An apparent revolt by some board members of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission led to the postponing of a scheduled confirmation vote for a new executive director at their meeting Thursday.
The commission now plans to hold a closed session at a future date to consider a finalist already selected by a search committee. They then could vote on hiring the candidate at an open meeting.
Several board members confirmed the finalist for the job is a former Will County planning director, Tyson Warner, who is currently executive director at the Flint Hills Regional Council in Kansas.
Outside the search committee, no NIRPC members were told the identity of the final pick when he was selected last month.
That produced part of the controversy over his selection.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the lack of vetting by the board as a whole would have had him voting no on Wednesday.
"At this point I still don't know this person's name," McDermott said. "I've never met this person. I never felt like a rubber stamp until last night."
McDermott noted he was given the opportunity to meet the candidate last night but on short notice and he could not make it.
NIRPC Chairman Geoff Benson said all officers and executive board members were invited to meet with Warner the Wednesday night before Thursday's meeting. And every commission member received an email inviting them to meet with Warner at NIRPC headquarters immediately before Thursday's meeting. But he admitted there were some snafus in getting word out to everyone.
He explained the postponement in terms of time limitations for Thursday's meeting. The decision to postpone was made in hurried committee meeting just before the commission meeting.
"The committee felt with the importance of this ... they just want to be able to have all the commissioners spend more time with this candidate, ask him more questions, and it doesn't seem like that can happen this morning," Benson said.
After the meeting, Benson said a number of members had expressed concern about the selection process for a few days before the meeting. He said some were concerned the final candidate was not the one they wanted.
He noted the selection process and timeline was known to all because it had been laid out at NIRPC meetings since spring. He now hopes to hold the executive session of the whole commission to further consider Warner's hire by the end of the month. The commission then could vote on his hiring in open session.
Also on Thursday, Benson acted on search committee chairman Ken Layton's recommendation and dissolved the search committee.
If selected, Warner would be paid $130,000 annually for the two-year term * of the contract through Dec. 31, 2014, as NIRPC's new executive director, according to an employment contract passed out before Thursday's NIRPC meeting.
The Flint Hills Regional Council is a service association of local Kansas governments from seven counties. Fort Riley, Kan., lies within the region.
While working in Illinois, Warner contributed to major regional projects such as the conversion of the former Joliet Army Arsenal into the 19,000-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, according to information at the Flint Hills Regional Council Web site.
He earned a bachelor of arts degree, majoring in philosophy from Wheaton College, Ill., and received his masters of urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In March, NIRPC Executive Director John Swanson announced he would retire when his contract expired at the end of this year. He has worked at the helm of NIRPC since 2004. Before that he served 30 years at the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission.
By June, the commission was in full search mode, having hired the Mercer Group, of Atlanta, to screen candidates. NIRPC is paying the Mercer Group $15,000 plus up to $5,000 in expenses.
By September, the NIRPC search committee, made up of commission members, had reviewed the resumes and applications of 16 candidates recommended by the Mercer Group and interviewed six candidates. It then settled on a finalist.
The annual salary range for the position was set between $80,000 and $130,000, depending on the candidate's experience.
NIRPC is a council of governments representing communities in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. The commission has 53 members. It is also a Metropolitan Planning Organization, with a federally mandated responsibility for carrying out transportation planning in the three counties, which cover 1,520 square miles. Altogether, 772,469 people live in the three counties.
*Editors note: This story was corrected from earlier versions.