Sunday, January 28, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
The village of Broadview’s Board of Trustees has for weeks been at loggerheads over three temporary positions that Mayor Katrina Thompson has been looking to fill, in addition to efforts by her administration to pay for a public works employee to obtain a commercial driver’s license, or a CDL.
The new personnel changes, Thompson said, are part of a more comprehensive effort by her administration to properly staff a public works department that the department’s director says has been chronically undermanned and overworked, and to overhaul a human resources apparatus that the mayor said was nonexistent before she took office.
But three trustees, however, argue that the hires were not made in the light of day and have no financial or organizational justification.
Amid the standoff, Thompson says, the successful applicants who landed those positions — and some of whom had already started working — have been sent home until the issue gets resolved.
During a Jan. 16 regular meeting, three resolutions necessary to authorize the “temporary and probationary” hiring of a part-time and full-time laborer in the public works department, and a cashier, failed for lack of a second.
Trustee Judy Abraham introduced the motion, but no other trustees in attendance — including John Ealey, Sherman Jones and Judy Brown-Marino — would provide the second, since each had substantial concerns with the potential hires.
Ealey and Brown-Marino said that that the language in the resolutions seemed designed to circumvent a board policy that requires all hires to be made with prior board approval.
“I’m disappointed and disgusted by the manipulative and duplicitous way this whole thing has been handled,” Brown-Marino said.
Jones said that he wasn’t necessarily against the hires; his primary concerns were that they were being made without sufficient financial information — an argument that Brown-Marino also made.
“I’d like an explanation of why these people need to be hired and how it fits into our budget,” Brown-Marino said. “We still don’t know where we’re at financially.”
During a Jan. 19 special meeting, where the resolutions were again brought up for a vote, Jones recommended that the mayor implement a needs assessment.
“Somebody needs to come in and look at the department heads and ascertain what are the needs and wants,” said Jones, who also expressed concerns that the hires were being made without consulting the union.
Jones, who is chair of the board’s finance committee, also said that he feared that the hires could put the village in the position to bring on new employees only to have to lay them off in the future when finances tightened.
He added that “before we start hiring a cashier and increasing staff” the village should examine the impact of its attempts to automate some administrative functions, which he said could reduce employees’ workloads
“The biggest issue I have is current expenses versus recurring expenses,” Jones said. “Today’s dollars versus tomorrow’s dollars.
At the Jan. 19 meeting, the resolutions failed 2-3, with Jones, Brown-Marino and Ealey providing the dissenting votes. Abraham and Trustee Verina Horne voted in favor of the measure.
Addressing the concerns of the three trustees who voted against the hires, Thompson said that she had emailed Brown-Marino a financial audit, which would have been sufficient to show that the three positions were within the budget.
Horne said that she had looked at those financial documents, and also consulted with the village’s financial experts, and they showed that the budget would accommodate the new hires. She and Abraham said that they trusted the advice of Thompson and Matthew Ames, the public works director, who both said that the new hires were necessary.
Thompson said that the new hires were needed particularly in light of ongoing investigations conducted by the Cook County Inspector General and the village attorney into a scandal involving public works employees utilizing the village-owned facility for off-the-books repairs.
Thompson said the scandal, which came to light last May after an ABC 7 investigative report, had consumed most of her attention when she first came into office. She said the three hires she recommended to the board would be the first since she was elected last April.
“We had two [public works] employees terminated — one full-time and another part-time and we haven’t replaced them,” Thompson said. “They are needed in those departments. The department is short-staffed.”
Thompson added that she consulted with the village’s attorney, Jones and Ealey about a range of concerns and possible complications, such as union issues and the hiring process. She said that she had introduced the resolutions at Ealey’s request and that his concerns about the language of the resolutions were misplaced.
“All employees are probationary when we have new hires,” Thompson said. “Everybody is probationary because you have to prove yourself worthy to stay in the position — across the board — so I don’t know why that is new terminology for you.”
Thompson said that the hires were made transparently “and compliant with the community.” She said that the positions were posted on the village’s website and published in local newspapers.
Candidates were also screened and vetted through two rounds of interviews, she said, adding that the process also reflected residents’ desire for the village to hire locally when possible. Two of the hires, Thompson said, are from Broadview and one is from Maywood.
The mayor also traded Brown-Marino’s harsh assessment of Thompson’s tactics with a harsh assessment of her own about some of the dissenting trustees’ tactics, which she said seemed designed to sabotage her administration and to hold those prospective employees hostage to a messy legislative process.
“We’re implementing best practices, but some people like dysfunctional chaos and now I’m starting to learn that in my role being the mayor,” Thompson said.
The conflict extended to the mayor’s attempts to pay a for a public works employee to obtain a CDL license, which is a requirement in order to get a job in the department.
Ealey said that he didn’t believe the village should be paying the $50 licensing fee since it isn’t common practice in the private sector.
“I carried [a CDL] for 27 years and never, ever did the company volunteer to pay for it,” Ealey said.
Horne, Abraham and Thompson said that the village should invest in the skills of its employees. Horne recommended that the board establish a policy requiring employees who receive CDLs paid for by the village to stay employed in the position for a certain amount of time before taking another job elsewhere.
Brown-Marino, however, seemed taken aback that numerous employees had been hired in the public works department in the past without having a CDL, which Ames said is a job requirement.
Thompson said that the unqualified hires happened before she got into office, during a time when the village was without an HR department.
“[Broadview village administrator Le’Tisa] Jones and I have been looking at directors and getting people to be in compliance, because we inherited a lot of things that should have been required from the beginning,” Thompson said, adding that letting go unqualified employees would have “been detrimental for us” during the winter season.
“We wouldn’t have had anyone qualified to do snow removal and to keep our community afloat, so we have to make strategic decisions as we make hard decisions moving forward,” the mayor said, adding that employees without the license have several months to obtain it if they want to keep their jobs.
At least one Broadview resident expressed concerns about the CDL issue during public comments on Jan. 19.
“I don’t want us to just hire folks and pay their way,” said one resident, adding that she had discovered that the employee who would obtain the license is Abraham’s nephew — a claim that we could not independently verify before going to press on Monday.
Another resident, however, expressed support for the CDL payment.
“I find it difficult [that] you’re not approving to pay for that licensure,” she said, adding that the practice was done when Jones was mayor.
For his part, Jones said that he wasn’t against the hire, per se; he only wanted to see a policy in place before the village paid for the CDL. On Jan. 16, the vote on the CDL issue was tabled until further discussion.
Meanwhile, the three new hires may be in limbo unless the mayor appoints a new trustee to replace the late Tara Brewer, who Thompson described as a friend and ally. Brewer died earlier this month after a short illness.
That new appointment could possibly be the third vote that would allow Thompson to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the resolutions required for those employees to start work. VFP
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