By Nona Tepper
Instituting a policy restricting nepotism in hiring in village government will be a priority under Mayor-elect Rory Hoskins, who will be sworn into office on May 13. Only the school districts in Forest Park have instituted policies governing nepotism in hiring, despite parents from other taxing bodies hiring their children as either full- or part-time staff.
"I just think we need to do things with a little bit of more transparency," Hoskins said. "It's important that the public know the rules and know when positions are becoming available and people have the chance to apply for them and compete for them. I think, for the most part, we have a really good workforce in Forest Park, but we don't get everything right. In some recent cases, I think some of the hires have probably been rushed through a little bit."
Hoskins said he was referring to the hire of John Ryan Doss at the village's public works department as "rushed through." John Ryan was hired as a public works driver about three years ago by his father and department head John Doss, with Mayor Anthony Calderone and Commissioners Rachell Entler and Dan Novak approving the move. Doss said he hired his son without advertising the position to external candidates, following hiring protocol since he started as department head about 11 years ago, with open positions advertised first to those who served as summer help, then to current village staff and then posted externally. John Ryan earns $29.62 hourly—or, at least $61,600 annually—which Doss said is the same as everyone else in his position.
"I think corrupt is sort of a crazy word to be used for helping out my son," Doss said, adding that John Ryan did not want to be interviewed for this article.
Doss said his son came to him as summer help, asking if he would consider hiring him since he decided he didn't want to return to college. He said, at first, he thought it would be a little awkward with his son working for him, but now views John Ryan as an asset to the department. He said that John Ryan is "content" in his current position and that he doesn't think he holds ambition to serve as executive director of the department, or elsewhere in public works.
"I expect the best out of all my workers, but I expect a little bit more out of my son," Doss said.
During his time as department head, Doss said he's hired four people, two who previously served as summer help for public works and two who were transfers from other village departments. The public works department is comprised of 16 people, all of whom are white men. Doss said he believes the village's union dictates the public works hiring process.
"It's been successful for us," Doss said of the village's hiring, since it saves time on staff training. He said he had no comment on what, if any, shortcomings there could be to this approach, and said he did not believe nepotism hiring was a problem in Forest Park.
"If they had [a nepotism policy], I would adhere to it. I just don't think there's a problem with it," Doss said.
Hoskins said that, while he thinks the public works department does a "great job," he views the hiring of John Ryan as "problematic." Hoskins noted that his daughter previously worked at the Howard Mohr Community Center, and his son served as summer help for the village's public works department, but that it was important to him that they did not work in those positions while he had previously served as commissioner.
"Optics, I think, matter," Hoskins said. "So that people have faith in government, trust in government."
After he assumes office, Hoskins said the village will aim to update its handbook outlining how hires are made, as well as the village website.
"Look at what other villages our size are doing, other units of government are doing and do what makes sense to fit our circumstances," he said.
He said he was unsure about current hiring policies at the village, but that he did not view nepotism hiring as a problem in Forest Park.
"I think right now we have a perception problem, so we'll look at the policy," Hoskins said.
John Ryan Doss isn't the only member of the Doss family to work at a public agency in Forest Park.
In May 2018, his brother Andrew Doss was hired as the manager and athletic supervisor at the Roos Recreation Center, where he earns $41,000 per year. Andrew holds a bachelor's degree in recreation and administration from Illinois State University and had worked full-time for the Park District of Forest Park since May 2017 and part-time for the organization since May 2009.
His father, John Doss, serves as vice president of the park district board. Andrew referred all questions about his hiring to Jackie Iovinelli, executive director of the park district.
"I can speak on behalf of Andrew as his supervisor, and he's one of the best employees we have here," she said. "If I worked here or worked two towns over, I would hire him in a heartbeat."
Iovinelli said the park district does not have a policy outlining nepotism hiring, and that it hasn't really been an issue in the eight months she has served in the position.
"It's something that, if it did become an issue or residents would bring it up to us, we would definitely bring that policy or any policy to the board to address," she said.
John Doss said that, during his three terms on the board, the park district's executive director has done all the hiring. He said any claim that former executive director Larry Piekarz hired his son as a favor to him is "false." The Review was unable to contact Piekarz.
"I've never been asked for approval to hire anybody. They do all the hiring. We only do the hiring of the director," he said.
Doss said he was unsure of the park district's past hiring policy but that now all open positions have been posted on the Illinois Park and Recreation Association website.
"I'm not saying whether that's good or bad, I'm just saying this is the way our new director does it," he said. "To be honest, I've been happy with 99 percent of the hires in the park district. Whatever they're doing, I don't think it's broken. They've got a great staff, great team."
Hoskins declined to comment on Andrew Doss' hiring, or the hiring of Joseph Aftanas as an auxiliary officer with the Forest Park Police Department.
The Better Government Association (BGA) recently reported that Police Chief Thomas Aftanas hired his son Joseph in August 2015 to serve as a part-time auxiliary officer. A Forest Park Review analysis of auxiliary officer employment data found that, over the last three months, Joseph Aftanas has contributed more than four times as many free, volunteer hours to the village as paid.
Joseph worked 47 volunteer hours, the second-most on the auxiliary force; 11.5 paid hours, the fifth-most on the force; and 58.5 total hours, the fourth-most on the force. The 20-person auxiliary force includes three women — although two recently quit, Aftanas said — and four black officers. All auxiliary officers earn $15.12 per hour. To qualify for the position, individuals must be at least 21-years old, pass a background check and complete a 40-hour gun training course.
Auxiliary officers' main duties are crowd and traffic control and, Aftanas said, contrary to the BGA report, auxiliary officers have not done foot patrols on Madison Street in years.
Most auxiliary officers do not hold aspirations to become full-time officers, Aftanas said, "they just want to stay close to the community and enjoy doing it."
"All I ask is, other people, would they give their son or daughter an opportunity if they were qualified? If my kid were an idiot and I thought he was going to make me look bad I wouldn't have hired him," Aftanas said.
He added that Joseph is set to graduate from a local college with a degree in criminal justice in a few months, and that he did not want to be interviewed for this article.
Even if he wanted to, Aftanas said, he could not make Joseph a full-time officer, since state law dictates hiring at the police department. While Joseph does eventually want to be a full-time police officer, Aftanas said he does not want to work in Forest Park.
"He has no desire to take the test here and try to work in Forest Park because I'm the chief here. I think he thinks he would be scrutinized even more by everybody here, 'It's the chief's kid.' In a way, I can't blame him," Aftanas said.
Aftanas said he was not sure of the future of the department's auxiliary force after the BGA investigation, which was launched after a burglar stole an auxiliary officer's gun and later used it to fatally shoot a man in Forest Park. He said that Hoskins said he wants to talk to him about the program, but that they had not yet set a date to talk.
Hoskins said he hopes to talk with Aftanas "fairly soon."
"We're going to make sure all of our staff, whether auxiliary or public works or clerks, have the best training possible," Hoskins said.