Board Meeting Review: April 29, 2021
Before I begin, I must thank the staff at the Raue for helping us pull off the first board meeting with the newly elected trustees. The staff helped us with technology (including allowing us to pick their brains for ways we can bring their high end concept to our regular board meetings on a much reduced budget); set-up of the theater; and ensuring safety. The theater is a lovely location and 40 people attended in person and another 59 attended via Zoom. Thank you all for joining us.
When you realize that only 2 people up there had any substantial experience with the Lakewood Board, we all have to admit it's a learning experience. This is why I'm so thankful to the Raue for taking the burden of the technology off our plates and letting us focus on the meeting first. It has been our goal and the plan to return to a safe meeting structure where people can be in person and watch on a remote experience. I think we need to decide if Zoom is the appropriate remote experience, or if there's better. Trustee Barron and I had a brief chat about another board she has experience with that streams in a different manner. I think we need to think about what will be the best experience and also be cost effective. But the goal needs to be how can we safely get meetings in person.
Before I can get too deep into what happened and my thoughts on it, I want to address what I see is the elephant in the room. The newly elected Trustees and President were called out for not being transparent with the appointees inside the board packet or providing the resumes prior to the morning of Thursday. And as I said, I agree that was not a transparent move -- but it was the right one. The Village President had two choices as he put the agenda together: full transparency OR offering a person dignity. Dave chose dignity.
Here's the reality -- the agenda had to be made public 48 hours before the meeting. Due to scheduling, we needed the meeting to be on Thursday the 29th and as three of the positions were actively vacant at the time of the agenda, waiting wouldn't be prudent. So, it would have been easy to announce the names of the people selected to the 3 open positions; but that would have highlighted the one unnamed role -- whose contract was not being renewed. Thus, the choice was withhold all the names so that the prior-CAO could be informed in private and offered a little dignity. This is what really good managers do -- they accept the call-out for the lack of transparency instead of forcing an employee public humiliation on her final days in the role.
The other thing is that I'm not thrilled with the us/them thing that appears to be set in motion. I believe we need to work together as a board. I hope that comes with time -- but I do believe it begins with at least saying hello to all of your fellow trustees. I realize I've been an outspoken critic of both Trustee Berman and Trustee Augustine for the better part of a year. But we are now all equals on this board and other than Trustee Barron -- we all did the hard work to get elected -- with that comes a level of respect; at least on my side. So -- as a keen resident so eloquently put it -- let's all put the dramatics aside and at least attempt to work together. For my part, I'll do what I can...but as I've said many times -- it takes two to work together.
This said, I want to make it clear that there is a lot of work ahead of us in this village -- and it gains us nothing to play a blame game. We need to find the issues solely with the intent of making corrections and moving forward. It will be very hard to keep our focus on fixing the issues and not constantly call out the source -- but I was reminded today that it isn't healthy to do that -- so I'm going to try. I hope that all my fellow trustees will do the same.
For the appointments, I couldn't be happier with the people chosen. I had written notes for each of them -- though it became apparent that some didn't need my voice of support beyond my vote -- so you get my summary here:
Treasurer Steve Aronson: A fellow transplant from the Sunshine State, we have talked for hours on the state of the finances and joys of complicated excel documents. He has a large financial and accounting background, including being a CFO and an auditor. But beyond the qualifications for the role, he really thinks about the questions asked. He has the ability to see risk and how to mitigate it in our financials. And he offered to help... he never asked about being treasurer; he just reached out and said: "I have the right expertise and I can help you put this back to rights." (completely paraphrased quote)
Clerk Jeanette LoBosco: Like many of the former employees who left in early summer last year, I knew her reputation before I met her. She came to our village with multiple years of experience and reportedly was the best records clerk that two of our prior police chiefs had known. A smile on her face and willingness to do hard work -- this is what we need. Jeanette has integrity and deep values which I believe are more critical to the record keeping of our village than the ability to file -- which I'm sure those skills aren't lacking either. I can't wait to get to know her better.
Police Chief Mike Roth: When I shook his hand last night is the first time I'd ever met Chief Roth. However, I feel like I've known him through every single person who has told me about him. In my research of listening to years of board meetings, I heard when he was first appointed. He gave up the chief car specifically for training and equipment for the police department. To listen to some, if you look up selfless leadership, Mike's photo is the definition. But I don't know if anyone else noticed, when Chief was appointed and confirmed, one of our officers (one we've had for 23 years), walked over and gave him the biggest hug. Speaking to that officer, who is known for being more stoic, the smile was uncontrolled and he kept saying, "He's the best. Thank you for bringing him back." That's the only recommendation I need.
Village Manager Jean Heckman: (I know CAO is the title right now, but that was a failed experiment and we need to return it to the Village Manager role again.) Jean has experience working in the village -- she's worked the front desk, been the Treasurer, and the GM at RedTail. I think it was under her leadership that RedTail received its first Best of the Fox awards. But she's also a resident who loves this village. She's passionate for the staff, process, organization, and research. By applying strong organization, this village is going to be able to put its resources to better use and not waste them.
Village Attorney Scott Puma with Ancel Glink: This is a well respected law firm and Scott is a very respected lawyer. We needed a change in legal representation -- the prior firm served this village for a very long time; but recently, residents and the incoming trustees felt like the village could do better. Scott came highly recommended and in all interactions with him; he's proven to exceed every recommendation.
During the meeting last night, Trustee Berman inquired about an RFP for our attorney. The problem with the logic is that until about 8pm on Tuesday, Dave had no standing to put out an RFP -- you really can't ask for proposals for a company you don't work for, right? So, no -- no RFP was done. But the attorney works FOR us. There is no contract and should we feel Scott isn't working for us, we can make a change. I'm not in favor of a revolving door of attorneys; but we need fresh eyes on our code, strong legal opinions, and again, integrity.
Finance Review Committee: This really excites me -- and not just because I'm part of the committee. We all have had questions and now we get answers. I've already reached out to Trustees Barron and Augustine to see which one will have time to work with me on this -- but the work starts Monday. I've taken a week off my day job, to focus on gathering and organizing the documentation. The fiscal year ends today -- so time is of the essence to get an understanding of the issues. Again, the goal of this committee is to find and fix issues -- not to blame or drag anyone through the mud. While we intend to share the findings and the recommendations to resolve; this is done with the motivation that what we know is messy today is cleaned up by the end of FY '22. Frankly, budgeting for FY '23 needs to be much easier.
Finally, Special Event Permit for an American Idol event. We have a local celebrity with a voice that brings grown men to tears and what a great opportunity for the village. We may not get much notice of this -- but we needed to cross permit off the list. As I'm sure we will be celebrating Grace Kinstler, this is truly something special for the village. Please vote to keep her top of the top!!
Thank you to all the residents who came to the Raue and viewed on Zoom. I look forward to continuing to do these types of meetings and the open discussion with all of the board. As Dave alluded to, I don't think I'm ready for a trust fall yet -- but if we need a ropes course to bond as full board -- I'm game....provided it can be done in full compliance with the OMA.