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Out Here: Let’s have city administrator finalists’ names

Published: Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Two years ago, the city of Morrison declined our request for the names of the finalists when it was hiring a new city administrator.

The attorney general backed up the city’s decision, saying the release of such information would invade the candidates’ “personal privacy.”

We wanted the information so that we could gain an understanding about the council’s reasons for picking Jim Wise, who served 2 years before being shown the door.

In Illinois, it’s rare for a public entity to release the names of finalists for top positions. One of a city council’s biggest decisions is picking an administrator. So when a council keeps the finalists’ names secret, it’s hard for the taxpayers to evaluate its decision. 

This time around, Mayor Everett Pannier, to his credit, released the names of finalists. It appears – at least on paper – the council picked the most qualified candidate, Barry Dykhuizen, who, along with the others, was interviewed behind closed doors. (That’s not illegal.)

He interviewed in a number of towns over the summer. In at least four cases, his name was released along with other finalists. In a Massachusetts town, the city council held public interviews.

Universities also have been known to hold such sessions, in which the public can ask potential presidents questions. Some towns in other states hold public meet-and-greets with manager candidates.

This sort of disclosure, of course, is almost unheard of in Illinois.

Over the summer, Metra, a Chicagoland rail agency, has become mired in a patronage scandal. Jeffrey Tobolski, a Cook County Board member, recently called for an open process in selecting new directors for the Metra board, in which candidates would speak during a public meeting.

“This will be an open process,” he said. “This won’t be a closed-door – ta-da! – here’s our guy.”

In other words, he is proposing to go the extra mile for openness – far beyond what the law requires.

Perhaps Dixon, too, will aim for a higher standard. It is seeking an administrator for the first time. Fourteen have applied.

As we all know, Dixon has suffered more than its share of scandals. Legally, it could get by with closing the process to the public, as is Illinois tradition. 

But Dixon may want to promote the public trust. That would mean releasing the finalists’ names, at the very least.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

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