We agree with Mayor Anthony Calderone that it’s time to take a fresh look at the what he calls the “loosey goosey” interface between Forest Park’s outdated commission form of government and the job of the village administrator, a professional hired to manage the day-to-day workings of village departments.
However, we’re not exactly comfortable with a scattershot approach to reassigning duties based on politics. Rather, we’d like to see something really radical – and something we’ve advocated for years – scrapping the commission form of government once and for all.
In the horse-and-buggy era commission structure, elected citizens would volunteer to oversee each department as towns could not necessarily afford a professional manager or administrator.
This scenario is unrealistic now, and Public Property Commissioner Chris Harris knows in his heart that as an elected official on a $10,000 salary and working a full-time job, it would be difficult if not disastrous for him to micromanage the Public Works Department.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian’s ears must have been burning on his vacation as Harris told the mayor Gillian was “unresponsive” to emails and suggestions. The mayor shot back that Harris was “badgering” Gillian about weekly updates on Fenwick’s development plans for the Altenheim property.
Only Commissioner Rory Hoskins suggested that perhaps the council should wait and discuss the administrator’s jobs and duties when he was present. Bad form indeed to discuss a staff member’s performance during a public meeting when he’s not on hand to defend himself.
The truth is, Forest Park has a hybrid commission form of government and we believe Gillian’s amorphous duties are complicating the missions of commissioners who, according to Harris, “just want to do their jobs.”
The Review has always found Gillian responsive to inquiries and provides follow-up explanations for village doings.
However, we see problems with his role. First of all, there is no regular, scheduled employee review process for village administrator, other than “an informal one in closed session,” according to the mayor.
Yes, it’s difficult for a man “to have five bosses,” as Calderone said Monday, but an administrator needs to be accountable to all commissioners. Harris accuses him of ignoring emails, or taking weeks to respond to ideas and suggestions. A regular employee evaluation would provide checks and balances to the process.
Secondly, Gillian and staff have the ability to dump expenses unrelated to specific departments into different categories for budget purposes. For example, Harris’ Public Properties Department is used as a placeholder for fuel, employee overtime and other items that are only tangential with public property.
Harris is concerned that his budget category is the only one with a year-end deficit. He’s titularly responsible, but powerless to fix it.
It’s absurd to fight over whether the curb washing should be in the Streets Department budget or the sidewalks (Public Property).
Having to fight to gain day-to-day control of a department is foolish.