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  • Writer's pictureTricia Babischkin

Short-Sighted, Self-Preserving Decisions Cost Lakewood BIG Bucks

As surprising as it might seem given the hours I've dedicated to researching the issues in our village, I have an actual day job. Frankly, it's a job that I love to the point that I hardly ever feel like I'm really working -- I'm a strategist. To be a strategist, you have be a researcher, you have to be a planner, and you have to be able to see and share the big picture. These are three traits that I'm having a really hard time seeing in our current majority board.

One of the many things I've learned in becoming a strategist is the importance of not mistaking a short term gain for long term success. In my research, I've found that short sighted decisions by this board and our CAO are ultimately costing us more money and most likely putting us in an ever increasing risk of serious amounts of tax dollars wasted -- all because our current majority board are making poor short term decisions that have long term consquences.

Let's talk about three of them -- there are so many more, but I think these three highlight how our money is being wasted by the shortsightedness of the current administration.

First, let's look at that vactor truck that we just had to have. Over the next 6 years, that truck is going to cost the village $500,000 plus maintenance, plus insurance, plus gas, So, what decisions lead us to spending what I'm going to guess is about 3/4 of a million dollars for scoping our sewer lines:

  1. We need to maintain our sewers. This is a fully true statement and frankly, decisions made by prior administrations appear to have put this maintenance on the back burner which lead our Public Works director to push for a true maintenance plan. (This was actually one of the things that the shortest tenured Village Manager ever mentioned in 2017 -- that we need to protect and maintain what we own.)

  2. In 2019, we appear to, for the first time ever, contract out to do some of this maintenance work. This is a POSITIVE sign -- Except....

  3. ....we only got a single bid from a single company to do the work. In the village of Lisle, they went to bid for very similar work and got 7 or 8 bids, including one from the company we used. From a review of their bids, it appears that we got a bid from Visa-Sewer for $13,000 for 2200 linear feet of 24" sewer and Lisle got a bid of $5,827 for 2400 linear feet of 24" sewer. Anyone else curious as to why there's a $7,000 difference?

  4. So, for the prior year, the ONLY year we contracted this work, we likely spent twice what we should have for the work and we spent about $56,000 -- So, since the math to justify the vactor truck had been based on the single year, single quote -- we made a huge, expensive decision based on faulty short-term data.

  5. Then, we got ONE quote for a brand new vactor truck. We did not explore any other options -- other than dismissing without much discussion a used vactor truck. Sidenote: I find it interesting that we weren't willing to buy a used vactor truck, but actually used the residual value in the argument for the cost of the truck. But alas, there's no way for us to know if we actually got a good deal on a truck that we don't even really know if we need or what the long term costs of that truck would be. At the end of the day, we made a huge decision with little data -- and the little data we did have was faulty. However, Phil says we should trust him because he knows these things --- but how can we trust when there's so many holes in the story.

Ok, so maybe you think that the vactor truck is still a good use of our tax payer dollars -- I think we all agree that the legal bills are not. Our legal bills, specifically around the Miscellaneous Item (the near daily CAO calls to the law firm, the few FOIA requests, the meetings with unnamed Trustees and the CAO, the biased investigations, the case building against long term employees -- did you know our CAO forwards most of the emails sent by the next two employees on the chopping block to our lawyer regularly?) But here's how our board could have avoided so much of those costly legal fees...

  1. Most of the legal bills can be categorized in 4 categories: CAO/Lawyer daily communication; FOIA requests; Employee Issues (including the Trustee/President meetings to attempt to avoid legal backlash); and 'actual village business.'

  2. A fairly unscientific review of the 2020 legal bills that I have reveals that well over 70% of the time spent on legal bills are consults with the CAO, the President, and some number of Trustees. FOIA requests account for less than 10% of the legal time and "actual village business is even less than that."

  3. Given this breakdown, it was suggested to me that had, when the complaints about CAO Smith were first raised in April, the board fired her and PAID the 4 months severance -- we would have SAVED money at this point. So, I did the math:

($165,000/12)*4(months) = $55,000

While $55,000 is a handsome sum, it is actually FAR less than the legal bills we've endured to protect her job. Think about it this way, would there have been a need for the biased investigation that Mr. Berman conducted? Would you think that half of the FOIAs that our village has had over the past 4 months would have been needed? And keep in mind, we haven't seen the expenses from the vindictive investigation regarding the chief of police. What we also haven't seen is amount of money these biased 'investigations' could cost us in employee and wrongful termination suits -- because that's what the ill conceived and unfair handling of the two 'investigations' has opened us up to.

Additionally to the potential savings we could have enjoyed from letting Smith go in April would have been that two of our Trustees who have had to file an injunction to get access to the information they have a right to have (and still don't have) would not have needed to be filed. And the numerous PAC and AG complaints that have arisen based on the horrible way the board meetings have occurred over Zoom --- all of those are avoidable legal bills. Do not let the mouthpiece of this board distract you and say we should stop 'attacking' this board -- this board is failing to do their jobs appropriately and we are obligated to seek remedy to that -- unfortunately, since our current majority board is so short-sighted, they can't see that if they would only play by the rules, be transparent, open and honest....they could have saved us our village tens of thousands of dollars so far.

Finally, and yes, this one is a little personal. I'm an expert in digital communication. When I met with Mr. Berman in June, he seemed to appreciate my thoughts on how the village could resolve many of the issues with better communication. I offered my time, pro bono, then. He even reached out to follow-up telling me what great ideas I had. In the July board meeting, Doug Ulrich challenged residents to step up and be part of the solution and form a committee to help solve some of the problems in this village. After that meeting, Doug and Phil personally asked me to help them and I shared again, I would be happy to help solve issues; but you have to focus on better communication.

As a result of the challenge from Mr. Ulrich, I reached out to the board and explained that I'd spoken to a few residents and we'd like to form a communication Committee for the village. I outlined the specific areas we'd like to focus on -- better website, fixing the issues with email, even updating the outdated welcome packet. I know three Trustees who are in support of my committee idea. However, Mr. Berman responded that he was opposed because he "doesn't trust her." How short-sighted. You had to opportunity to use my skills for free, to focus my efforts on something that can affect change and allow you to do what you keep claiming you want "to get onto the business of running this village." But since you can't handle that someone questions the decisions you make, asks for complete information to be shared before you spend our money, and frankly, can't answer my questions -- you are losing out on some free expert advice.

Word on the street is that our President is attempting to float the idea of hiring a media and marketing firm to 'improve our image' -- at what cost? I'm guessing it wouldn't be the passionate hard work of a village resident who has a vested interest in the betterment of our village.

Yes, I see a major lack of strategic thinking in our board. I see a board and a CAO who are spending more time (and all our dollars) in protecting themselves and their jobs, and because of that they are failing at the running and management of the village effectively.

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