The resolution honoring Village Administrator Tim Gillian upon his Jan. 29 retirement was read at the Jan. 25 village council meeting.
It was long, detailing the time Gillian has served the village, first as commissioner of streets and public improvements and later as commissioner of accounts and finance. He was hired as village administrator in 2009, overseeing seven departments, more than 175 employees and a multi-million dollar operating budget.
The resolution mentioned his fair negotiating with unions employees. How under Gillian’s leadership a long-term capital infrastructure plan was developed that included over $42 million of capital improvements during his time as village administrator, including three miles of water main, 15 miles of roadway and five miles of alley improvements.
There were street scaping projects. The installation of cost-saving LED lights. The sewer separation project, new sources of income, grants for improvements.
The list was long and impressive.
But even more impressive was the number of people who showed up at the Zoom meeting to talk about their experiences with Gillian over the years. Family, friends, coworkers.
And the one word that kept coming up again and again was “trust.”
While Gillian has formally retired, he remains on the village payroll on an interim basis until the village council hires his replacement.
Gillian grew up in Forest Park, working at his father’s news stand. He worked at Moran’s Gas Station after school. He attended Proviso East High School. His prom date was his wife, Dorothy. They’ve been married for 43 years.
In the late 1970s, he began volunteering with the Forest Park Police Department as an auxiliary police officer, which he did until 1995, when he was sworn in as an elected official. It was also in the late 1970s that he and his brother-in-law started a cement business, each contributing $600 to the start-up.
When Gillian retired from that same cement business, it was grossing millions of dollars annually, and he oversaw three different unions.
This, he said, provided him with a solid foundation for becoming village administrator of the village of Forest Park.
The application process, he recalls, was long. He interviewed with a committee, then with the entire village council at the time. But he wasn’t sure he’d get the job.
“I didn’t walk in or out of those interviews thinking it was a done deal,” Gillian said. Even with 12 years serving as a commissioner, and even with his business experience, he wasn’t sure if the council would find him qualified.
It was a long summer, Gillian said, waiting to find out if he’d get the position. In fact, he described it as “one of the most agonizing times” he could recall. He was retired from his business, and he was flying and teaching flying, but the village administrator position was an uncertainty.
When he was finally hired at the end of the summer, it was by a 3 to 2 vote.
It was that earlier alluded-to trust that helped Gillian start off on the right foot. He worked as an auxiliary police officer and as a commissioner, so he was familiar with many of the police officers.
“I knew the union players,” Gillian said, which facilitated negotiations with them. Sometimes, he said, contracts were made via a handshake. A room full of lawyers wasn’t necessary.
Less familiar with the firefighters, it took time for him to develop a solid relationship with union leadership, but he did.
His relationships with and ability to negotiate fair contracts with the unions, in fact, is one of the things he’s most proud of in his years serving as administrator of the village.
“I’m proud the unions have trusted me to work with them on labor agreements,” Gillian said. “I think my relationship with the unions is an outlier as compared to other villages.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the unions granted concessions in the form of raise-freezes, and Gillian attributes his solid relationships with them to that.
Gillian said he’s happy to be retiring, but it’s the people he’ll miss the most.
“They’re more than people I work with,” said Gillian. “I consider them friends.”
And those friends had kind words to say about Gillian.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes, who also grew up in Forest Park, said he’s known Gillian almost his entire life.
“As a matter of fact, when he was part of the auxiliary police, he rode with me. Nothing but the best. Tim, you’ve been a great guy. A great guy as a commissioner and as a village administrator, and a great friend. Congratulations, a lot of love and a lot of luck in your retirement and good health.”
Jo Ellen Charlton, former village planner, attended the meeting to speak about the impact Gillian had on her life over the years.
“The thing I want to share about Tim, is that one of the standard answers to a common interview question was to describe my perfect boss during the interview,” Charlton said. “And after about the second interview I’d gone through, rather than describing all of these qualities, my answer simply became Tim Gillian.”
Police Chief Tom Aftanas said that he was deputy chief of the police department when Gillian became village administrator.
“You know, the department heads had no idea how you were going to work out what your management style was going to be like,” Aftanas said. “But you have always been fair …You treat all employees with respect and because of that, you not only have our respect, but you have our trust. And trust is not an easy thing to obtain at your level in any organization. On behalf of the police department, myself personally, we’re all sad to see you go. But we’re also happy for you and you deserve it.”
Vanessa Moritz, village clerk and human resources director, who was hired by Gillian said, “You put your trust in me and you made me trust you, by the way you’ve respected and treated me and every other employee in the village. You listen to us. You listen to our ideas … I just can’t even stress how much trust we all have in you.”
Steve Glinke, director of public health and safety and former fire chief, worked closely with Gillian, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. He recalled a large fire in an apartment building on a cold night that displaced dozens of residents.
“Tim approached as he often did and said, ‘Chief, what can I do to help?’ Without a second thought, I said, ‘Tim, I need the Community Center bus here to shelter residents,’” Glinke said. “Not only did he deliver, but he stayed with them until we found temporary housing and shuttled groups to the hotel until the sun rose the next morning.”
Glinke added that Gillian is “not your typical village manager. He’s a lead-from-the-front kinda guy. While hands off, when the shit hits the fan, Tim is always in the mix.”
The current and former mayor, who have both worked with Gillian, also reflected on knowing him over the years.
“Tim has been a friend to me and something of a mentor,” Mayor Rory Hoskins said. But he added that he might not have appreciated what Gillian had to offer at first.
“I didn’t realize how much Tim had to teach, when I first met him,” Hoskins said. “When I got elected in 2007, I may have been a little cocky. Tim said, if you ever need anything, any advice, you know, don’t hesitate to call. Of course I like to do things the hard way. So I didn’t call.”
Now, though, Hoskins said he works well with Gillian and spoke highly of the improvements the village has seen under his administration.
“Tim, I know you’ve seen this village advance quite a bit socially, economically, all the development that’s going along. And of course, this summer, we’ve had a lot of tough conversations … but you know, it’s my pleasure to work with you. And like everyone else said, you’ll be missed.”
Former Mayor Tony Calderone and Gillian were long-time friends and Forest Park natives. Calderone reflected on how the two of them met when they were about 10 years old. They delivered newspapers and played together. As they got older, Calderone, like Gillian, became a member of the Forest Park Auxiliary Police.
“It was during those many years working within the police department that we discovered our true passion for the village,” Calderone said. “Tim’s passion and vision of what this community could and should be was in alignment with mine, and we soon collaborated on our mutual goals.”
They both ran for elected office in 1995 and both became commissioners.
Calderone said Gillian’s passion has always been focused on “let’s try to do the right thing,” which he’s done to this day. Gillian, he said, is known for a few things, including always wanting to make the community better, a “no B.S. attitude,” his willingness to roll up his sleeves, and knowing the community.
“If you gave him an address, he could tell you the color of the house,” Calderone said. He added: “While the job in government is never done, there is no question that Forest Park is a better place because of Tim; I am proud to call him my friend.”