Monday, April 28, 2014 || By Michael Romain
Tomorrow, a public hearing for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 annual operating budget will be held at 7 PM inside Village Chambers (125 S. 5th Avenue, Maywood, IL)–after which, the Maywood Board of Trustees is expected to vote on whether or not to authorize it.
At an April 23rd Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, members of the board grappled with having to vote for a budget that’s projected to be $42,990,110 in total expenditures, but whose details are, from the board’s perspective, rather murky–particularly in the area of personnel.
After outgoing village manager Ken Lopez gave a presentation on the proposed budget, Trustee Toni Dorris suggested that the mayor’s administrative assistant position be moved from the auspices of the mayor’s office to the manager’s office, “so assistance can be given to our [human resources] department.”
“Instead of replacing bodies,” Trustee Dorris said, “we need to figure out how we can take our talented people and utilize them to the fullest.”
In response to the recommended move–which Mr. Lopez indicated wouldn’t be possible without a vote taken by the board–Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross noted that such an action would need to be justified by more information.
“Before we start talking about moving people, we first need to know who we have. [We need] the titles and job descriptions of all the positions….We really need to look at these exorbitant salaries,” she said.
“We are in a tough economy….and we need to get the best we can for money we are paying out,” she said, before questioning Mr. Lopez.
“Is all of the staff evaluated annually? Have you inquired about that since you’ve been in the position?”
“I have not inquired,” said Mr. Lopez, before noting that the village’s biggest obstacle to adjusting salaries and moving employees is unions.
“I’d say 80 percent of our employees are union and that really hamstrings our ability to really sit down and apply an appropriate level of salary adjustment,” he said. “In terms of moving employees, our hands are tied with that from a union standpoint. It’s very difficult to take one individual doing a particular job and put him or her in another department.”
Trustee Audrey Jaycox echoed the concerns of Trustee Ealey-Cross, noting that the board needed much more information to justify the proposed expenditures.
“We need some substance to the decisions we make,” she said. “Where are the cost savings? Where does it benefit the village? We all need information. She might have information, but we don’t know what…she’s talking about, because we don’t have the same piece of paper.”
Jaycox was referring to a document that was provided to Ealey-Cross upon request, which listed the village’s highest paid employees. The document is, in part, what provoked the discussion of exorbitant personnel costs and the lack of information under-girding the budget process.
“When you’re on a committee, you look at this stuff item by item,” said Jaycox, in reference to the fact that Maywood has effectively been without a finance committee since Mayor Perkins has been in office.
At a meeting earlier this year, Mayor Perkins had requested a motion be brought before the board to establish the finance committee as a committee of the whole, which would have required her to nominate every trustee to the finance committee. But all of the trustees except for Ealey-Cross declined to be appointed for various reasons. Minutes later, Jaycox, who has been the strongest advocate for the formation of a finance committee, experienced a change of heart, prompting Trustees Dorris, Lightford and Rivers to change course as well.
The damage, however, had been done and Mayor Perkins, in a fit of anger, took the proposal off the table. Since then, there has been no more discussion on establishing a finance committee, despite the fact that it’s required by state law and would perhaps make the budgetary process more informed. For now, though, the board is left searching.
“If we do not pass this budget on April 30th, we lose money,” said Ealey-Cross. “It’s as simple as that. So I’d like to see us pass this budget, but I’d like for it to be done right. Where we need to cut the fat, we need to cut the fat, but we also need answers.” VFP