Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Orland Fire Protection District to begin job postings online Will expand public participation at board meetings

Orland Fire Protection District to begin job postings online
Will expand public participation at board meetings

Orland Park -- The Orland Fire Protection District board announced Tuesday that they will begin posting paid and volunteer job vacancies to encourage local residents to apply for the positions.

OFPD Board President Jim Hickey also said that the board is expanding the public participation policy at board meetings to encourage more transparency and also adding a new public records section on the Website called "Dollars & Sense".

Currently, Hickey said, the public can make comments and ask questions at board meetings during the public participation portion. But Hickey said that the OFPD will also ask residents who wish to be more specific about district policies to submit their questions ahead of time using the web site by email or by telephone.

"In the past, members of the public would ask questions but the board would not have the answers or just didn't answer. We're going to continue the existing policy but we also want to ask the public if they have specific questions about policies, contracts the budget to submit those questions in writing to the board so we can be prepared at board meetings to provide answers," Hickey said.

Hickey said he would personally ask personnel to provide answers. Residents would have to come to the board meetings, identify themselves by name and address, and their questions will be answered.

"Our goal is full transparency," Hickey explained noting that is one of the priorities of the board's two newest members, Blair Rhode and Christopher Evoy. "We want the public to see and understand everything. This is their tax money. We want them to get the answers to their questions."

Hickey noted that the OFPD has already begun posting contracts and detailed financial statements on the district's web site which is

"We want to post everything that can be made public," Hickey said, noting that some issues involving real estate, criminal probes, personnel matters and lawsuits are exempt under state law from public disclosure to protect the privacy of individuals involved.

"But anything that falls within the range of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) should be made available as soon as possible for public access. We get a lot of FOIA requests and processing those requests require much personnel time. We can save money by allowing the public and the media to access the documents online directly."

Hickey said that job postings would include paid and volunteer positions.

"We have a position open on the Pension Board. In the past, one of the trustees served in that role," Hickey said noting the individual was former board trustee Salvatore Cacciato.

"We don't think that the position should be held by a trustee. We feel that there are members of the public who have experience in pension matters who would be interested in volunteering to join the pension board and provide an independent perspective on pension and district needs."

Hickey said the board is also looking to post future job openings and changes online to recruit qualified residents for the posts.

"We are putting a lot of emphasis on using the website to reach the public, to be an access portal for the public to get the answers they need and to be able to monitor the district's actions at their convenience.

Hickey said that the new board is "coming together" as a group.

"I think the board members all are committed now to saving taxpayer's money. We are looking at staffing requirements and also ways to save funds without impacting the quality of service. That's our mandate," Hickey said.

Hickey said the board will move forward with a study by the Illinois Fire Chief's Association to make recommendations on hiring. Hickey acknowledged that the board conducted a similar study in 2006 that recommended higher staffing levels of as much as 150 firefighters.

"But that was at a different time when the economy was better. They were looking at more tax dollars coming in back then. Today, it's a different story. We need to be conscious of costs and the burden on the taxpayers," Hickey said, noting he was not a member of the board when the study was commissioned.

Hickey said the 2006 study cost the district $56,000 to complete. "The study commissioned by the Illinois Fire Chief's Association will only costs $5,100 to complete and it will give us a better handle on what the district needs to provide the services to our residents," Hickey said.

Hickey said that like all public documents, the commission study will be posted online for the public to scrutinize and assess themselves.

In other business, the board voted to retire two existing bonds including one scheduled to be retired in 2016. Hickey said the board will save $110,000 in interest payments. Hickey also said that in the past, the board would re-issue bonds for projects but he said that practice would likely be stopped.

"Bonds should be retired when their purposes is accomplished. Extending a bond to cover other projects is a backdoor tax increase. When the bond is retired, it will reduce the need to increase taxes as was done in the past," Hickey explained. Most bonds are backed by property taxes.

The board also accepted a budget audit conducted by the districts accountants McCormick, Mulcahy, Pauritsch & Co.

Hickey said the audit will be published online as soon as possible to give the public a first ever direct look at how the district has spent money in the past.

The district is also planning to publish the entire budget on the web site in the coming weeks, once they are converted into a PDF format.

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