The discussion was about saving money, serving constituents in the best way possible and, ultimately, finding the best possible person to lead Grundy County.
The members of the Grundy County Board, however, were divided on exactly how to achieve those goals in the face of the departure of Grundy County Administrator Shawn Hamilton, who resigned last month to accept another position.
Ultimately, an almost evenly divided board decided – on a 9-8 vote, with John Galloway absent -- to immediately post the opening and begin the process of hiring a new, full-time administrator. On a similar 9-8 vote, the board then voted against hiring an interim administrator to help run county government until an administrator can be found.
Earlier, the board rejected a plan backed by Board Chairman Ron Severson for the board chairman and vice chairman, along with members of the current county staff, to absorb the county administrator’s responsibilities until after the November election.
“My wife will be happy. Motion defeated,” said Severson in formally announcing the 11-6 vote against the plan.
The plan, which served as the preliminary point of discussion on the matter during the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, was virtually identical to one Severson had touted before – and, to some degree after -- the board hired Hamilton earlier this year.
“My position is financial,” said Severson, who acknowledged that “it makes my life easier if we have an administrator.”
He went on to explain, however, that Grundy County is among the smallest of the 23 counties in Illinois that have tried using a professional administrator. Of those, four have moved away from staffing the position.
“If there are 81 counties in the state that can do without it, I believe we can,” Severson said.
Other members of the board, however, were quick to disagree with Severson’s stance, saying that an administrator was needed and should, in fact, be hired before the November election so they can be in place to assist with the transition to a new board. Because of the 2010 Census, all 18 board seats are up for election in November, and at least four of them will be filled by newcomers to the board.
“I think we need a full-time professional administrator,” said Richard Joyce. “I think we need to start the process now and try to finish it before the election.”
He noted that, come December when the new board is seated, at least nine members will have two years or less of board experience, including board members first elected in 2010.
“An administrator can be a source of stability for the board,” added Joyce, who noted that a professional administrator – if the right person is hired – can also help with collective bargaining, budgeting, searching for grants, the monitoring of legislation, and representing the county and the board chairman at a variety of events.
Ken Iverson explained that he was initially open to the sharing concept espoused by Severson. However, over the three days in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, he had spoken to several county employees and county leaders and found that it was “pretty much unanimous that Grundy County needs an administrator.”
Part of his reasoning is the fact that, although the county is small in population, it has a large equalized assessed valuation due, in large part, to the variety and types of industry in the county.
“The next several years for Grundy County, I think, are going to be critical,” Iverson said.
David Welter voiced similar beliefs, saying that if a company with a multi-million-dollar budget equal to the county’s were to lose its CEO, it would immediately go out and look for the best possible person to run it.
“We have a lot of potential. We need somebody there full time,” Welter said.
“I think the question before us is does the leader need to be a chairman we hire or can it be the chairman of the board,” said Chris Balkema.
Balkema then joined the majority of board members in deciding the answer to that question was that the leader needs to be someone the board hires. The decision came with the 11-6 rejection of the plan for the administrator’s duties to be absorbed by others.
Voting against the sharing plan, in addition to Balkema, were Ann Gill, Jeremy Ly, Michael Throneburg, John Almer, Dave Boggs, Frank Halpin, Tom Poole, Iverson, Joyce and Welter. Those in favor of the delay were Eric Rasmusson, Dick Steele, Millie Dyer, John Roth, Ralph Wagner and Severson.
Prior to voting on the sharing plan, the board rejected on a 13-4 vote an amendment proposed by Iverson that would have allowed for the sharing plan to be instituted while, at the same time, the board began the search for a full-time administrator. The mandate, under his amendment, would have been that the newly seated board would be the one to finish the hiring process.
The only ones in favor of the amendment were Iverson, Steele, Roth and Wagner.
“To me, option one isn’t really an option, it’s more of a survival plan,” Iverson said.
For Iverson and eight other board members, however, option two – the hiring of a new full-time administrator as soon as is practicable – was a valid option. Voting for the measure that passed 9-8 were Iverson, Gill, Ly, Throneburg, Boggs, Halpin, Joyce, Poole and Welter.
Throneburg spoke at length in support of the hiring, stressing that the county needed to not only post the position immediately, but also conduct an in-depth salary study to determine an appropriate pay range to attract high-caliber candidates for the job.
“A well-thought-out decision based upon hard numbers and homework,” urged Throneburg, who also advocated the hiring of an interim administrator to help bridge the gap. A representative of the Illinois County/City Managers Association, Glen Spachman, offered his organization’s assistance in doing so on Tuesday, while previously former Grundy County Administrator Fred Bourdelais had also offered his help for a set hourly fee on an as-needed basis.
Throneburg, however, was in the minority of eight when it came to the decision to seek out an interim administrator. The nine board members voting together to reject the plan were Joyce, Roth, Wagner, Balkema, Rasmusson, Steele, Welter, Dyer and Severson.
Prior to rejecting the measure, however, the board voted 11-6 to amend it to spell out explicitly that the sharing structure implemented immediately after Hamilton left should stay in place until an interim could be hired.
It was not specified, but can be assumed, that structure will stay in place until a full-time administrator can be hired.
Prior to beginning discussions on the options before it, the board rejected on a 9-8 vote Ann Gill’s motion that the full-time duties-sharing option be discussed in executive session because of the impact on specific staff members. Voting to keep the discussions public were Rasmusson, Roth, Steele, Wagner, Welter, Almer, Balkema, Dyer and Severson.