Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The SEWRPC Executive Director Hiring Process Was Limited Years Ago

Ken Yunker's ascension to the position of SEWRPC Executive Director was basically a done deal before last week's fait accompli hiring 'decision.'

No surprise, perhaps, given the agency's leadership hiring history and insularity from the public that pays its bills.

The real surprise:

The hiring move by the executive committee of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission last Thursday without a search or public vetting process was pretty much guaranteed a few years ago, according to a source with direct knowledge of the hiring events.

The executive committee was told at its meeting that current executive director, Philip Evenson, 68, had indicated several years ago, on more than one occasion, that he wished to retire - - but the agency prevailed upon him to remain in office until certain projects were completed or on their way to a conclusion.

The source indicated that as Evenson was pressured into remaining, Yunker, the deputy executive director was more-or-less-told - - but not formally promised, the source said - - that if Yunker stuck around he'd get the job when Evenson and the agency agreed the boss could quit.

Like Yunker, Evenson had been the agency deputy, then was moved into the Executive Director position when the long-term SEWRPC Executive Director, Kurt Bauer, moved to emeritus status in early 1997.

Members of the executive committee, liking Yunker's work and also feeling loyalty to their deputy, the source said, were thus even less to conduct a search and screening to find the next Executive Director.

Additionally, the uncertainties involved in any executive search, plus the desire for continuity and a belief that the SEWRPC salary structure would not automatically lead to a big applicant pool (Evenson receives $$125,000 annually, plus an automobile, and standard public sector benefits), naming Yunker as the Executive Director position was a fait accompli, the source reported.

One informative ancedote about how Yunker can interact with the public, and critics, is here.

As I've said repeatedly on this blog over the last week - - the way SEWRPc filled the position - - no public involvement, virtually no notice, etc. - - is the way you'd expect a private business to operate.

Not a taxpayer-financed governmental body that already has considerable credibility and image problems tied to its avoidance of genuine outreach.

It will be interesting to see if SEWRPC now adopts a real hiring process to fill Yunker's soon-to-be-vacant position, and for the next change at the top. Yunker is 56, so with past practice as a guide, that should happen sometime around 2017 or afterwards.

It will be further interesting to see if SEWRPC's continuing lack of accountability will have ramifications with the counties that dutifully send it taxpayer contributions annually, or with pressure groups, including the SEWRPC-created Environmental Justice Task Force.

That body, citing its mission to involve low-income and other disadvantaged groups in SEWPRC affairs, had asked the agency to hold off on making the executive director hiring purely administratively, without public input.

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