By Michael Romain
Before it began, Tuesday’s board meeting, the first to be presided over by new mayor Edwenna Perkins, had the atmosphere of an NBA playoff game. The chamber was packed, with some residents forced to observe the proceedings from the hallway.
“First, I’d like to thank you for coming and taking part in your Village business,” said Mayor Perkins. And then, with little fanfare, she announced her decision to appoint former candidate for trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross to fill her vacant seat on the Board. Anyone in the audience expecting some kind of follow-up or response from the trustees (all of whom were present except Ms. Jaycox, who is still in bereavement) was probably confounded by the silence.
He or she would have to interpret Village attorney Michael Jurusik’s explanation of the appointment procedure to gather a clue. “If the board rejects her initial appointment…” he began, thus leading the scrupulous observer to infer that what he had just witnessed from the board’s non-response was an affirmative (and unanimous) rejection.
All indications point to the likelihood that Mrs. Ealey-Cross will be rejected by the board a second time, after which point Mayor Perkins has the authority to appoint her anyway. The whole process promises to be a rather long-winded and toxic affair, but its one that doesn’t seem to have surprised many beyond the Mayor herself, who at one point during the meeting was so overwhelmed with frustration she appeared flustered, noting that she hadn’t expected such an outcome.
“Tonight, I brought to you a candidate and not one of you [trustees] will stand up,” she said to loud applause. “I voted for every person that Mayor Yarbrough brought except Mr. Rogers and that was a last [minute] situation.”
Mrs. Ealey-Cross’s rejection set the tone for what would become a rather raucous affair. Before the meeting was adjourned, the night’s most impactful player in the whole proceedings wouldn’t be the Mayor or any of the Trustees – the focal points of this showdown – but rather, the crowd itself.
In fact, there were so many titillating side stories that it was hard to decipher a larger theme to the first board meeting presided over by the Village’s first African-American female mayor than sheer chaos.
There was the Larry Shapiro story thread, which former candidate for trustee Isaiah Brandon addressed in his public comments. Mr. Brandon doesn’t believe that the Village should “waste” Village money on paying Mr. Shapiro the $300/month stipend that he requests as compensation for serving as Senior Citizen Coordinator. Mr. Brandon offered, instead, to volunteer his “time, talent and services” to working with the seniors.
Mayor Perkins has expressed her disapproval of the stipend also, while most members of the Board consider paying Mr. Shapiro a foregone conclusion. Jessie Davis, himself a member of the Senior Club and a strong advocate of Mr. Shapiro, stated that “all [Mr. Shapiro] is asking for is [money] to offset expenses he’ll incur…there’s an awful lot of work, hard work, coordinating events that we have…we have our group here again…we can speak for ourselves.”
Davis ended his comments with an emotional appeal that momentarily put the audience in a somber mood. “What are we worth? Nothing? The little time that we have left, [shouldn’t] we enjoy it? And you’re saying this is tough. Well, you know that other Villages spend more money on senior programs than we do here in Maywood. I know we’re in dire straits, but $300 is not going to hurt this Village [the audience applaused]….We know what we want. We want someone here with us that is going to care about us and care about what we do and have some concern and compassion,” he said, to even louder applause.
There was the Cheryl Ealey-Cross story thread. During public comment, former Village clerk and trustee Gary Woll invoked a chorus of gasps in his address to the Mayor and trustees when he suggested that appointing Mrs. Ealey-Cross would “destroy your board.”
Woll’s comments incited the fury of Ms. Dorothy Lane Thomas. “You’re a person I can’t understand…it seem like you always have something negative to say about someone…some people didn’t want you up here!” she said. “You don’t know what that person can bring to the Board; probably more than you brought in your twenty-something years you were up there.” Laughter and applause ensued.
Afterward, Mr. Woll put his incendiary statement into context. “I’ve served on two committees with her that she destroyed,” he said. Woll served with Mrs. Ealey-Cross in the Maywood Rotary Club as well as on the Village’s 125th Anniversary organization in 2005. “She’s very bright, she works hard, but the littlest thing…if you don’t dot an ‘i’ or cross a ‘t’, she gets angry,” he said. “She destroyed the Rotary’s Christmas Party…she stormed out of our next two Rotary meetings…and she quit, owing us over $300. This has nothing to do with how she votes.”
Woll also brought up the NoMCO proposal, saying that Ealey-Cross did not finish with the next-highest votes during her candidacy for trustee in the last consolidated election. “There are other people who support Edwenna who are much better to work with,” he said.
When asked whether the Board’s unanimous rejection of Mrs. Ealey-Cross reflected an instance of partisan obstruction, Woll said that he couldn’t speak for the members of the Board. “I don’t know why [they didn’t vote her in]. I know they’re aware of things that I shared with you.”
To hear Woll talk about Mrs. Ealey-Cross and Ms. Thomas talk about Woll is to get the sensation of observing people walking through a hall of mirrors. The very qualities they criticize in others are the qualities that others criticize in them. This was distinctly apparent while Ms. Thomas was making her rebuttal to Woll’s comments. A few moments after she talked about Mr. Woll’s consistent negativity, someone in the audience whispered, “I hope she apply that to herself as well – everything she says is negative.”
This carnival quality was also potent during a small spat between Mayor Perkins and new trustee Toni Dorris, who reprimanded Mrs. Perkins for seeking compensation from the Village for the money spent on her post-swearing-in party at the 200 Building. Ms. Dorris said that Mrs. Perkins’s attempt to get the Village to compensate for a political event was hypocritical and flew in the face of the image the new Mayor cultivated as a trustee.
Referring to check number 80049, Dorris asked, “Does the entire Board have this privilege for reimbursement for food, supplies and reception?” Lanya Satchell, the Village’s finance director, said that the “expenditure was approved prior to the expenditure happening.” However, for Ms. Dorris, the explanation didn’t suffice.
“When I saw that [the reimbursement],” Ms. Dorris said, “I’m thinking, ‘she spent two years around Mayor Yarbrough building a case that he was stealing funds, but then she turned right around and did what she’d been accusing this man of doing.” For her part, Mayor Perkins said that she asked Ms. Dorris prior to the event whether or not the action was allowed.
On her decision not to appoint Mrs. Ealey-Cross, Ms. Dorris echoed the sentiments of Mr. Woll. “I’ve watched and known Mrs. Ealey for six years…go from commission to commission. I’ve seen her advocate for things she said she was going to do and never get done,” Dorris said. When asked whether or not she would’ve voted for any other candidate that Mayor Perkins brought up for approval, Ms. Dorris said that she would’ve voted for Marcius Scaggs, the candidate for trustee who garnered the next-highest votes in the last election.
The mutual mistrust that is so rampant between the Mayor and her allies, and the Board and its allies, seems to have been nourished by both sides. There doesn’t appear to have been much of an effort exerted by either Mrs. Perkins or any members of the Board to reach out to the other in a spirit of compromise. It’s a stalemate that Ms. Dorris said she’s willing to resolve.
“Since the election, [Mayor Perkins] has yet to call me to have a sit-down…to create a team-building process. [But] I’m optimistic about the Mayor and the Board working together.” Dorris said she nonetheless plans on calling the Mayor to setup an appointment in an effort to spark a better working relationship and, perhaps, an even deeper bond – one based on a commonality that may prove stronger than political alliances.
“My mom passed in 2007 and my grandmother passed in 2008…And yes, I need guidance, but unfortunately its not coming from the first woman mayor. So, that’s what I anticipate to build on. For the most part, if I see there’s some type of effort, I can really, really respect this woman. So, we shall see next week.” VFP
Mrs. Ealey-Cross could not be reached for comment. However, an in-depth interview with her is forthcoming to allow her the opportunity to address these statements herself.