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A narrow majority of Lake County Council members on Tuesday approved hiring an outside recruiting firm to find a replacement for the council’s longtime finance expert.

In a 4-3 vote, the council agreed to contract with Northbrook, Illinois-based GovHR USA to direct a nationwide search for a successor to Dante Rondelli, who has been the council’s finance director for more than 25 years. Rondelli is retiring May 31.

Backing the move were council members Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, Dave Hamm, D-Hammond, Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, and Christian Jorgensen, R-St. John. Opposed were Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, and Charlie Brown, D-Gary.

The three dissenting council members contended the decision to hire GovHR should have been the result of a competitive public bidding process. Franklin said she had not had a chance to review the firm’s proposal, even though it was delivered to Dernulc in early January.

While Lake County government must award vendor contracts for materials through a public bidding process, it does not have to do so for services.

Indiana state law also gives wide latitude to county-level legislative bodies to hire personnel as they see fit, meaning the council does not have to accept bids from multiple recruitment firms to find Rondelli’s replacement.

Even so, Brown questioned why the council would hire GovHR USA in a non-public bid process.

“Why just one organization?” he asked. “It would appear for transparency that we should have something on record” about why no other companies were considered.

Cid echoed Brown’s concern about transparency, adding that she was concerned the council was not given the opportunity to weigh other options. She said the council should have solicited bids from other firms to ensure the GovHR USA proposal was fair and competitive.

“We should have advertised our need (for an outside firm),” Cid told the council.

GovHR USA works exclusively with municipal and county governments on human resources needs such as staffing and recruitment. The company has recently contracted with several communities in the Region to fill senior-level vacancies, including a redevelopment director for Highland, a director of public works for Munster and a chief of police for St. John.

The base fee for GovHR USA’s full scope recruitment is $19,500, according to a copy of the proposal provided to The Times. The cost includes a $14,000 recruitment fee, plus $3,000 for consulting and travel expenses and a $2,500 advertising budget. Additional expenses could be authorized by the council if necessary.

Sarah McKee, the GovHR consultant in charge of the project, told council members the full scope recruitment process typically takes 90 days from beginning to a final appointment. The company will compile a list of 12 to 15 candidates, from which the council can choose a winner after multiple rounds of interviews.

Dernulc advocated using GovHR to find Rondelli’s replacement based on positive experiences the town of Highland had when it worked with the firm to fill its vacancy for redevelopment director. The company also came highly recommended by longtime Highland Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin, according to Dernulc.

Along with Dernulc, Bilski said GovHR’s track record in the Region was enough for the council to feel comfortable hiring the company. He also noted that the council was under no obligation to hire someone from GovHR’s search and also could find a new finance director through Lake County human resources or advertising in local media.   

Hamm agreed, arguing that accepting bids from other recruitment firms would waste time and become a “search committee to find a search committee.”

“I’m prepared to move forward,” he said.

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