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  • Writer's pictureTricia Babischkin

Fact Check: February 9, 2021 Board Meeting

So many things happened at this past Tuesday's board meeting, it's important to take the issues one at a time. So, in the order that they occurred here are the events, the statements, and the facts surrounding them. Because this is long, I focused only on the meeting portion -- I'll deal with the Trustee Comments later -- and I broke it down by topic.

Sidenote: Something that struck me as very odd during this meeting was actually where the Trustees were. It appears that this is at least the second time that Mr. Berman has joined the meeting from a hotel/motel room; neither Mr. Ulrich nor Mr. Augustine could stay on camera during the whole meeting; and for some odd reason Mr. Alexander seemed like he was in village hall -- though that last thing was never explained -- and he also didn't appear on camera much.

Investigation of Police Officers

In a rare moment of decorum, the village actually appears to have attempted to conduct this investigation and the resulting discipline without dragging names through the mud. In the past, it was explained to me that the difference is that the employees are protected from that and their employment would be discussed in executive session. However, the claim goes on, the appointed positions have to be discussed publicly. This is why, they claim, they dragged Todd Richardson through the mud and later Jan Hansen -- but why when Mr. Berman spoke about the "investigation" against CAO Smith, was the same thing not done? She is appointed. She is an officer of the village. It just seems odd.

The net of the investigation appears that the officer who made the allegedly racist comment is getting an unpaid suspension and the officer who heard it is getting an unpaid suspension. What is disappointing is that our already understaffed police department has now experienced a situation where two officers are being disciplined, and one of those was within 90 days of their promotion to a leadership role.

The law firm confirmed that an offensive comment was made, but they do not believe that it was "intended to be offensive." It is my understanding that when it comes to these types of situations, intent is not the standard. If the person who hears it deems it offensive, it is offensive.

Phil's Response to the Public Comments

At 19:40 in the meeting, Phil shares a document that is the budget amendment for the Hampshire Road project. He doesn't tell you that the budget amendment was approved on 2/11/2020 -- which is AFTER the 7/23/2019 project approval (from the General Fund); the September 2019 project work; and the payment of the project on invoices from 11/6/2019 to 1/24/2020. My point is that yet again, Phil and team are approving things after the fact. The IL code is pretty clear that the order of events is:

I have never understood the insistence that this board, lead by Phil, refuses to believe that they do not have a time machine that would allow them to do this out of order all the time. This particular project is made even more problematic because it was completely done and paid for before the board EVER even considered the budgeting for the project.

And our Village Attorney, Michael Smoron's only comment was "It's done from time to time." The thing is yes, fixing typos is done from time to time -- but this isn't a TYPO. The Agenda (which is what they approved in the meeting) read this:

During the recording of the meeting, there was no discussion of the funding source of the project, which would mean that the board approved it AS WRITTEN. So, that's actually not a typo -- that's changing the vote. Should you have a desire to listen to the meeting you unfortunately can't from the Village's website because our village took the audio down -- instead you can go here. I will say that it was an enlightening listen to hear Trustee Ulrich speak (with regards to the bond issue) about saving up and paying cash for something vs. financing everything.

Votes on the Consent Agenda and Name Calling in the Board Meeting

I don't know why it is allowed, but it appears that at nearly every board meeting lately, Trustee Odom's concerns are mocked by Phil and spoken down to by the other sitting trustees. In this past meeting, Phil called her concerns "silly" repeatedly and then went on to challenge her when she votes no on the consent agenda. It is obvious that Trustee Odom is ever increasingly concerned over the items in the consent agenda -- specifically the bill list. While she also seems to be aware that she will be shouted over, talked down to, possibly 'mansplained,' and ridiculed; she has chosen to refuse to put her name on the approval of these items.

Why does this bother Phil so much? A nay vote doesn't affect the passage of these items. A nay vote doesn't even slow down the meeting. I give Trustee Odom a lot of credit as she could slow the meeting down and choses not to; but registers her dissent by voting no. However, Phil gets very annoyed by this. He repeatedly calls her out and frankly, treats her with public disrespect because of it. This makes me believe that it is possible that Phil knows there's a problem and he's afraid that Amy's dissent would start to shine a light on the issues he'd prefer to keep hidden. It also makes me think that Phil's requirement of loyalty over rational thought leads him to act irrationally and lash out at those who don't blindly follow him.

Please note that after reviewing the vote on the two pulled items from the consent agenda, Phil can't even keep straight how the vote is supposed to happen. First, I asked and Trustee Odom asked that my comments be corrected from the 1/12/21 minutes. Our board approved that "as written" which means that the change that I'm fairly sure was NOT a typo is now in the minutes despite the audio clearly stating otherwise. I am waiting for our village to post the minutes of the meeting to confirm they did not update my words -- because that's how the board approved it. Additionally, they voted on items 1a & 1b together as if they were a second consent agenda -- this should not have been done. They should have been forced to vote on 1a (the minutes of 1/12/21) separately from 1b (the revisionist history of the 7/23/2019 meeting). I'm sure this may sound petty -- but details like this is how things get screwed up and is confirmation that Phil is utterly incapable of running a board meeting.

Construction on a State Highway

Phil attempted to explain this motion and if I followed his roundabout explanation -- it's essentially a pledge that any work done on a state highway will be done with IDOT's approval. There was stuff about deceleration and acceleration lanes, a four way traffic light and an odd mention that Phil says that 176 dead-ends at 47 -- yet, somehow 176 goes all the way into Marengo so, perhaps Phil isn't as familiar with the roads as he says? So, let me help:

Notice the red circles to show how 176 does not dead end. The pink arrow is the road that is being moved to the blue arrow and the green box is where the travel center will be. Please note, per the IDOT site the road moving project appears to be kicking off in 2022 --- so, again I ask --- if you owned a piece of property that was going to be surrounded by road construction for at least year -- would YOU put giant gas tanks in the ground and build a gas station a few months prior?

Shade Tree Circle Property for Sale

This got tabled. I'm taking bets on if it really comes back next meeting. However, as Phil pontificated about the selling off of village property, he mentions that hopefully the village will get roofs, will get water and sewer, will get increased taxes. I think all of those things would be great. However, Phil likes to waive the impact fees, which includes the tap-on fees -- so we wouldn't be getting the water and sewer beyond the utility billing. And in this particular case, the emails in the board packet indicated that the family who is buying it is an adjacent property who wants to expand their backyard with a fence. So -- no roof, no water, no sewer. But then, a Shade Tree Circle resident mentioned that the property is likely unbuildable because it's fairly waterlogged.

While I'm mentioning village property sales -- I want to note that Phil said in his State of the Community address that 80% of the village owned lots on RedTail are under contract. The village owns 12, we've contracted for 6 -- that's 50%. However, 3 of those lots are not on the village website for sale -- but still 6/9 is actually only 66%. Maybe math isn't Phil's strong suit.

RedTail Rates

Did anyone listening to the board meeting wonder if Kenny wrote his comments himself? Here's what was said:

"With concern to the rates, we wanted to be a little aggressive and competitive with all the golf courses in the area. Because I believe that we can be more aggressive because of the superior service we are offering our members"...."the rates that we put in there aren't as aggressive as we wanted..."

So -- since I was confused, I took time to look at the changes in rates. I had looked at the comparisons prior to the meeting, but the weird way Kenny was speaking made me dig into the rates that were approved. I'm seriously wondering if the board understands what they approved. First let's look at the rates themselves:

The aggressive rate change is $1 for the carts -- which is probably needed as we aren't covering the cost of the carts with the fees at $14. However, if you are a senior on a weekend, you get a cart discount. Additionally, there is no walking prior to 11am (to keep the pace of play up) -- so I'm not sure why we have a walking rate for then; but we now have walking rates for Saturday and Sunday mornings. Yes, there is added senior rates for the weekends, which is great -- I hope it encourages seniors to play more on the weekends.

But this new attention to seniors, might not be well received if we look at the changes in the membership fees. First, I have to call out that my 2021 rates are taken from the ordinance not the rate comparison -- as the actual ordinance is $200 higher for the senior couple rate. But even if the rate card is correct, seniors see the largest increase in membership prices. Almost across the board they see a $200 increase. In comparison to the surrounding golf courses that were compared, we are higher for seniors except for one.

And please tell me WHY senior couples are paying a premium for a cart? Is that what Phil meant when he said, "we listened to our customers?"

I know Phil loves to take credit for all the growth and good things at RedTail, so I can only assume that he had a hand in these numbers. Given that Kenny's speech at the meeting was not the normally confident "I know what I'm talking about" I've come to expect from Kenny, I have to ask how much of a role was he allowed to play in these numbers. And will Phil just 'amend' them calling them typos OR will he have these issues corrected properly?

Prior to the vote on the rates, Mr. Berman mentioned that Kenny turned RedTail around and 'turned it into a profit center' -- the problem is that RedTail made money until our current administration. It was profitable PRIOR to our CAO and PRIOR to Phil -- and it will likely (though all the numbers are not in yet) be profitable in 2020 -- the year that every golf course in the country saw astronomical growth in rounds. Let's remind everyone what the cash position of RedTail has looked like over the past few years:

I've heard great things about Kenny as a Golf Course Manager -- but he has only begun to undo the damage that the overspending Phil and the CAO did prior to his arrival.

When I look at other golf courses, February is the time to promote memberships and getting ready for golf in the spring (I promise, it will be here). Why has RedTail's FaceBook page been silent since a January 17th message that the range is closed for the season?

Investing of Funds

What bothers me here is that Phil says "I know I spoke to you all about this..." but he explains nothing more. I know there was a missing page in the packet -- the one that apparently outlines the fees. It just seems odd -- have we ever signed this kind of pledge in the past? Is this opening any new accounts? In light of what's coming at the end of the meeting remember that the people who can sign checks are limited to the President, the Clerk, the CAO, and the Treasurer. In general, the Clerk has signed all the checks until... now who now has access village funds without oversight?

Speed Limit Change

As Phil outlines the motion, he mentions that the speed reduction is for the Woodland Hills subdivision, but that's not the recommendation of the committee:

Why was the recommendation not reviewed to reduce the speed across all of the village's local roads? But more importantly, why wasn't this done the same way the speed was reduced on Longmoor? When that happened in July 2019 there was an ordinance written. It is my understanding that ordinances like this are what gives the police the power to enforce the speed limit, otherwise, it's a suggested speed limit and won't hold up in court -- what say you, Mr. Smoron?

The other important question is, has Woodland Hills become Phil's new favored neighborhood after the debacle with Turnberry Country Club and the lights on the driving range? After all, Woodland Hills has a newly appointed trustee, a newly appointed P&Z Commission member, a new no construction traffic sign, the promise of a park* that they will be the only neighborhood with truly walkable access to (unless there's a plan put a bridge over the Kishwaukee "dam") and a lowered speed limit.

(*note the land for the park has not been donated to the CL Park District yet, nor have any of the promises of the plans or facilities been confirmed. I know Phil makes it sound like it's a done-deal; but it feels like an idea more than a firm plan.)

FOIA Counter

This was arguably the most laughable portion of the meeting. I watched trustees fall all over themselves to pledge a desire for transparency, even though this board and this administration have gone out of their way to be less and less transparent with every move. Remember the basis of FOIA is that everything should be assumed to be available for the public to view, unless expressly listed as protected.

  • So, explain why all but four meetings of audio have come down off the website in the last few weeks?

  • Explain why there is NO place on the website to see passed ordinances in their final form?

  • Explain why there are items in the agendas with no documentation or executive overview?

  • Explain why search on the website periodically fails to work and when it does work, it doesn't work well?

  • Explain why the audit was expressly withheld from the public until they literally could not hide it any longer?

Yes, I see the commitment to transparency.

During this transparency love-fest, we got to enjoy a lecture from Mr. Berman about the sheer number of FOIAs by a single resident. We listened to a thought that maybe once you hit a certain number of FOIAs, you should be called out on the website -- when that got explored, we learned that it would likely only result in one person being called out. But the crux of his diatribe was that all the FOIAs are a thinly veiled plot to halt the function of the village and this was all coordinated on a Facebook page. This claim has been made so many times and yet Mr. Berman has never provided any proof of such a plot. We know he screen shots much of what happens in social media, so it would seem odd that is the one thing he failed to screen shot.

From the conversation, it appears that it is also not the sheer number of FOIAs that is the problem, but also the number of times the village has had a FOIA referred to the Public Access Counselor (PAC) for a ruling.

  • So, the process is someone asks for information.

  • The village has 5 days to respond.

  • They send something.

  • The receiver has 60 days to decide if it was what they were looking for and if not they can forward it on to the PAC.

  • The PAC then typically has to tell the village they they need to try again and suddenly more information is sent to the person with the FOIA.

This has happened to me. I've asked for something; I've gotten half of what I asked for; I've confirmed with the clerk that I have everything she was given and then passed it along to the PAC. In most of those events, the PAC has responded that they believe they is cause for a review. In one, I spoke to one of the PAC attorneys on the phone -- incredibly nice and helpful gentleman. What I learned is that despite what Mr. Smoron says, it is in the village's best interest to use the standard that unless specifically protected, it should be made public. If the village really embraced this transparency there would likely be an instant reduction in both FOIAs and PAC complaints. How does this fit with our boards' claim of transparency?

There was a detour in the conversation to ask Mr. Smoron how many FOIAs are being referred to his office for review. Now, it was my understanding that everything thing is going through his office -- that's certainly the way he spoke in July when we were in person at Turnberry Country Club. I also know that his office is copied on every response -- and based on a FOIA, I learned that Mr. Berman apparently gets access to every FOIA response after it is shared with the requester -- now, how that is in his job description, I've yet to figure out -- but apparently, he reviews them.

However, while they fell all over each other to pledge their love for all things transparent; they essentially (without actually going through the process) amended the motion to not just be a FOIA counter, but to post all the results from the FOIAs online for the public to be able to search, read, and see for themselves. Ostensibly this might reduce duplicate FOIAs too.

Alright -- now we are getting somewhere. Let's do this -- let's have the village share what is being FOIA'd -- put it out there, without Mr. Berman's opinion of if you need it or not, what those of us watchdogs of village government are asking them to produce.

So, I was looking for audio of a recent board meeting, that's when I learned that all the audio except the last two meetings for 2020 had disappeared. Keep in mind, one of my first FOIAs was for all the audio that existed because there was nothing up for 2019 and prior. I listened to 3+ years of board meetings before I launched this blog. That should have NEVER been a FOIA. Before I FOIA'd the missing audio, I thought I'd reach out and ask the game plan -- so, I emailed our CAO and inquired when the audio would be returned to the website, since I knew it had been FOIA'd and the board approved putting the results of FOIAs on the website. Her response:

The files aren't that big. I have 3 years worth sitting on my hard drive right now. And when I inquired if the website was self hosted or a service, I learned that it was a service -- a service that offers expanded space for $500/year. So, I'm betting there's space. On the time -- well, she took the time to remove all of the audio -- all the audio when supposedly the village was being shut down with FOIAs.

Yes, she's right -- the village needed a new website years ago. The company they use to host the website actually has tons of easy to use templates that are being used by other villages to increase transparency -- including her prior village.

So, I'm guessing that we are not going to see the results of those FOIAs any time soon. The way I see it, the village is being 'ground to a halt' by Mr. Berman's personal conflict with Mr. Younge and never misses an opportunity to use his position as a Trustee and the unlimited microphone time he gets to demean, humiliate, and threaten Mr. Younge. And the whole time, Phil -- the board President; the person who is supposed to be in charge of the meetings; the person who should be enforcing order and decorum -- watches and allows Mr. Berman to continue his rants.

I am stopping here -- at the end of the business portion of the meeting. Now -- there are 30 more minutes of the board meeting -- all trustee comments -- which I alluded to with my post about their attempts to remove our Village Clerk. I have more to say -- but if you've made it this far -- thank you....and please vote on April 6th. Vote so that we never have this kind of meeting again. Vote so that we show a value in attention to detail, being prepared, and non-vindictive governing. Vote for professionals who know the difference between prohibited political activity and a board meeting. Vote for the United4Lakewood Team.

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Feb 14, 2021

When the new board takes office, I would think that one of the first things they would do would be to unappoint The CAO.

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