By Bob Uphues
Guy Belmonte, who has served as North Riverside's village administrator since 2001, has announced he's retiring on March 6 after a 31-year career in local government.
"It was just time," said Belmonte, who turned 70 last summer. "I think people need to know when it's time to step down."
Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said he intends to appoint Sue Scarpiniti, the village's finance director, as interim administrator through the end of his present term of office, which expires in spring 2021.
The timing of Belmonte's retirement poses something of a problem for Hermanek in terms of attracting a qualified permanent village administrator, since the village's code limits the administrator's term to a minimum of one year or for no longer than the term of the mayor.
"By putting her in there, I think it's a better solution," said Hermanek. "It's going to be difficult to get a highly qualified person [with no guarantee of long-term employment]."
At any rate, Scarpiniti is about as qualified a candidate as Hermanek was likely to find.
Scarpiniti, who was named finance chief in 2001 after working for about two years on a contract basis for the village, has master's degree in public administration with an emphasis in city management from Northern Illinois University. She is a certified public accountant and serves as the village's treasurer.
"I'm very excited for the opportunity, and it's actually where my formal education is at," Scarpiniti said. "I'm looking forward to a lot of the new challenges facing the village in the upcoming year."
Whether or not Scarpiniti will be the permanent administrator depends somewhat on the result of the 2021 mayoral election in North Riverside. Hermanek indicated he was thinking about running for a third term next year and that he viewed Scarpiniti as a candidate for the permanent job as administrator.
"It'll depend on how things turn out in April  to go to the next step," Hermanek said.
Details of Scarpiniti's shift into the administrator's role, including compensation, still need to be worked out, said Hermanek. According to the village website, Scarpiniti was paid a salary of $143,000 for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2019. Belmonte's salary was $155,000.
Because Scarpiniti will be holding onto her position as finance director, the village could see some savings as a result, an amount Scarpiniti pegged at between $27,000 and $32,000, depending on other impending moves within village hall.
The transition of Scarpiniti into the administrator's role has already started, and it includes a reorganization of some village hall staff.
While Scarpiniti would remain the village's finance chief, she said she intends to hire an accountant or accounting manager to supervise village hall clerical staff and handle day-to-day accounting duties. That person likely will be hired after the beginning of the next fiscal year, in the second half of 2020.
With a recent retirement and a move by longtime village hall administrative assistant Sherri Belmonte, Guy Belmonte's daughter, to the police records division, there will be other new hires, which are already in the works and should be in place by the beginning of February.
Scarpiniti intends to hire two new customer service employees, one full-time and one part-time, to handle front desk duties and answer calls that come into village hall. Callers will no longer be greeted by an automated attendant when they call village hall.
In addition, Scarpiniti said front counter hours would be expanded to include evenings and that at least one of the new hires would be bilingual.
"Better customer service is our number one objective right off the get-go," Scarpiniti said.
Scarpiniti said she will reclassify an existing utility billing clerk position into a financial analyst post, hiring someone capable of also handling tasks like business license applications as well as utility billing.
Pam Foy, who previously served as financial analyst has been promoted to the role of senior financial analyst and will take on a larger role, including managing the village's social media presence – currently non-existent outside of the Recreation Department – and serving as a communications point person.
"I feel this is an important step the village needs to move into immediately," Scarpiniti said. "Residents look to those avenues to get information."
With the planned launch of a new village website this year, Scarpiniti said the plan is for the village to begin offering recordings of village board business and committee meetings online within 24 hours of those meetings.
"I anticipate that happening by the beginning of the next fiscal year [which begins May 1]," Scarpiniti said.
Even if she ends up not being the permanent administrator past April 2021, Scarpiniti said she wanted to begin aggressively making changes.
"Even if it's not myself once the mayor's term is up, the village will have a nice foundation to finish off some of those areas," Scarpiniti said.
Belmonte was appointed by former Mayor Richard Scheck to the role of administrator in 2001, after the retirement of Wayne Pesek.
One of Scheck's trusted political lieutenants and fellow VIP Party member, Belmonte actually got his start in local politics running for trustee on an opposition slate of candidates in 1989, led by mayoral hopeful Joe Mitchell.
Belmonte was the only member of that slate to win election and after that political party folded, Scheck asked Belmonte to join VIP. Belmonte would be elected again as a trustee in 1993 and 1997.
Raised in an Italian neighborhood on the Near West Side next to the University of Illinois at Chicago, Belmonte worked for 31 years as a purchasing agent for the university before retiring in November 2000.
A month later, he resigned as village trustee to clear the way for someone to be appointed to his seat and run as an incumbent in the 2001 election. Scheck appointed Joan Sargent as Belmonte's replacement on the village board and, after the election, he elevated Belmonte to administrator.
Over the years, the primary tasks associated with being village administrator haven't changed much.
"You still have to keep the residents happy, make sure their garbage is picked up and the streets are plowed and the streets are swept," Belmonte said. "That's what the residents want."
The biggest change for the local political scene is the rise of social media, according to Belmonte.
"People sit at their kitchen table and just say whatever they want and have no facts or anything," said Belmonte, who says he steers clear of social media entirely.
Belmonte said he'll remain involved as a member of the VIP Party, though he is stepping away from a leadership role.