Many heated words were exchanged among members of Forest Park’s village council in recent months after the commissioners voted 3-2 to reject commissioners Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach’s recommendation for the hiring of Paul Burris as director of public works on Aug. 22.
Since that time, Bob Kutak has remained in his role as interim director of the department, a job he has now held for about 20 months. Doolin, the commissioner in charge of streets and public improvements, still feels that the department cannot reach its potential under Kutak’s direction, and is hoping to hire an assistant director to help move the department forward.
“The nice part is that the assistant director position does not require council consent and approval, and so I think we can make some progress,” said Doolin.
At its Nov. 14 meeting, the council voted unanimously to establish the assistant position and to cap its salary at $68,000, but no candidates have yet been named. The council also voted to cap the salary for the position of director at $80,000.
Mayor Anthony Calderone as well as commissioners Mark Hosty and Tim Gillian have said in the past that they would prefer Kutak be supplemented by an assistant specializing in management duties, which is where Doolin and Steinbach said Kutak was lacking, rather than being replaced by a new director.
The three commissioners agreed that Kutak has done a fine job as interim director, and have vehemently opposed the idea of passing up a 17-year Forest Park veteran for an outsider.
Doolin, however, believes that an outsider is exactly what Forest Park needs. “If you pick from the inside, nothing changes”it’s the same department and the same ideas,” he said.
Kutak has been running the Public Works Department since the decision was made nearly two years ago to combine the Department of Streets and Improvements with the Department of Public Property to form the Public Works Department.
At that time, a provision was created to allow for the establishment of an assistant director if necessary. Unlike the director, the assistant can be hired by the commissioners in charge of the department without first receiving a majority vote from the council as a whole.
Doolin said that while Kutak’s Public Works Department is able to clear the streets of leaves and snow, his goal is to turn the department into “more than a maintenance division,” and he hopes the assistant director will help achieve this mission.
Doolin said that he has received five resumes for the job, which is listed as requiring a degree in civil engineering, public or business administration or a related field. According to the advertised job description, the assistant director will assist the commissioners in developing strategic plans to increase services while maintaining and improving existing facilities and roadways.
The Public Works Department, with Kutak at the helm, recently completed the first season of work in the Village Improvement Plan, an $11 million project consisting of various street and alley improvements.
Doolin acknowledged that the debate over the director position has left quite a strain on Kutak’s relationship with both himself and Steinbach, the commissioner in charge of public property, stating that most of their correspondence occurs through e-mail or through Village Administrator Michael Sturino.
Mayor Anthony Calderone said that no moves had yet been made to make Kutak the permanent director of the department, which could be done through a council vote. He said that since there have been no problems with Kutak’s performance, there has not been any sense of urgency to make changes, and other matters have taken priority.
Kutak, who has chosen to stay out of the debate surrounding his job over the past few months, did not return phone calls or e-mails asking for comment for this story.