Too Twisted for Color TV
I took a weekend off. Last weekend, I took a much needed mental and physical break from everything that 2020 has thrown at us, and spent the time recharging my own batteries. During that time, I spent a little mental energy planning out what I was going to share this week -- trust me the list is long and I keep attempting to break it into bite sized chunks; but sadly, the twists and turns keep growing. I'm putting my original plan on hold to address the obvious elephant in the room.
Yesterday, in a move that can only be described as hypocritical and short-sighted, our CAO and Village President put Chief Richardson on Paid Administrative Leave pending an investigation. The same leave that I petitioned, and 216 residents signed, to put CAO Smith on during an independent investigation; and the Village Board ignored my request and chose to document about 30% of the written complaints and accept simple "no, I never did that" with no actual investigation to excoriate CAO Smith and Phil Stephan.
Full disclosure, I've never in my life spoken to Chief Richardson. I've never been introduced to him. I've never emailed him, nor he me. I do, however, have a bunch of comments that I've read on social media and emails sent directly to me describing Chief as "upstanding," "honorable," and "by the book." I have honestly never actually heard anyone say a negative word about him -- including Phil, when he was ranting at the Chief in the parking lot of Village Hall. I think I even said here once that we could all aspire to have so many good things said about us as both Chief Richardson and Chief Roth have had said about them.
So, we can imagine my (and likely the Village's) shock at this truthfully odd move yesterday.
I don't want anyone to forgot that it was Chief Richardson who brought the hostile work environment to light when Trustee Younge and Trustee Augustine spoke to him in late April. All communication between the board and the staff is supposed to go through the CAO. While I read clearly in the Anti-harassment Policy that any employee could go to any member of the board with a complaint, I think (and I've not asked directly, so I can't say I know) that every employee thought their job would be affected if they did -- despite an equally clear anti-retaliation clause. But alas, Chief Richardson had the opening with the board and he shared. This by definition makes him a whistleblower -- afforded all the protections under the law of a whistleblower. This is in addition to the CLEAR language in the Village's own anti-harassment policy that states even *IF* the allegations are found to be unfounded, there is to be NO retaliation against the person who brought forward the allegation. So, to be clear -- the Village Administration and board need to be VERY, VERY careful as they proceed to not run afoul of these rules. Because doing so will open them (and our village) up to a lawsuit, which if you listened to Mr. Smoron's commentary on the costs of a lost FOIA suit as the starting spot, this would run in the 6+ figures -- plus paying all of Chief Richardson's legal bills.
So, this is where I have to ask, when does this stop? At what point have the residents and staff of the village shown that we have a serious problem and it is centralized with a select few individuals. Our taxes are being held hostage and mismanaged by the few and they expect -- actually asked me personally -- us to stand down and allow them to do this to us? Why?
As of the writing of this post, the village officials (board + CAO) have this list of OPEN complaints against them:
Creating a hostile work environment (Including denying a brand new grandma of a month-early premie the use of her vacation to help her daughter until the audit is complete, including possibly missing the baptism; however, I've been told that our CAO is not planning on missing her vacation during the same audit next week. Note -- said new grandma offered to bring her computer and work remotely to keep the audit moving forward in her in person absence.)
Budgetary Improprieties (including approving projects without appropriate budgets, errors within the budgeting, using funds from a protected fund for other uses without the appropriate loan and repayment process, failures in procurement procedures, the list goes on...)
Sexually Inappropriateness, if not outright discrimination
Fraud, as defined as "A false representation of a matter of fact—whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury."
Retaliation against employees who have complained
Dereliction of duty in failures of the CAO to stand up an Ethics Commission (Village Code 3.14) and name an Ethics Advisor (Village Code 3.14)
Preferential treatment in terms of permit fee waivers, contracts awarded, and code enforcement
This list, though likely far from complete is all of the things that are not covered in that waste of time called the "Majority Report" that is so full of mis-information it isn't worth the trees lost to print it.
Of that list, not a single one of those complaints are against the Police Chief. The police chief, who has had the budget of his department cut so deep that despite public works getting THREE pick-up trucks and now a half a million dollar Vactor Truck, the police had a replacement patrol car removed from this year's budget. In addition, the maintenance budget for the current vehicles was also cut to the point that officers have been doing their own maintenance. Additionally, when the McHenry County Sheriff sent a letter asking the CAO and President to stop texting and calling the chief for non-emergency calls; it was a member of our board demanding of the chief who told the sheriff of this practice -- in a thinly veiled attempt at intimidation. It was this chief who, it has been said, actually took a complaint against Phil to the CAO which she refused to bring to the board which caused him to raise his voice that fateful day in April that began all of this. It was this chief who took this job knowing what the CAO had done to Chief Roth and optimistically hoped he could make a change. It was this chief that has been explicitly told by the CAO to stop giving reports at the board meeting or sending reports to the board because (I've been told) "They don't need the kinds of information you are sharing." You know, information on crime in our Village; information on the blown engine on patrol car; information on the state of the police department's interior door that should be a solid steel doors and has yet to be changed.
Let that sink in for a moment.
At the end of the day, I can't help but wonder when. When is enough enough? When will there be enough to move the needle to make this better? When do you stop feeling like you are yelling "there's something wrong, why do they not see it?" When does it dawn on the CAO and Phil and 'majority board' that what they are doing is farce and so obviously wrong to anyone with a moral compass? When do they step down and leave the good citizens of Lakewood to clean up their mess and set to rights all the wrong they've done?
As my mother used to tell me, this stuff is just too twisted for color tv.