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  • Writer's pictureTricia Babischkin

Board Packet Review: 12/22/2020

This packet likely should be subtitled, "the hidden agenda." In the online published history of meetings, there has never been a December meeting past the 20th of the month. As our code sets up our meeting schedules to be the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, we have traditionally cancelled the meeting that always falls the week of Christmas. Every year, but this year. Curious, right?

Naturally, since we've had such action packed meetings recently, that is the reason for this unprecedented late December meeting?? Certainly that is not true as we've had hardly anything that's been discussion worthy in the previous few meetings -- if you use board discussion as the guide. That said, somehow, when the majority of the village is focused on the end of the year, holidays, and such -- we now have an agenda with 26 agenda items 3 days before Christmas.

So, with the question in mind of what is being passed that this board would rather we not notice, I bring you my last board packet review of 2020.

1. Motion to Approve the Appointment of Sheldon Smith as Planning and Zoning Commissioner to the Planning and Zoning Commission

A few odd things about this item on the agenda:

  1. We've not been told there was an opening on the P&Z board.

  2. The public was not solicited for interest -- which I've come to learn is standard practice in other municipalities as a way to at least make it appear that the President isn't just appointing his buddies to key positions.

  3. We know nothing about his qualifications (or frankly of the other recent P&Z appointees since our code does in fact read: "Qualifications of Members: All Commissioners shall be residents of the Village. Each member shall have an interest in or skills or experience with planning and zoning issues."

  4. Rumor has it that this open spot is actually Tom Mula's spot that was vacated a few months ago -- but naturally, we just appointed Paul to the P&Z to replace new Trustee Dan Alexander.

  5. Keep in mind, I can't find record that P&Z has met since the Travel Center deal was done in April. So one has to believe this appointment is likely due to the anticipated variance request from Turnberry's Golf Course Owner.

  6. By my count, this would be the third appointment that has direct and strong ties to board mouthpiece, Ryan Berman. And I've been told that Mr. Smith's wife attended the pre-bidder conference for the Marketing RFP that hopefully has been permanently shelved as a really bad idea.

  7. And finally, it also appears based on recent public comments that Mr. Smith is actively involved in an open police case with another resident.

At least a few of those above points scream conflict of interest to me -- but even without a distinct conflict of interest, one has to start asking why are so many of the people closest to Mr. Berman suddenly finding positions in the village?

2. Request Approval of Minutes: a. December 8, 2020 Regular Board Minutes

I've been noticing a trend of some softening of the public comments when I re-read the minutes. At first, I chalked it up to being edited to condense them down; but since early November I've been sensing that the point of some of the comments made have been sterilized. For example, in this set, Resident Tom Allen spoke out about the sudden and shocking resignation of Ofc. Pluviose. When he did he mentioned that it shouldn't matter if Ofc. Pluviose had applied elsewhere because if we'd promoted him; we may have been able to retain him. Additionally, I believe Andy Knapp's comments were more about the lack of following the rules and the failures of the permitting process -- this is not conveyed in his comments. I also noticed there was some odd highlighting in the public comments section of the minutes of 12/8/20 -- more things that are curious.

3. Request Approval of Bill Lists:

b. Accounts Payable Invoices Dated December 23, 2020 in the Amount of $204,593.68

Questions that should be answered before approval:

  1. It appears there's some serious lag in bill paying going on. I've been noticing old bills appearing in past packets; but I think it's time to start digging into this. The one that screams out to me this meeting is that August's Legal bill was listed to be approved for payment on 12/18 -- that seems rather late, right?

  2. Continuing the late payments -- HR Green has been waiting for their July bill to be paid and it looks like that will finally be paid, are we really Net 150 days with HR Green? If so, then why are we paying October's bill early? Or are we more like Net 30 with HR Green and someone isn't paying our bills on time?

  3. Anyone want to shed light on the $533.90 payment to "USA Blue Book HS SU" for "Equipment Vactor" -- What did our brand-spanking new vactor need that cost $533?

  4. It appears that we are booking the payment for Steve Unruh (he is the person who spreads the golf course pesticides and fertilizers) was booked to the wrong the GL #. Historically, he was paid (and budgeted for) under "Contractual Services" and if you were to review the detail of the financials (and I have been) you'd see it's a toss up if his invoice is booked under "contractual services" or "Pesticides" -- This week, pesticides won -- but for consistency sake, all of those misbooked need to have journal entries to move them to the appropriate GL#. Conversely, the budget needs to move to Pesticides --- but if our finance director was reviewing this, I'm sure she would have caught this obvious oversight.

c. Debit Card Activity for September, 2020 in the Amount of $2,728.30

  1. I'm trying to understand if we are doing anything to make sure we are getting the best prices on things. This set of debit charges lists 2 line items for portable drives for FOIAs at $51.71 each and 2 line items for USB drives (one line item is $16.15 and the other is $43.98 --- and oddly the latter is charged to the golf course). Now, overall, various forms of memory are cheap -- and I have no idea how large any of these drives were -- but I've never thought that Best Buy or Office Depot were the lowest cost solution -- yet that's where all of those were purchased from on our Village Debit card.

  2. Anyone on the board want to explain to me why the mower lease was paid on our village debit card and NOT via a check on an invoice?

d. RedTail Debit Card Activity for September, 2020 in the Amount of $796.80

I've long questioned the random charges at local grocery stores for RedTail -- but I'm trying to believe that these are for things we need in too small a quantity to buy from our food vendors. But then I spot this item from our RedTail Debit Card:

Anyone want to share what critical supply had to be purchased at Bed, Bath, & Beyond and what we needed from Binny's when we are already spending between $5,000 and $10,000 a month on liquor with our vendors?

e. RedTail Golf Club Manual Checking Accounts Payable for September, 2020 in the Amount of $5,933.13

Why does the golf course have an NSF Charge for $33.74? There's essentially TWO reasons for this -- someone paid with a check that bounced OR the golf course paid a bill without enough money in the account to cover it. While the former would hopefully be the answer and with luck, we will see this paid when this is cleared up with the person who bounced the check -- the latter could be seriously concerning. If it is the latter, then I have to ask how? My understanding is that we pay all our bills from the General Fund Account and transfer money to and from the other other accounts to keep balance -- so for those three years that RedTail had negative cash, the bills were being paid from the General Fund and the IOUs just weren't processed to make sure there weren't serious overdraft fees in the RedTail account. So -- someone needs to explain to the board the NSF fee.

4. Request Approval of Financial Statements: None

5. Items Removed from Consent Agenda - If Any AGENDA ITEMS FOR DISCUSSION

6. Motion to Approve the Village of Lakewood's Draft Annual Audit for Fiscal Year Ending April 30, 2020

The draft audit is not in the public board packet -- this is irregular.

Does anyone remember Dixon, IL? One of the big questions that came about from that was how did no one realize money was missing from the audits. So, there has been audit reform and new(ish) legislation on the audit process. And despite this being the way it has been done in years past -- suddenly, the audit is excluded from the board packet. And based on this, it appears the village is in violation of Public Act 98-0738:

Key things to note -- "within 60 days of the close of the audit" -- When did this audit actually complete? and the audit shall "post this information on its website." Where is the audit?

Keep in mind -- last year, they posted the draft audit -- so given the timing of the meeting, the sheer number of delays and the fact this is the last possible meeting to approve the audit by the last possible deadline (end of the year) -- it makes me wonder why we, the residents of the village, can't review this audit. What does it reveal that the administration would rather we not see?

7. Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(26) -An Ordinance for the Levy of Taxes for the Village of Lakewood, McHenry County, Illinois, for the Tax Year 2020

Watch for the board to pat themselves on the back for not changing the tax rate -- mind you, they have no idea if this levy would possibly cover the needs of the village this coming year.

8. Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(27) -An Ordinance Levying Taxes Special Area Number 2 in the Village of Lakewood for the 2020 Tax Year (Brighton Oaks)

There appears to be disconnect on the purpose of this SSA.

From the budget packet:

From the ordinance memo:

So -- which is it? Street Lights or Wetland conservation?

If you live in Brighton Oaks, please find out why you continue to pay for an SSA that's not being used to pay for the electricity. Since our CAO/Finance Director has been appointed, SSA#2 has not been charged the electric for the street lights. So, if the village is covering this bill for your neighborhood -- ask yourselves why you still pay into an SSA?

(2020-2021 is from the budget, that's not a real expense.). If the CAO isn't going to use your money, maybe you should push that she dissolve the SSA -- otherwise, there's a slush fund building....and I'm not sure slush funds are proper in municipal finance.

9. Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(28) -An Ordinance Levying Taxes Special Area Number 3 in the Village of Lakewood for the 2020 Tax Year (Westlake Woods)

Like our friends in Brighton Oaks, it appears that Westlake Woods stopped using their SSA for Ground Maintenance around the hiring of the CAO/Finance Director. Unlike our friends in Brighton Oaks, their SSA appears to be dropped in half for revenue -- but still, another area where if you don't need the money to pay for the upkeep like you are supposed to -- why are we taxing these neighbors for it? Now, the majority of this SSA is to replace the sanitary sewer -- but where is the $1600 in expenses?

(2020-2021 is from the budget -- that's not a real expense)

10. Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(29) -An Ordinance Levying Taxes Special Area Number 4 in the Village of Lakewood for the 2020 Tax Year (Hidden Lakes)

11. Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(30) -An Ordinance Levying Taxes Special Area Number 5 in the Village of Lakewood for the 2020 Tax Year (The Reserves of Lakewood)

12. Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(31) -An Ordinance Levying Taxes Special Area Number 6 in the Village of Lakewood for the 2020 Tax Year (Cambria Subdivision)

Another disconnect in purposes -- does this SSA include private roads or not?

From the Budget packet:

From the Ordinance Memo:

13. Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(32) -An Ordinance Levying Taxes Special Area Number 7 in the Village of Lakewood for the 2020 Tax Year (Woodland Hills and Autumn Hills

14.Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020 - (33) - An Ordinance Levying Taxes Special Area Number 8 in the Village of Lakewood for the 2020 Tax Year ("Mcintosh" Turnbeny, Loch Glen and Highlands of Turnberry Subdivisions, Turnbeny Golf Club, and RedTail Golf Club)

See this note in the ordinance memo:

Ok, I've done about as much research as one can do on this -- I've seen the notation that there's a pending transfer from SSA #1 to SSA #8 to bring the balance to even in so many of the financials -- including every year end and budget since the beginning of SSA #8. From what I can piece together is there is NO money in SSA #1 to transfer. First, I believe that any excess funds in an SSA has to be returned to the taxpayers who paid into the SSA. Keep in mind, that SSA #1 and SSA #8 don't cover the same area and as such should not be wholesale transferred. But that of course assumes there's money in SSA #1 leftover (for YEARS) without a simple transfer.

From the last time that SSA #1's cash balance was reported in financial statement. This was Fiscal year ending 4/30/2016. That is in fact a negative number for cash. So anyone want to explain how we are going to transfer money that doesn't exist.

15. Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(34) -An Ordinance Abating Taxes Levied to Pay Principal and Interest on Certain General Obligation Waterworks and Sewerage Bonds (Alternate Revenue Source) Series 2019, of the Village of Lakewood

16.Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(35) -An Ordinance Authorizing the Abatement of Taxes on Certain Property Annexed to the Village of Lakewood Pursuant to 35ILCS 200/18/184

17.Motion to Approve Ordinance No. 2020-(36) - An Ordinance Amending Section 15.01, Traffic Regulations, of Chapter 15, of the Lakewood Municipal Code

18. Motion to Approve the Purchase of a Trailer Specified from Rondo Enterprises, Sycamore, Illinois, in an Amount of $9 ,825

Another request for a purchase for the public works department? I'm well aware that public works needs equipment -- in fact, some of the issues we've found in the village are a result of years of deferred maintenance. But -- we are spending so much money for public works and nothing on the needs of the police department.

As of the writing of this post, there are 10 bald or near bald tires on the police cars. We have 2 cars with over 100,000 miles on them and with the added idle time, these cars should be treated like they have 200,000+. Additionally, there is still no steel fire door on the police station -- which has been a known issue and request, I believe, since Mike Roth was chief.

If this board authorizes this trailer purchase, they need to also direct the CAO to approve the purchase of tires for all the cars -- which is WELL within her spending authorization without board approval. And this board needs to explain to the residents why the public safety needs are placed far below the desires of our public works department. Is this proof that our president, with a past in public works, is showing favoritism?

19.Motion to Approve an Offer to Purchase RedTailLot #22 in the Amount of $6,300

20. Motion Authorizing the Chief Administrative Officer to Execute a Contract for the Purchase of RedTail Lot #22 in the Amount of $6,300

Within the 80% of appraised value.

21. Motion to Approve an Offer to Purchase RedTail Lot #24 in the Amount of $6,300

22. Motion Authorizing the Chief Administrative Officer to Execute a Contract for the Purchase of RedTail Lot #24 in the Amount of $6,300

Within the 80% of appraised value.

23. Motion to Approve an Offer to Purchase RedTail Lot #26 in the Amount of $12,400

24. Motion Authorizing the Chief Administrative Officer to Execute a Contract for the Purchase of RedTail Log #26 in the Amount of $12,400

Within the 80% of appraised value.

25. Motion to Authorize the Village President to Execute a Temporary Interim Police Chief Agreement as Presented.

While I'm thrilled to see that after nearly 6 months, we will finally have a temporary chief again and hope that he brings much needed relief to this department, I'm sad that we are again hiring someone with only 1 interested candidate. He appears to be from out of state -- which seems to be why we are paying for a rental car for him --- we stopped with the car allowance for the chief with Mike Roth. Additionally, our officers have gone without raises, don't have proper, functioning equipment, and desperately need officers to replace those who have left abruptly. Will this chief be a working chief, like our previous chiefs?

26. Motion to Approve Resolution No. 2020-(R37) - Resolution Amending Sections III and IV of the Village of Lakewood Personnel Manual

In light of the months and month of accusations of harassment and bullying, this last motion really seems odd. If you work your way through the long letter explaining that there was a request to make Christmas Eve a holiday (with the incredibly odd rationale that "most if not all of our employees celebrate the Christmas holiday.") There was an attached chart that lists the holidays as shared by surrounding municipalities. One thing that is interesting is that it includes "personal" days which can be taken anytime and frankly, should not be included in the calculation -- never fear, I've corrected it for you:

Now, I have no problem adding Christmas Eve to the holidays -- but I think you look at this chart, where Lakewood is really lacking in the benefits department is the flexible holidays and personal days. These would allow people who may celebrate differently to be included.

But that isn't the really point of this motion. Under the guise of the adding a holiday to schedule, the CAO outlines that she wants to add clarity to the how vacation and holiday time are handled.

First, the holiday pay is based on an 8 hour day.

This may seem reasonable to those of us used to working 8 hour days, but were you aware that our police department is mostly hourly employees and they work 12 hour shifts? So, when you see this snippet at the bottom of the holiday pay policy -- what does this do to the officer who wants to take Christmas Eve off?

So, in the past, a police officer who wanted to take Christmas Day off would take 4 hours of a vacation in addition to his/her 8 hours of holiday pay. But now, it reads that he/she will only be able to take holiday time -- effectively cutting his/her pay check by 4 hours of pay. Um, does this seem right to you?

And then here's the kicker. Buried in a bunch of reformatted text, is a change into how vacation is accrued. It appears that with the mass numbers of people leaving the village, the lump sum grants at the beginning of the year of vacations has taken its toll. So, in current state if someone was planning on leaving the village, they would wait until after the first of the year and leave, taking a lump sum payout of the vacation hours with them. With this change, vacation is accrued throughout the year so that by the end of the year, you'd have the total vacation amount available to you. While this version of vacation accrual is common in the public and private sectors, it is a way for the corporate authorities to control the liability on the books when it comes to vacation payouts. The problem with this change is two-fold:

  1. The policy is frankly, poorly written.

  2. The way this policy is written is contradictory.

At its core, this is policy states that you need accrue vacation time prior to taking it, essentially a year in advance. From reading the one example -- which is limited to a new hire situation -- it looks like anyone hired by the village will not be accruing or able to take vacation for the first year. On their anniversary, they will be granted 80 hours of vacation and begin to accrue at a rate of about 3.077 hours per pay check. It looks like the spirit of this policy is that the hours accrued in one year should be used in the following year (based on the example), but there is a listed limit to the carry over to 40 hours per year and must be used by April 30th. So, the reality of the policy as written is that essentially, no one gets vacation anymore or at least be able to take any length of time away from village -- like two weeks off.

The way I read this policy as written -- an employee will accrue vacation hours throughout the year. They must then USE that vacation in that year (no carry over) and they can't take vacation if they've not accrued it -- so no one can take the first week of January off and everyone will take the last week of December off -- so they don't lose vacation time.

Time away from the job is essential to the mental health of staff in every line of work. This benefit should be a powerful recruiting tool -- and this new policy, if left unchanged with it's current contradictory language is a deterrent for anyone to ever want to work in this village. Years ago, I worked for a company that had this kind of vacation policy (earn vacation the year prior to it being released to be taken and yet, the only advantage to it was that we could carry over 50% of our vacation year to year). While I was there, this policy was cited as a main reason that recruiting strong talent was lacking that it was abandoned to the more typical practice of accruing vacation, but allowing employees to go negative in the vacation bank as long as the bank balanced at the end of the year. We had no carry-over anymore; but people were able to take and use the vacation we earned.

So -- my question is -- was this policy even reviewed by any sort of HR lawyer or maybe run past any other HR best practices. And as written, do our current employees get to start 2021 with zero vacation days? How is that exactly going to work?

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