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Out of the frying pan and into Darien

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ANN MARIE AMES
December 10, 2010
— Shortly after Evelyn Etten was elected president of the Darien Village Board, she told the Gazette that despite challenges, things would improve in the village.

"I firmly believe the residents will see some positive change over time," Etten said.


While more work is ahead, two new village managers think they are part of that change.


Village Administrator Diana Dykstra and Police Chief Hunter Gilmore each have worked less than six months in the village.


"We finally accomplished a goal of mine: strength in our leadership," Etten said. "I have the highest confidence in Diana and Hunter that they are well educated to manage whatever comes up in their offices."


That's not something Etten was likely to have said this time last year.


Dykstra and Gilmore represent a major change in village management.


Darien went nearly two years without a police chief before Gilmore. Former chief Steve DeVoy had worked in the village for more than 20 years. He had been chief since 2003 but was suspended without pay in December 2008. That suspension divided the small village and pushed Darien into the local news limelight for much of 2009.


The village's former administrator, Marc Dennison, was hired in the middle of that politically charged battle. On top of that, Dennison had not worked as a clerk in a Wisconsin municipality, so the odds were against him from the start, Dykstra said. Dennison left the village in April to take a different job.


The village hired Dykstra in July to replace Dennison and hired Gilmore in October to replace DeVoy.


Some people might have said Dykstra was jumping from the frying pan into the fire. After all, she was working as the city clerk in Lake Geneva, a city that saw its own share of political arguments in 2009.


So far, she has found the change refreshing, Dykstra said. Working in Lake Geneva was stressful, and she found herself wanting to find a job where she would be happy. So far, she's found that in Darien Village Hall, she said.


Not that it was an easy transition, Dykstra said. Dykstra and Gilmore took jobs with more responsibilities in communities smaller than where they had been working.


"This was tough for both of us, coming from a larger municipality that had a lot of perks and a lot of things at our fingertips," Dykstra said.


Sitting with Dykstra in Dykstra's downtown Darien office, Gilmore agreed.


"We had a lot more resources, a lot more people to do jobs," said Gilmore, who previously worked as a commander for the Carol Stream Police Department west of Chicago.


Dykstra completed the thought.


"We're doing things we often told other people to do," she said.


Dykstra said the change is welcome. In Darien, she has more opportunity to interact with residents who walk into the office to pay their utility bills or take care of other business.


Some people told her the change would be boring. Nothing could be further from the truth, Dykstra said.


"It is by far not boring," Dykstra said. "There is nothing here that constitutes boring. The list of goals is never-ending."


The village's focus was in the wrong place for the last two years, Dykstra said. Rather than focusing on economic development or technology improvements, the village was mired in politics, she said. That made the working environment pretty unhappy for employees, she said.


Gilmore said it will take time for residents to gain trust in the new village leadership.


"I have no doubt that among the employees they want to see leadership that really means something," Gilmore said. "Two years is a long time to not have a chief or the appropriate village manager."


Gilmore said he already has gotten two officers into training sessions and will continue to focus on officer education. He also is working on improving the police department's outdated technology, he said. The first addition will be in-car cameras purchased with money left in the department's 2010 budget, Gilmore said.


The three cameras will cost $13,700 but will be an invaluable resource for training officers and will provide officers backup if members of the public have complaints, he said.


Gilmore said he was not aware of the politically divided nature of the village when he took the job.


"I didn't know as much about the village as I do now," Gilmore said. "It's hard to know what you're into until you're into it."


Dykstra, on the other hand, lives in the nearby village of Sharon and knew exactly what she was getting into when she took the job, she said. She gives credit to the village's third manager—Public Works Director Greg Epping—for holding village business together in the time between Dennison's departure and her arrival. Epping was appointed as interim administrator and for a few months oversaw the entire village.


"If Greg Epping had not been here during my interview, if I had not had the opportunity to meet Greg and (Utility Clerk) Dean (Abel), I might not be here," Dykstra said. "I looked at who I'd be working with and knew this was the perfect opportunity for me."


Epping was the person who hired a consultant to start the search for a new police chief. Gilmore said he was impressed with the thorough hiring process.


"I felt like I was coming in to a very professional organization," he said


Dykstra laughed warmly, something that happened a lot during a one-hour interview.


"We made it that way," she said.


Bios

DIANA DYKSTRA


Job: Village of Darien clerk/administrator


Date hired: July 19


Previous experience: City of Lake Geneva clerk since 2002


Other municipal experience: Served on the Sharon Village Board from 2001 to 2006 and in 2008. In 2009, she was elected as the village board president.


Education: Earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UW-Whitewater in 1995; earned a master's degree in public administration from Keller Graduate School in 2007.


***


HUNTER GILMORE


Job: Village of Darien police chief


Date hired: Oct. 4


Previous experience: Most recently was a member of a six-person command staff for the Carol Stream Police Department west of Chicago. The department has 90 officers. He has 22 years of police experience.


Education: Has associate and bachelor's degrees in criminal justice as well as a master's degree in leadership studies. Has entered a doctoral program in leadership studies.



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