Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances announced a sweeping internal staff restructuring last week. (File)

Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances on March 4 announced a major staff restructuring, naming Fire Chief Matthew Buckley as the village’s new director of public safety and emergency management overseeing both the police and fire departments and reorganizing the village’s building department, which is presently operating without any permanent, full-time staff.

The overhaul has been in the works since the beginning of the year after the retirement of the village’s building inspector in December, the resignation of the department’s management analyst and the departure of former Community Development Director Sonya Abt for a new position in the far southwest suburbs in late February.

Also last month, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel announced his retirement effective May 20 after serving the village for more than three decades, 13 as chief. Frances said the large number of openings provided an opportunity to realign staff to both save money and respond to changing trends in local government management.

“It is an opportunity to sit back and say, ‘Things are changing in government – in how we do business and how we maximize what we have in terms of staff while still providing the high levels of service our residents deserve,’” Frances said in a phone interview with the Landmark.

Frances said that by 2022, the staffing reorganization will also result in a savings to the village in the area of $150,000 to $200,000 annually, with those funds now able to be used for other purposes.

Village President Ben Sells emphasized the importance of that cost savings at the village board’s March 4 meeting where the reorganization was announced.

“What she and her staff have done is basically created an ongoing funding source for our capital improvement projects, which we did not have prior to this plan,” Sells said. “That $150,000 to $200,000 a year is extremely important to this village.”

Buckley, 52, will assume the role of director of public safety on May 1, leaving him nearly a month to transition into the role while Weitzel wraps up his duties as police chief.

Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Buckley will take on the role of director of public safety and emergency management, overseeing both police and fire operations, on May 1. (File 2015)

“Tom has been one of my biggest mentors throughout my entire career,” Buckley said. “We have always worked tremendously great together. He’s one of the people I emulate my career off of.”

Weitzel, who has known Buckley for three decades as a fire fighter and as a police officer, said Buckley is a perfect fit for the Riverside job.

“It takes a special individual to do the job because you need training in two fields,” Weitzel said. “Matt is an extremely hard worker. Anyone who knows him will tell you that.”

Buckley, a lifelong Riverside resident who has been village’s fire chief since 2015, also was a police officer in the village of Lyons for 21 years. He started as a patrolman in Lyons in 1998 and was promoted to sergeant before being named deputy police chief there in 2014. 

He retired as Lyons deputy police chief in 2018 to take on the role of Riverside fire chief full-time. He had been working part time prior to his retirement and has been a Riverside firefighter since 1988.

He said the fact he is also a Riverside resident makes this position special for him.

“It’s what makes this job so important to me,” Buckley said. “There are so many times I can help a friend, and I consider everyone a neighbor. Being available to help residents and getting them the services they need and deserve makes this job so rewarding.”

Buckley’s background as a police command staffer and as fire chief makes him an ideal candidate to lead a combined public safety operation, but Frances said the arrangement doesn’t depend on Buckley to work.

“We were fortunate to have someone with both certifications, but there’s opportunity in the future for people to be trained [so there remains a line of succession in the future],” Frances said.

“This makes absolute sense for the community currently,” said Frances, who indicated there would be no sweeping changes to the supervisory structure of the police and fire operations. “I think we have a great team across the departments. Ultimately, the supervisors will report to Buckley. The accountability across the two departments will not change.”

With the departure of Weitzel in May and of a patrolman in late 2020, Frances said the village plans to hire two new police officers to replace them.

Weitzel said he and Buckley recently met for several hours to talk through the leadership transition and how he and his command staff could assist in that transition.

“I’ll bring him up to speed on everything and then we’ll hold a departmental meeting at the end of April or early May, where I will hand over the department to Matt so he will be free to lay out his vision,” Weitzel said.

Assistant manager, planner eyed

In addition to the changes in public safety, Frances announced that she was eliminating the position of community development director. Instead, the operations of the building department will be overseen by the assistant village manager, a new position for the village.

The assistant village manager will also directly supervise the person who ends up filling another new position – village planner. While Abt was a certified planner and handled planning and zoning reviews and managed building department staff, she was also tasked with other duties, including economic development initiatives.

In the future, the village planner will concentrate efforts on the planning and zoning aspects of the job, serve as village hall’s liaison to the Planning and Zoning Commission and Preservation Commission and manage the building permit process.

The assistant village manager will oversee the building department, handle economic development and supervise village inspectors, code enforcement initiatives and oversee the village clerk’s office.

Frances said the assistant village manager and planner positions will be posted immediately in order to get candidates interviewed within the next couple of months. Frances said she also wants to hire two interns who are pursuing advanced degrees on public administration to take on projects and record minutes for advisory commissions.

She also plans on hiring a third part-time community service officer and then use all three of those employees to begin responding to code enforcement complaints, instead of building inspectors or police officers.

Hiring a third CSO will also allow the village to have one of them on duty every day of the week instead of only weekdays, as is the case now. The assistant village manager will also supervise the CSOs as it relates to code enforcement, France said.

One position in the new reorganization has already been filled. Ian Splitt assumed the role of management analyst part time in early February before moving into the role full time on Feb. 22.

Splitt previously worked part time in the Department of Parks and Recreation and he will be cross-trained, said Frances, so that he can manage projects across departments, from building to public safety.