In Wake of Scrutiny, Debate Ensues Regarding Village Hiring Process

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By Michael Romain

MAYWOOD — At an October 30, 2013, Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross scrutinized the Village’s procedure for hiring the assistant to the mayor and deputy clerk. This comes after Village Clerk Viola Mims selected JoAnn Murphy to replace Leonore Sanchez as deputy clerk several weeks ago. Murphy unsuccessfully ran for trustee in the last consolidated election on the same ticket as Mims. Jonette Greenhow, a close friend of Edwenna Perkins, was hired as her assistant after Ms. Perkins won her bid for mayor in April.

Ealey-Cross said that she received calls on the matter from citizens who wanted to know why the positions weren’t publicly posted. “I believe that we [need to] set an example,” she said. “We should stop talking about it and be about it.”

However, after Board debate, the issue appeared much more complicated than that. According to the Illinois Municipal Code, the mayor and the clerk hold powers of appointment when it comes to assistants and deputies, respectively; meaning that they may select those employees at their discretion — as long as they aren’t violating the Village’s statement of equal opportunity and abiding by the Village’s Personnel Policy Manual.

According to the Code (65 ILCS 5 / 6-4-7), the mayor has the power:

To appoint and remove his administrative assistants, budget and finance director, heads of all departments, and to appoint and remove all other officers of the municipality, commissions, boards and agencies, except those covered by the civil service act in municipalities which have adopted said act and except as provided in Section 6-4-14. No appointment shall be made upon any basis other than that of merit and fitness and in compliance with provisions of this act and with qualifications established by the city council.

With respect to the municipal clerk, the Code (65 ILCS 5 / 3.1-30-10) states that in municipalities of less than 500,000, he or she:

[W]hen authorized by the corporate authorities, may appoint the number of deputy clerks necessary to discharge the functions and duties of the office of municipal clerk, who need not be a resident of the municipality. The corporate authorities of the municipality may limit the number of deputy clerks that the municipal clerk may appoint.

Trustee Ealey-Cross stated that the assistant and deputy clerk positions should still be publicly posted and that candidates for these positions should be subject to the same scrutiny as all other candidates. She cited fairness, the fact that those personnel handle sensitive Village information and that their conduct is a reflection not only on the officials by whom they’re appointed, but also on the entire Board, as reasons for subjecting them to the same hiring standards and vetting process as all other employees.

“It’s my understanding that […] these positions are Village positions. As a result, one would think that, in all fairness to the public, the positions should be posted, allowing all candidates qualified for the position a chance to interview [….]” she said.

“This is not about the individuals [who] are filling the positions, the question is about the policy that hasn’t been enforced or complied with before getting to [the hiring level] […] How would you know about the qualified candidates if the position is never posted? And then, did the individuals go through the vetting process? […] We do it with our police and fire fighters, [we] should be doing it in the finance department as a matter of fact […] Let’s not be fooled about this, there’s a lot of stuff that leaks around here and how does it leak if everybody is doing their job the right way?”

Trustee Ron Rivers concurred with Trustee Ealey-Cross. “These two positions come in contact with very sensitive information, confidential information, and it wouldn’t be an imposition for that person to be able to pass a drug test, pass some scrutiny,” he said. Rivers also noted that a proper line should be drawn between loyalty and fitness for the job.

Village Manager William Barlow said that the deputy clerk was subject to a background check, which involved finger-printing, but if the board wanted to subject the assistant and deputy clerk positions to a standardized hiring process, “we can do that by documenting it in the upcoming employee rules and regulations,” which will be up for review soon.

For her part, Village Clerk Viola Mims said that, although the position wasn’t posted, she picked Mrs. Murphy only after considering other candidates. “I looked over a couple of people who I was considering then I made a choice.”

Mayor Perkins said that in selecting Ms. Greenhow, she was utilizing an authority well within her power and one that has precedence, since the power to select an assistant has been consistently utilized by many mayors in the past.

“It’s called trust. And you have to have it,” said Mayor Perkins. “You can have five or six people come in and interview them, but you have to have trust, because the buck stops with me […] I had been knowing [Ms. Greenhow] for years, worked with her, trust her and that’s how i made my selection […] I have no problem with the procedure, but it’s about trust.”

Trustee Rogers echoed Mayor Perkins’s concerns, reinforcing her point about precedence. He said that since a deputy or assistant is the right-hand person of whomever is elected, “it’s important that the official pick someone that they’re totally comfortable with.” He continued, “[In] every Village that has our form of government, there is a precedence about how deputies are selected and it gets a little dangerous if you open [the hiring process] up too much.”

After making a motion to revise the hiring procedures to include the mayor’s executive assistant and the deputy clerk and to require them to be publicly posted, Trustee Melvin Lightford seconded. Trustees Audrey Jaycox, Toni Dorris, Michael Rogers and Mayor Perkins voted ‘No’. Trustees Ealey-Cross, Rivers and Lightford voted ‘Aye.’ The final vote was 4-3 against the motion. VFP

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