By Michael Romain
LAST TUESDAY, MAYWOOD — Moments after she took the oath of office to assume the trustee seat vacated by Mayor Edwenna Perkins, Cheryl Ealey-Cross faced the half-full Village chamber, noticed that she had no microphone at her seat like the other Board members and rather volubly requested that one be provided in the future. That’s when several audience members assured her that they could hear her louder than some of the other members with microphones.
Mrs. Ealey-Cross’s appointment marked the rather anti-climactic culmination of a community-wide debate over just how the appointment process should be handled. When former Mayor Henderson Yarbrough appointed Trustee Audrey Jaycox to fill the seat vacated by Trustee Michael Rogers several weeks shy of Mayor Perkins’s swearing-in, there was a mini firestorm of protest among residents.
Some considered Mr. Rogers’s resignation a political maneuver to deprive Mayor Perkins of two Board appointments. Others expressed shock at Mayor Yarbrough’s appointment of Ms. Jaycox, who Mr. Yarbrough considered the best qualified candidate for the seat, but who gave up her own position as trustee to run a campaign for the Village clerkship—a campaign she eventually lost to current clerk Viola Mims.
“If Jaycox is going to resign as trustee, then why is she going to accept another trustee position [for two years]?” said one resident.
The Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization (NoMCO) endorsed a plan that would involve Mayor Yarbrough appointing the next-highest-vote-getting candidate for trustee in the April consolidate election—Marcius Scaggs of the All In For Maywood (AIM) party.
Mr. Yarbrough referred to the plan as sensible before claiming that, according to the NoMCO plan, Ms. Jaycox would qualify as the next-highest-vote-getter, even though she did not run for trustee. At the board meeting during which Ms. Jaycox was appointed, citizen outrage ran well past adjournment and spilled onto the sidewalks and into the dimly lit Fifth Avenue night.
The atmosphere at the August 20 board meeting, however, was staid by comparison—even though Mayor Perkins herself skirted the NoMCO plan in appointing Mrs. Ealey-Cross to the Board. Unlike Ms. Jaycox, Mrs. Ealey-Cross did run for trustee; however, she was not the next-highest-vote-getter in the race. For whatever reasons, the fervent pressure put on Mayor Yarbrough to adhere to the procedural fairness of the NoMCO plan was blatantly absent this time around.
Mrs. Ealey-Cross’s ascension to the Board comes after a nearly two-month’s long silent war of attrition between the Mayor and the Board. Since the outset of the Mayor’s term, the five trustees flanking her had unanimously refused to so much as discuss Mrs. Ealey-Cross’s impending appointment in public. Her assumption of Mayor Perkins’s vacated trustee seat occurred in wake of the Board’s second refusal to give it a vote, after which, the Mayor has the right to make the appointment anyway.
In the lead-up to her August 20th swearing-in, there were claims made by some present and former trustees that the appointment was being held up, not because of a partisan stubbornness on the part of the Maywood United Party (the party ticket on which all five trustees ran) to block Mayor Perkins’s every move, but because Mrs. Ealey-Cross was difficult to work with.
In his public comments at a board meeting in June, former trustee and Village clerk Gary Woll said that he’s served on committees with Mrs. Ealey-Cross that “she destroyed.” “She’s very bright, she works hard, but the littlest thing […] she gets angry […] There are other people who support Edwenna who are much better to work with.”
Trustee Toni Dorris concurred with 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 was going to do and never get done.”
In her first board meeting as a sitting trustee, Mrs. Ealey-Cross seemed poised to both confirm and falsify those sentiments by completely dismantling a routine omnibus agenda—an act that would seem to support Mr. Woll’s characterization of her as difficult, but laying waste to Trustee Dorris’s claim of ineffectiveness.
Of the twenty-eight items — listed ‘A’ through ‘BB’ — that were contained in the massive omnibus agenda, Mrs. Ealey-Cross pulled twenty, effectively forcing the Board to consider and vote on each one in isolation. In all, when combined with the one item pulled by Trustee Ron Rivers, twenty-one items were struck from the omnibus agenda. (Omnibus means “for everything” in Latin and allows the Board to approve a range of different items in a single vote, instead of voting on each item separately).
Among the items considered for approval in the omnibus package were routine payments to the City of Chicago’s water department for $533,459.08; to Allied Waste in the amount of $324,326.88 for June and July garbage pickup and disposal service; and to payment to Blue Cross Blue Shield in the amount of $220,538.47 for employee health insurance for the month of August.
Not long into the discussion of item ‘A’ of the omnibus agenda (“Consideration to approve payment to AFCO in the amount of $57,734.11 for the 3rd of 9 installment payments for general liability insurance payment”), Trustee Ealey-Cross requested a copy of the actual contract.
And so it went. For practically every item she pulled from the omnibus agenda, she requested contract information and other technical and legalistic minutiae with which the typical elected official doesn’t bother to grapple.
To the casual observer, the newest member of the Village Board may have appeared obstinate, but it was also obvious that she’d done her homework—a fact that not even her staunchest detractors could’ve comfortably denied.
During the Board discussion of item ‘L’ regarding payment to Edwin Hancock Engineering Company in the amount of $82,543.29 for engineering-related services done in Maywood in August, Trustee Ealey-Cross requested to “see a copy of the contract as well as to know the process in how we are billed and if there’s an ordinance that states or requires a written agreement.”
On item ‘S’, a proposal to purchase three fully-outfitted 2013 Dodge Chargers for the police department, Trustee Ealey-Cross harkened back to the discussion at last week’s LLOC meeting.
“Questions from this board were addressed and there was the question regarding procedures in place as to the vehicles and destruction and I thought the manager was going to report back to the board tonight on his findings,” she said.
Regarding item ‘Z’ (“Resolution authorizing an agreement with IAFF for management of various grant projects on behalf of West Cook County Cooperative”), Trustee Ealey-Cross wanted to know what progress had been made since Maywood became a member of the Cooperative. “Do we get an annual report?” she said.
When Mr. Barlow said that the IAFF orally reports to the board from time to time, but does not present the Board with a written annual report, Mrs. Ealey-Cross retorted, “It seems to me if we’re being asked to pay people to do certain things for us we should be asking them to give us at least annual updates as to their progress. If we’re paying for something we need to see results.”
At certain points, Village Manager Bill Barlow appeared a bit flustered by Trustee Ealey-Cross’s onslaught of requests and questions. In the middle of taking note of another of her contract requests, Mrs. Ealey-Cross waved a sheet of paper in Mr. Barlow’s direction. It was an advance copy of each of her requests for information.
The move prompted some snickering from the audience, punctuating what may have appeared to be mere grandstanding or showboating if Trustee Ealey-Cross’s actions hadn’t yielded such obvious results.
Outside of Trustee Ron Rivers’s sensible concern regarding the Village’s monthly maintenance fee of $19,390 to Current Technologies to maintain cameras that are “down very, very severely,” Trustee Ealey-Cross presented the only significant scrutiny of an omnibus agenda that comprised more than $2 million in Village expenditures.
Ealey-Cross’s pulling of item ‘AA’ (a motion “to authorize the execution of a negotiated light duty policy for union members of the Fire Department”) from the massive omnibus agenda enabled Trustee Rivers to inquire as to what “light duty” actually entailed. In fact, there was such confusion about the issue that the Board unanimously motioned to table the issue for further discussion at an LLOC meeting.
This confusion was extremely revealing, since its reasonable to assume that had Trustee Ealey-Cross not pulled item ‘AA’ from the omnibus agenda, the Board would’ve voted on its approval despite not really knowing much about the matter. This begs the question of how much the Board actually knows about the very payments it approves. And if it doesn’t know much, why does it routinely elect to approve these payments in massive omnibus agendas that effectively preempt any kind of detailed discussion of each item?
When Trustee Ealey-Cross requested a copy of the contract for Hackie Cement Corporation, which was to be paid $29,890 for sewer collapse repair, she was told that the Village did not issue one to the company. “It’s on a timely and material basis. It’s outlined in the invoice,” said Mr. Barlow. “The invoice serves as the contract in this case,” attorney Michael Jurusik said.
Mr. Barlow informed the Board that the Village waives the bid process for emergency services, which is why there was no contract. But if emergency services are consistently going to one company, doesn’t the frequency of service provided and amount of money paid out constitute at least an implied agreement of regular service?
“May I ask for an overview of how much we’ve spent with this company so far?” said Trustee Ealey-Cross.
If her findings show that Hackie was being paid to do emergency sewer service on a regular basis, then it would be reasonable to conclude that the Village has been contracting emergency sewer services with a company without a sufficient written contract laying out terms and conditions.
“I’ve seen their name on the agenda several times and the amounts haven’t been minimum. I’m always concerned about inferior quality of products and services, so without a contract […]” she said.
The discussion ended with Mr. Barlow consenting to lay out the typical terms of a contract with Hackie, Mr. Jurusik suggesting a bid process be setup for next year’s emergency services and Trustee Ealey-Cross suggesting that a procurement officer be hired to negotiate contracts on behalf of the entire Village.
“Are we considering that in the future to reduce our costs? Because if each department is out negotiating on its own, are we getting the best deal?” said Ealey-Cross.
“We can put it on our future LLOC agenda,” Mr. Barlow consented.
One may have wondered, as all this was transpiring, whether the soothsaying of Gary Woll echoed in the heads of the other trustees. “She will destroy your board,” Mr. Woll told them before Mrs. Ealey-Cross’s appointment. Considering the impressive results of her destructiveness, however, one begins to think that Mr. Woll may have been on to something. VFP