While Mayor Is Home Sick, Village Board Considers Moving Her Office From Police Station to Village Hall

Trustee Dorris at May 14 meeting
Trustee Toni Dorris at a May 14, LLOC meeting (Photo by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

MAYWOOD — During a May 14, Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, what was supposed to be a comprehensive discussion about the Village’s flawed budget process, turned into a much more targeted attempt to move the Mayor’s office from the police station at 125 S. 5th Avenue into the municipal building at 40 Madison Street.

At the April 29, meeting during which the FY2014-15 budget was passed, there had been concerns among most members of the Board about the inadequacy of the budget process itself. Among their concerns were the lack of discussion about certain spending items, the lack of detailed information on which to base their votes to approve the budget and the short amount of time in which they were allotted to assess the budget’s strengths and weaknesses.

Trustee Audrey Jaycox expressed concerns about the Village’s summer youth program.

“I understand that we’re looking for money for the summer youth program, but we didn’t talk about that,” she said. “There are too many things that have been brought up that involve money…There has to be some discussion and clarification.”

Then-Interim Village Manager Ken Lopez said that there had been discussion among the Board to put $75,000 into the youth program, but no proposal was submitted, therefore nothing was allocated. More needed to go into the process. He said that if, after a more comprehensive review of the program, the Board decided to fund it, a budget amendment would need to be approved and certain items in the FY2014-15 budget would need to be cut to make room for the program.

Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross felt that the budget process was too rushed.

“My concern is, I have reviewed every one of those job descriptions and there’s a lot that needs to be discussed here, but we’re at the 12th hour,” she said. “Not enough time was spent to adequately assess the job descriptions and needs for those departments.”

Trustee Jaycox expressed concern that the Village’s HR department was short-handed. She said that there was one person in that department doing the work of two people, which warrants the hiring of another employee.

“If the person is off sick, who does the job? That department is responsible for dealing with contracts, grievances, you name it. I don’t think we can go another year without a body in it,” she said.

Mr. Lopez responded that, while HR does need assistance, his administrative assistant had the ability and wherewithal to pick up the slack. He said that former Village Manager William Barlow increased her salary to accommodate for the additional labor.

It was in the context of discussing what some trustees considered to be the Village’s personnel problem that the idea of making the Mayor’s executive assistant ultimately accountable to the Village Manager, instead of to the Mayor, was brought up.

Trustee Dorris, who served in that capacity under former Mayor Henderson Yarbrough, said that there was ample opportunity for the Mayor’s assistant to help out in other departments, such as HR, that are understaffed. However, at the April meeting, the idea was not the focus of discussion. The focus of discussion was the larger budget process and ways in which a Board that was largely dissatisfied with the process could improve it.

Since the law required that the Village approve the Budget by May 1, the Board had no choice but to vote on the FY2014-15 budget as it was presented, with the understanding that they could always revisit it after further discussion and make necessary amendments. The budget passed unanimously.

The Forest for the Trees

Fast forward to the May 14, LLOC meeting. Instead of picking up where the Board left off on April 29–with a vigorous discussion on the problems inherent in the Village’s budget process (that it’s too rushed, that not enough deliberation is involved, that not enough information is provided); and instead of commencing the meeting by discussing ways in which those structural problems with the budget process can be resolved once and for all–Trustee Toni Dorris began the conversation by honing in on a relatively minor problem.

She moved that the Mayor’s assistant be moved to the Manager’s office, despite that the Mayor, who was out ill, wasn’t at the meeting to contribute to the discussion and that there was virtually no financial justification for the change. Currently, the Mayor’s assistant serves at the pleasure of the Mayor and trustees. Moreover, the Mayor has the power to choose whomever he or she wants in that position.

“There have been complaints of the Mayor’s office not being open during regular hours and persons in the office who are not employees of the Village,” Trustee Dorris said.

She also said that there was loitering in the Mayor’s office and that a private company was utilizing the office, as well as council chambers, to do business.

“We’re still experiencing a lack of information being delivered to the Board and when we do get it, it’s either hours before an event starts or we never get it at all,” she said. “The taxpayers deserve much more from the office of the president. What has transpired over the last several months is unacceptable.”

Trustee Ron Rivers agreed with Trustee Dorris’s motion.

“I support moving the [Mayor’s office] to 40 Madison where we are consolidated, where a Village Manager can watch this office,” he said. “I too have seen and consistently seen…a nonprofit run out of the Mayor’s office and a private for-profit run out of the office and me as a trustee and elected official, I cannot get my due, because every time I go to this facility, there are people there that I know are not Village employees. They are privy to confidential and private information. Let’s consolidate this office…let’s be able to utilize that staff in other capacities.”

When asked to respond to Trustee Dorris’s allegations, Mayor Perkins singled out Isiah Brandon, the Executive Director of Youth on the Move, and Princess Dempsey, who owns a staffing firm.

“Isiah’s working on our Safe Summer project,” she said. “Dempsey is working our May 30, job fair project. That’s what they do in my office. At no charge!”

Mayor Perkins then seemed to lob the same allegations at Trustee Dorris that the Trustee was lobbing at her.

“While she was [Mayor Yarbrough’s assistant], there were people–her daughter and other individuals–in and out of that office. I can count on one hand how many times she did work for me as a trustee,” the Mayor said.

At the May 14, meeting, Trustee Michael Rogers, Trustee Audrey Jaycox and Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross formed an altogether different camp–their concern was more with addressing the budget process as a whole.

There was no substantial disagreement among the Board with the possibility that Trustee Dorris’s plan may have some merit. Trustee Jaycox said that the Mayor’s office had traditionally been at 40 Madison until a former mayor (either Ralph Conner or one of his close predecessors) decided to work from inside the police station. However, there was disagreement about the manner in which Dorris’s motion was presented, which seemed exemplary of the very flawed budget process that the Board wants to improve.

“Why do we keep rushing?” said Trustee Cross. “We have time to have a little conversation about this and put this house in order.”

“I believe it’s important for proposals somehow to be translated into fiscal impact,” said Trustee Rogers. “So we’d know how to put that in the budget…Someone would need to estimate what the fiscal impact is and that would become the basis for any amendments to the budget.”

Rogers explained that the costs associated with moving the Mayor’s office from one point to another would need to be identified and a budget amendment authorized before the Village could finance such a move–if, in fact, it required any money at all.

Trustee Melvin Lightford suggested that the move could perhaps be done at virtually no-cost, since the money to operate the physical space of the Mayor’s office and to pay the salary of her assistant was already allocated in the budget. He seemed to suggest that all that was needed was a shift from one fund (the Mayor’s) to another (the Village Manager’s).

Interim Village Manager David Myers confirmed that Trustee Lightford was correct.

“What he’s asking is are funds already here in the budget for [the Mayor’s office],” Myers said. “Yes, the funds for employees and operation for the building are already here.”

Trustee Rogers, however, doubled down on his original emphasis, trying his best, as Mayor Pro Tem, to steer the discussion back to a more comprehensive analysis of the budget process.

“The discussion item is the entire FY2014-15 budget,” he said. “We don’t have the financial basis for an amendment. If your motion was to finance a move, it would need to have some numbers to it.

At one point, Trustee Cross was confused as to why Trustee Dorris’s motion was even on the agenda, since the purpose of the meeting was discussion about budget amendments–which, as Trustee Rogers pointed out, need to be substantiated by actual cost projections.

However, attorney Michael Jurusik pointed out that any type of amendment proposed during the LLOC meeting could be properly discussed and moved to the next Board meeting for final action.

That explanation, however, was not quite sufficient for Trustee Jaycox.

“We’re talking about amending the budget, so there has to be a monetary cost associated with the [move],” she said. “As it’s stated, we have no amendment to the budget, because nobody’s talking about any money. [The motion to move the Mayor’s office and assistant] has not been brought back with a dollar amount associated with it. There has to be discussion whether we want to move the Mayor’s office from here to Village hall–no matter whose associated with it.”

In their explanations, Trustee Jaycox and Jurusik offered a bit of clarity, noting that the discussion had two aspects–one involving policy and the other involving the budget. This pointed the way to the formation of a more comprehensible motion–one which was more relevant to the budget process.

“You’re requesting that staff provide a financial report in regard to moving the Mayor’s office to 40 Madison,” Jurusik said. “And asking for a budget amendment to move the budget relating to the Mayor’s assistant…to move that line item over to the Village Manager’s budget for staffing purposes.”

Trustee Dorris confirmed Jurusik’s recap and restated the motion essentially as he laid it out. Trustee Ron Rivers seconded. Trustees Audrey Jaycox, Toni Dorris, Melvin Lightford and Ron Rivers voted ‘Yes’. Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross voted ‘No.’ Trustee Michael Rogers abstained. The motion passed. This matter will be revisited at the May 20, 2014, regular board meeting tonight at 7 PM, at Village chambers. VFP

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