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Thursday, July 21, 2011 04:45 pm

All in the family

Park district hires executive director’s fiancée to fill eliminated position

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For about two months this summer, the Springfield Park District’s main receptionist position was held by the girlfriend, now fiancée, of Mike Stratton, the executive director of the $11 million local government.

Michelle Merz Greer, Stratton’s fiancée as of earlier this month, submitted to the district an application for a receptionist position dated April 13. She began work for the district on May 3, serving as a part-time receptionist in the district’s administrative office.

Though Greer was hired on a part-time basis, the position had previously existed as a full-time post but was eliminated last year as part of nearly 30 district-wide layoffs. Most of those layoffs eliminated full-time union positions, and many of those cut from their full-time positions were later offered part-time seasonal positions.

From March of 2007 until layoffs forced her out on April 30, 2010, Lisa Purser was full-time the administrative receptionist, the job Greer took over this summer on a part-time basis. Purser was not approached about the job opening, the position was not advertised and Greer was the only person considered for the post, says Stratton, whose father, Bruce Stratton, is a lawyer for the park district.

“She [Greer] applied for a position with the district. She was considered for the post,” Mike Stratton says. “It was one of those things where we needed some assistance right away and so she had an application in and the business manager who oversees that position and all the positions within this division met with her, talked with her and thought she would be a good candidate to be in that position.”

Purser says hiring the executive director’s girlfriend was inappropriate, especially considering how the position was eliminated last year. “It’s a layoff and if they were going to hire anyone back I think I should have been the first person to be considered for that position. If not myself, there were two others laid off as well.”

The park district’s director of finance and human resources, Mark Bartolozzi, says he and Stratton “had mutually identified that there was a need for someone at the front desk.” Asked why Purser wasn’t offered the part-time version of her old job, Bartolozzi states: “I don’t know if that was a consideration or not. … The executive director had input into that.”

“It was just a part-time temporary position,” Stratton says, explaining why Purser was not offered the job. “It was a position only to work probably until the end of summer, just to assist this office with the workloads. We get very, very busy this time of year.”

But Purser, who remains unemployed, says she would have considered returning to the job, even with decreased hours and no benefits. “He should ask whoever he laid off if they would be interested,” she says.

Greer was paid $13.50 per hour without benefits and generally worked 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. When Purser was hired in March of 2007, she was hired on a part-time basis, making $10 per hour with no benefits. She became a full-time employee two months later, at which time she received a pay raise and a benefits package, according to the Springfield Park District. When Purser was laid off, she was earning $13.33 per hour with benefits.

Park district trustee Ted Flickinger says he found out Greer was hired when he walked into the administrative offices and saw her at the front desk. He says he spoke with Stratton about how the public might perceive the hiring of someone with such a close relationship to the park district’s executive director, but he noted that he did not require Stratton to take any action. “I think he solved it. She’s no longer the receptionist, but that was his decision,” Flickinger says.

Greer “voluntarily resigned” from the district on June 22, according to the park district. Greer and Stratton became engaged about two weeks later.

Stratton says he intends to replace Greer with another part-time receptionist. “That position is definitely necessary. In fact we have some feelers out right now,” Stratton says, adding that he still has no intention of advertising the position, as the park district has plenty of applications on file.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

CORRECTION: When the Springfield Park District hired Lisa Purser in March of 2007, she was hired on a part-time basis, making $10 per hour with no benefits. She became a full-time employee two months later, at which time she received a pay raise and a benefits package, according to the Springfield Park District.

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