Professionalism & Openness: Long-Standing Park Forest Traditions
The Village of Park Forest enjoys many proud traditions. Few, however, compare with our community’s long-standing commitment to professional and open government.
From its inception, the Village of Park Forest has adhered to the strictest form of the council-manager system of governing. That means that the mayor and trustees establish policy, and that the village manager and his/her professional team of senior staff members oversee day-to-day operations that are consistent with the policies that have been created.
Tradition of Operation
In many units of government, the “patronage” system prevails. Such a system means that “who” a potential employee knows is more important than “what” he or she knows. That’s not the case in Park Forest, nor has it ever been. Under our very strict tradition of operation, not one elected official, including the mayor, has the authority or power to demand the employment of any individual at any level of the village’s workforce. Furthermore, no preferences ever are given to the family members of elected officials or staff, nor is preference given to any individual because he or she may have worked in the campaign of any elected official. Patronage may be the norm in lots of other places, but it is absolutely verboten in Park Forest!
Hiring Process for Administrative Leadership
The mayor and trustees are responsible for the hiring of the manager, and for the appointment of the village clerk and the village attorney. Everyone else who works for the village is hired by the manager, using a very well-structured system that promotes diversity in the workforce while simultaneously assuring that the best qualified individual is selected for each and every position. The manager and the administrative leadership he/she puts in place are responsible for all employee evaluation and oversight. The mayor and trustees, in turn, are responsible for evaluation and oversight of the manager. While the mayor and trustees do not interfere with, or second guess, the manager in how he/she supervises employees and conducts other aspects of the village’s business, they do hold the manager responsible for his/her actions and for the actions of each and every employee that the manager hires.
Establishing the Annual Budget
Establishment of the Annual Budget of the Village of Park Forest is a joint project of the elected board and the professional staff. In Park Forest, creation of a budget is a year-long process; as soon as one year’s budget is approved, work begins on the budget for the subsequent year. The mayor and trustees have the exclusive authority for approval of the budget, but that approval comes only after lengthy and thorough interaction with the manager and each department head.
Annually, the board meets in public session to establish its goals for the pending year. A professional facilitator – someone who is not part of the village staff – is engaged to assist the board in this process. Once the goals are established, the staff begins to work out an action plan for the implementation of the goals. Such a plan of action results in recommendations from the staff as to how much funding may be needed in order to carry out the board’s goals. Community surveys, focus groups, federal / state / county funding opportunities, grant opportunities, and previous levels of spending are all components of the process that ultimately results in a recommended budget for the board’s review. That review takes place over several hours of public meetings wherein department-by-department hearings are conducted. At the conclusion of the process, which includes opportunity for public input, the board adopts the ordinance that establishes the Annual Budget.
Just as is the case with hiring, the determination of which entities the village may do business with is completely removed from any potential for influence-peddling. The village does not do business with firms in which any elected official or family member of staff may have a controlling interest. The village recognizes that even the mere implication of impropriety is harmful to a transparent governing process.
Open Meetings Act
Indeed, transparency is an important part of governing in Park Forest. The village strictly adheres to the State of Illinois’ Open Meetings Act. The board will go into closed Executive Session rarely, and only under the provisions that are permitted by law (some employee matters, litigation, etc.) board meetings are broadcast live over cable television and streamed live over the Internet. All village documents – including agendas for meetings, salaries of employees, etc. – are posted on the village website, as are videos of previous board meetings. Meetings of the village’s volunteer boards and commissions also adhere to the strictest interpretations of the Open Meetings Act.
Community Volunteer Involvement
Volunteer board and commissions have been an important of the Park Forest governing process from the very earliest days of the village. These bodies assist the mayor and trustees by assessing community concerns and interests and by advising on specific topic areas, such as youth issues, senior issues, environmental issues, etc. Interested persons submit applications to serve on these bodies and then are appointed by the mayor, with approval of the trustees, as vacancies open. All appointments are made at regular open meetings of the board.
Volunteer boards and commissions have been an important part of the Park Forest governing process from the very earliest days of the village.
The citizens, staff, and elected officials of the Village of Park Forest are proud of the excellent tradition of professionalism and transparency that has become the hallmark of our community. Each of us works diligently to maintain that tradition and to improve on it at every available opportunity.
Mayor John A. Ostenburg
October 15, 2013