Board Meeting Review: 3/23/2021
The last board meeting before the election. This was the last public chance for the incumbents to attempt to show that they are responsible enough to lead our village for four more years. Keep in mind, of the two incumbents on the ballot, both are serving only 2 year terms -- both on unexpired terms. This is only the 4th year Phil has held office in the village.
So, as has become his norm, Phil opened the meeting with a statement. What's interesting is that he tried to disprove every one of the United4Lakewood Team's talking points -- unfortunately, his facts are wrong. I started to go through all of them one by one again -- but the truth is, I'm boring myself repeating myself. So, in the interest of time and focus let's do this:
Almost (if not all) municipalities near us are doing a hybrid meeting model except Lakewood. There are only two possible reasons for this 1) Our village administration can't figure out the technology to do it right OR 2) they don't want to have to face the public in person when you try to "clarify" things with information that isn't true.
Turnover is actually 100% over the past 3 years -- the entire tenure of our CAO/Finance Director/Budget Officer. We'd been using the employee count from the IL Comptroller's office of 31, but last week Phil and Jeannine confirmed that the village's Regular Full and Part Time staff is 23 people. And turnover rate is NOT termination rate -- turnover is all departures where termination rate is those who were terminated. The termination rate since May the 4th incident at village hall is 17.3%. Even that is unfathomable.
Our audit didn't give us a clean bill of health. Buried in the numbers is a decline net position, a complete lack of cash in RedTail, and a growth in debt. Additionally, the control procedures were found lacking enough to cause the audit firm to issue a management letter (for the first time in the recent history) -- and while our CAO/Finance Director/Budget Officer blames a former employee for much of the issues -- she is still the head of the finance department and this happened on her watch.
Neither I nor any resident I've spoken to has ever said that funds are missing from the village -- we don't know that. But we do know that funds aren't where they are supposed to be. We know funds are being spent without a budget routinely. We know the finances are in a word, messy. Where's there's mess there's risk.
The AAA Bond rating was established before Phil took office as a Trustee and long before Jeannine was our CAO. The AAA Bond Rating will go for review when we need to borrow funds -- and while yes, right this second there is no negative mark on our rating; there has been a notation of "Credit Watch."
Yes, the current administration inherited past debt -- but instead of building a plan and working to reduce the impact on the debt -- they've added to it. Not only did they refinance a bond with the idea of removing methane from an unused back-up well, they bought a nearly half a million dollar vactor truck. Both of these things added to the debt. Instead of using the vehicle stickers fees for police car maintainance and purchase, this administration used the funds for the speed signs on Lake Ave. While the signs are a benefit, they gutted the funds the police needed to maintain their cars and only changed the code to the allow for this use months after the purchase was made.
The FOIA complaining is as excessive as the number of FOIAs themselves. The reality is when you can't get information from the village, you FOIA. When you don't get complete information in your FOIA response you appeal to the Public Access Counselor. That's the process. You know how to stop FOIAs? You share information. You build trust. You listen to all the residents and not just those who will owe you a favor. What you do NOT do is try to intimidate residents to stop using FOIA. What you do NOT do is make wild claims about the costs of FOIAs. These are easily (and repeatedly disproven). So -- moving on.
The Haligus Road grant was written by our former engineering firm, Baxter & Woodman. But even if our CAO did write the grant herself, has she explained to anyone yet that our portion of the project will be about $200,000? And from the levy presentation in November, she explained that the village budgets $200,000 a year for road replacement. So -- I'm sorry, it looks like Broadway isn't on the 'not-strategic' plan again this year.
Finally, RedTail benefited from the pandemic in ways that no one would have predicted. Every golf course in the country was up last year and frankly, if we weren't as up as we were, it would have been a huge problem. The fear I have is that Phil is going to expect that revenue to continue as the world opens back up and people begin to travel again.
And then we begin the meeting. Inside the consent agenda, our board approved minutes with an error, financials with typos, and they didn't restate September's financials properly. If I ever needed to point to a single issue with this board it is that they can't possibly have reviewed a single thing in that board packet and not caught those problems. If they aren't going to do the job of at least reviewing the board packet -- they have no business being on the board.
In a speed meeting -- the board approved without question the intergovernmental agreement for the Haligus road paving and to get new, upgraded GPSs for the golf carts. However, unlike what Phil said -- we've had GPS in our carts for years, this is an upgraded system.
Then we come to the end of meeting reports and trustee comments:
I'm incredibly partial to when our CAO tries to make is sound like I've not been attempting to have a meeting with her despite her offers. Yes, she in December she offered to answer my financial questions. I sent her some in January and she gave me responses that didn't make sense. I asked for more detail and asked to sit down with her. I specifically asked for 2 hours, which yes, I know is a commitment, but I wanted to give us time to fully review each of these questions. She asked me to be patient and I have been -- in fact, I'm still waiting. This is a list of the correspondence I've had with the CAO since her offer to help me understand our financials:
I've been very patient. I was hoping to meet with her prior to the budget workshops because I think it would be important to understand the situation before we build the budget -- but I also understand that she's busy -- you know sometime in the the last two months she could have found a couple of hours to sit with a concerned resident, right?
Then we get to Brian Augustine's denouncement of a FB group. Am I the only person who thought he came across as angry? Here's what I will never understand -- if you serve the public, you meet the public where they are. There is a resident in our community who has successfully built a cross-neighborhood community. This should be commended, not condemned. And if you think the information being shared is wrong -- there's a simple way to fix it -- share yourself. I have no intention of leaving the Facebook group if I'm elected -- because I think it's important to know what is happening with all the residents. I want people to believe they can reach out to me and know I will listen. I've tried to talk to Brian in the beginning of this process and he told me to my face that he 'can't talk to me.' I am forced to ask why? What is so frightening about me? When he offered to sit with Amy about the financial questions I gave to her -- as soon as she said I was coming too, he refused. Then he attempted to gaslight her and say she was refusing to meet with him. Sadly, this doesn't paint. positive picture of Mr. Augustine. Maybe if I'm elected he'll speak to me.
And then finally, there's the Berman Bluster --- this is what I've taken to calling the last word from our favorite non-lawyer. This week he did not disappoint -- he dug back into history to try to make a claim that illegal refunds were given when the TIF was dissolved -- you know, in 2017. Ok, Mr. Trustee Berman has called for an investigation and he shall have one. In my next post there will be the results of a full and complete investigation of the TIF refunds.
And that's the end. 45 minutes from start to finish with the majority of the time spent on Phil's defense of our challenges, Trustee Augustine being angry at Facebook, and Berman being Berman. No discussion on a single topic. No corrections or even holding the staff accountable to the errors. Complete ignoring of all resident concerns.
So, we have exactly 12 more days to vote -- either early or on April 6th. Step up and vote for what you want in your village. Four more years of this -- or give a new crew a shot at bringing professionalism, honesty, integrity, and transparency to our village. We can do SO much better than we are right now. Vote for the United4Lakewood Team.