Commissioners will take their first swings tonight, Jan. 21, at hiring a new village administrator, and it’s possible that whoever is tapped to fill the vacant post will have a different job description than that of previous managers.

But early division on the board over the administrator post was made clear last week when Commissioner Rory Hoskins acted to place an advertisement for the job without an OK from Mayor Anthony Calderone or input from the full council. The job posting was removed from a state-wide municipal employee Web site after one day.

Calderone, who helped create the position in 1997, has said he would like to review the responsibilities that have been assigned to Forest Park’s top administrator. That discussion could lead to a lighter workload than in years past, said the mayor, possibly saving taxpayers money in salary costs. Any changes to the village administrator’s role in municipal government could also transfer greater authority to various department heads, or elected officials.

Former administrator Mike Sturino officially left the position Jan. 15 after almost four years at the helm, but did not return to work following a Jan. 12 council meeting. The five members of the village council, who are responsible for filling the vacancy, have expressed differing opinions on how quickly a replacement must be identified.

Hoskins favors having an interim administrator in place while the council conducts its search. In what he said was an effort to move the hiring process forward, Hoskins ordered a village employee to advertise the job online with the Illinois Municipal League. That move drew fire from the mayor and others on the council, however, and after only a day, the advertisement was yanked.

“Certainly there needs to be some clear lines between administrative authority and the role of elected officials,” Calderone said.

The council’s Jan. 21 meeting, called by the mayor specifically for the purpose of hiring a new administrator, is the appropriate forum for commissioners to decide how to proceed, said Calderone.

Commissioner Marty Tellalian also said that no one council member should be making unilateral decisions on this issue.

“I didn’t have any problem with the posting except that it shouldn’t have been without official action from the council, and until everyone’s had a chance to comment on it and what we’re looking for,” Tellalian said.

Hoskins stood by his decision.

“I don’t think I was acting in violation of any council action,” Hoskins said after the advertisement was removed on Jan. 14. “The council had not addressed it. I certainly had no intention of beginning a hiring process other than posting that the village is interested in hiring a village administrator.”

Hoskins did not comment on speculation that he is seen as a potential mayoral challenger in 2011, and denied that he was trying to flex his political muscle or position himself as a leader. Municipal employees relied on Sturino for a bevy of day-to-day decisions, such as vacation requests and expense approvals, said Hoskins, and he is trying to provide “predictability” for those employees.

“I think some people may have thought it was inappropriate, but I’m not one of them,” Hoskins said. “At least one commissioner said to me, ‘I want to replace [Sturino] sooner rather than later.'”

The clashing of wills between members of the village council may potentially expand beyond the effort to hire a new administrator. In Forest Park’s commission form of government, the administrator’s authority is checked not only by the policies set by the elected officials, but also by the administrative authority each commissioner holds. Hoskins, for example, oversees the clerk’s office and has the ability to issue specific orders to those employees.

Sturino’s job description included offering interpretations of local ordinances and state laws so that commissioners weren’t forced to wrestle solely with their own reading of various statutes. He also served as ethics advisor to the elected officials, informing them of potential missteps or conflicts of interest.

The disagreement over Hoskins’ decision to advertise the job is, ironically, an example of why the administrator’s position is necessary, he said.

“Under our system of government that’s a good reason for having a village administrator,” Hoskins said.

Attorney: Transparency applies to hiring process

Though the council will not be considering the qualifications of any specific applicants, Mayor Anthony Calderone expects commissioners to meet behind closed doors Jan. 21 to discuss filling the vacant administrator’s position in Forest Park.

According to the agenda for tonight’s special meeting, commissioners will go into executive session to discuss personnel matters that are exempt from the state’s Open Meetings Act. Asked for greater detail of the subjects that will be covered, Calderone described procedural matters that the public may in fact have a right to hear.

“It’s probably gonna center around the process,” Calderone said. “It is going to center around the responsibilities and the code of the village administrator, and how the elected officials go about advertising the position.”

Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, is an attorney specializing in Open Meeting laws. Pastika cautioned that the subjects outlined by the mayor must be covered in view of the public. The statute on personnel discussions is explicit, she said.

“It’s relegated to discussing a specific employee,” Pastika said of government’s right to exclude the public. “If what is being advocated is the discussion of the process of filling the position, that is not a sufficient fulfillment of the Open Meetings Act.”

The mayor did say that he would seek the advice of the village’s attorney, and that it is not his intention to violate the law. As noticed in the agenda, there is no indication that any discussion will take place in open session.

The council is scheduled to meet Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. in the basement of village hall, 517 Desplaines Ave.