Mark Hostyâ€" aren't willing to provide those checks and balances. In fact, the majority of this board has already shown the willingness to allow Calderone unfettered say over who gets hired as part time cops in this village. So why should they question him taking the reigns when it comes to negotiating a settlement with a wrongly suspended police officer?

Lt. Steve Johnsen, a 24 year veteran who once served as acting Chief of Police was placed on paid leave for some ten weeks starting in late February. The suspension was for Johnson supposedly arresting bar owner Jim Shaw without proper justification following a verbal altercation between Shaw and Commissioner Patrick Doolin.

Private Investigator and former State Police officer Bob Johnson billed the village for 92 hours at $100 per hour to investigate Johnson's alleged misconduct. During that time Lt. Johnsen, a 24-year veteran earning roughly $1,500 per week, was suspended with pay for approximately ten weeks- a $15,000 paid vacation. That's over $24,000, spent for…what? Johnsen's back on the job, and since any suspension of any substantial length has to go before the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, we know Johnsen didn't get much, if any punishment. Most likely because he didn't deserve any.

Add the $24,000 wasted on the Johnson affair to the over $100,000 the village has spent prosecuting Sgt. Dan Harder- basically for using some really naughty language to another cop - and you can understand why the village can't afford to expand the size of its police force.

Clueless

Tony Calderone reminds me of Gene Hackman's character in Clint Eastwood's film "Unforgiven." Hackman plays the sheriff of a small town out west who also fancies himself a carpenter. The frame house he built for himself is poorly constructed, and the rook leaks, but the clueless Hackman doesn't notice. Just how oblivious Hackman is to his lack of skill becomes apparent one stormy evening as he talks in his living room with a magazine writer from back east. As the rain drips through the roof at dozens of points, Hackman happily chats with the writer, all the while moving about the shack emptying a dozen pots and pans set under some of the leaks. Meanwhile, the writer and his note pad are slowly getting drenched.

"Sheriff," the writer finally says with a pleading look, "The rain."

"Well, I don't have any more receptacles," Hackman replies apologetically.

As Eastwood himself said in one of his earlier movies, "A man's got to know his limitations."

Unfortunately, people like Tony Calderone don't know theirs. Over the past few weeks, there have been rumors that the village- that is, Calderone- was attempting to negotiate a deal with Johnsen to prevent another hearing before the village's Fire and Police Commission. I say "rumors" because no one outside a small coterie of people in village hall actually know what occurred, or why.

While Hackman's character could only place buckets around his shack to catch the all too obvious leaks resulting from his incompetence, Tony Calderone can avail himself of the last refuge for the administratively incompetent- the all purpose "it's a personnel issue" screen.

It would be "entirely inappropriate to comment," on the settlement, Calderone told the Forest Park Review two weeks ago, calling it a personnel issue that must be handled privately. But with public money, of course.

It's all getting very old, observing the propensity of Calderone and others in Forest Park government for making legal cases out of administrative matters, and charging into situations that would be better handled with tact and subtlety.

People may think that I don't respect Village Administrator Mike Sturino's abilities, in light of the fact that I've criticized his judgment in one unfortunate instance. But the truth is that I've never called Sturino's overall competence into question. And I'm certainly not the one treating Sturino like a $125,000 a year coat holder- Calderone is, by not using him properly.

Calderone needs Sturino- a certified village administrator who's also an attorney â€" as badly as Hackman's character needed a carpenter. Sturino has already brought badly needed fiscal discipline to Forest Park government. Why they won't allow him the chance to bring greater administrative calm and discipline to village government as well is a question every voter needs to put to Calderone, Hosty and Gillian.

Of course, then politics would likely play far less of a role in some decisions at village hall, and I suspect Calderone would rather crawl through broken glass than see that happen.

Regardless of how he utilizes Sturino's skill sets, Calderone owes it to taxpayers to adopt a thoughtful, conservative approach to issues concerning their best interests, and not just play "gotcha" with political opponents.

Unfortunately, another corollary of the "Tony Principle" states that, when individuals in positions of authority can't exhibit genuine competence, they compensate by displaying their power instead.

Tony Calderone owes it to taxpayers to be open and honest with them on the details of issues that effect them. But Calderone is only open and honest when it serves his purposes. The rest of the time secrecy rules- a secrecy that surely hides a number of embarrassing management failures the current village hall powers don't want publicized. Not knowing about it all, of course, won't spare us from having to pay our share of the bill when it comes. Frankly, I'm fed up with slowly getting soaked while our elected officials run around looking for more receptacles to catch the leaks, rather than just bringing in competent people to fix the damn roof.

I'm not alone in that assessment, and my instincts tells me it's increasingly likely that, come next April, Tony Calderone and his allies on the village board are going to find themselves "unforgiven" at the polls.

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