The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission hired Tyson Warner on Monday as its new executive director, capping two weeks of controversy that threatened to deeply divide the 51-member council of governments.
Warner's hiring was completed in less than five minutes at a NIRPC full commission meeting just after noon, following closed-door executive sessions in the morning that lasted for more than two hours. The vote to hire was 34-0 in favor.
"It was sort of like a family therapy thing, where everyone gets to talk and vent and work through it," said NIRPC Chairman Geof Benson in describing the morning's closed sessions.
Warner will be paid $130,000 annually. His contract runs Jan. 1, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2014.
The motion to approve Warner's hiring was made by Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., after it received a unanimous recommendation from NIRPC's finance and personnel committee, chaired by Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor.
The finance and personnel committee on Oct. 18 hesitated to give its blessing to Warner's contract, which was one factor that led to the cancellation of plans for the whole board to vote on his hiring at a NIRPC full commission meeting that day.
On Monday, an obviously relieved Warner said the prolonged wrangling over his hiring was a positive in the end and spoke to the strengths of the commission. He said he was impressed with two things after being questioned by NIRPC members at an closed executive session preceding Monday's meeting.
"No. 1 is everyone that has talked to me has been nothing but encouraging and professional," Warner said to the 34 commissioners present. "And No. 2, despite any hiccups in the process, this committee stuck together. No one walked out."
In comments after the meeting, Warner said his goal will be to follow through and implement the award-winning plans that have been laid out under current executive director John Swanson's leadership. He said those plans include the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, the Marquette Plan and a plan now being formulated for more public involvement in NIRPC decision-making.
Warner is a former Will County, Ill., planning director and is currently executive director of the Flint Hills Regional Council, a service association of local Kansas governments from seven counties. Fort Riley, Kan., lies within the region.
Swanson will retire at the end of the year. He has worked at the helm of NIRPC since 2004. Before that he served 30 years at the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission.
On Monday, NIRPC members were able to question Warner in private at the full commission executive session before voting at the open meeting.
Emails obtained by The Times show in the days before the ill-fated NIRPC meeting Oct. 18, several mayors who serve on the commission began to express reservations about the process used to select the new executive director. At that point, the search committee had not yet revealed the name of their final candidate, keeping his name a secret in order to protect his confidentiality.
Some NIRPC members were able to meet with Warner the night before the Oct. 18 meeting. But others did not learn who the candidate was until shortly before the 9 a.m. meeting that day, where they were expected to approve his hiring.
A key action taken Monday was to resolve to come up with a better selection process for the future, NIRPC's Benson said. That will take place in the next six months.
"One thing we all agree upon is the process has to be worked on," McDermott said before the meeting adjourned. "We all voted as a commission to work on the process."
On Monday, Portage Mayor James Snyder explained why he had raised concerns in the days before the Oct. 18 meeting.
"We were elected to make thoughtful, prudent, wise decisions on behalf of our residents," Snyder said. "And the process did not allow for that. And so we promised today to make that process right in the future."