Tuesday, June 3, 2014 || By Michael Romain
At a May 28, Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, the Board of Trustees considered motions that may constitute a major transformation of the Mayor’s office in the years to come. The first motion was to relocate the physical office of the Mayor from its present location above the police department at 125 S. 5th Avenue to Village Hall at 40 Madison Street. The second motion was to transfer the salary of the Executive Assistant position from a line item in the Mayor’s budget to the Village Manager’s budget.
Trustee Toni Dorris, who introduced the separate motions during a May 14, Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, believes that residents will be better served by relocating the Mayor’s office to the same location of the Village’s other administrative offices. The second motion is intended to allow the Executive Assistant more flexibility in assisting Village departments that are currently understaffed, namely Human Resources.
During a May 20, Board meeting at which the motions were up for discussion, Mayor Perkins said that she took the proposals as “an insult.” And in an interview conducted after the May 14, LLOC meeting, she said, “All they’re trying to do is make my life miserable.”
When Mayor Perkins referred to “they,” she meant the Maywood United Party apparatus whose electoral plans she partially upended with her upset victory last year. The Mayor thinks that the proposals are part of an ongoing effort by Maywood United to render her powerless.
Mayor Perkins upset incumbent Mayor Henderson Yarbrough in last year’s April election. Before her election as Mayor, Perkins was a trustee and one of Yarbrough’s most vocal opponents on the Board. Trustees Toni Dorris, Melvin Lightford, and Michael Rogers all ran successfully for their current seats on the Maywood United Party ticket, of which Mayor Yarbrough headlined. Trustee Audrey Jaycox, who gave up her seat on the board to run with the party in an unsuccessful bid for Village clerk in the last election, was ultimately appointed by Mayor Yarbrough to fill a vacant seat that opened up after the elections. Trustee Ron Rivers, who is up for reelection next year, has also run on the Maywood United ticket.
However, the discussions surrounding the proposals have proven to be too complicated to describe as mere politicking. The basic premises underlying the two motions have come under bipartisan scrutiny from trustees and residents alike.
According to a May 20, memo issued by Acting Village Manager David Myers, the projected cost of the office relocation would be $17,000; an estimated $1,500 to $2,000 of which would comprise architectural plans, while an estimated $11,000 to $15,000 would comprise construction costs. The memo states that the Village would utilize the Public Works Department to relocate furniture to an open space on the second floor of the 40 Madison building, “between the Finance Department (Water Department) and the conference room. The space is roughly 30 x 15 feet in size.”
During public comments at a May 20, regular Board meeting, Residents such as Loretta Robinson and Charles Webster argued that the costs of relocating the Mayor’s office could be better spent in other areas of need, such as addressing the police station’s vulnerability to flooding.
Trustee Michael Rogers objected to the proposed relocation on different grounds, stating that 40 Madison was never meant to be a municipal building and that it does not serve as a good location for the Mayor to conduct Village business. Rogers also said that he wouldn’t be in support of moving the Mayor’s office to somewhere the Mayor does not want to be.
“That building was not meant to be what it is now,” he said. “It was an award-winning building for public works […] but you can’t just take a building and convert it into offices […] It’s, quite frankly, embarrassing.”
Trustee Dorris, who held the Executive Assistant position under former Mayor Yarbrough, has insisted that her intentions are in no way motivated by any personal vendetta. Trustee Rivers, who supports both motions, has argued that his motivation is primarily with increasing the professionalism and effectiveness of the Mayor’s office.
“This is not a move that has any reflection on the Mayor herself,” Rivers said at the May 28, LLOC meeting.
Rivers believes that the office is not being operated professionally. He said that there have been loitering, people doing homework and people running businesses and nonprofits out the office. Secondly, he believes that all of the Village’s administrative functions should be centralized in one location. Thirdly, he believes that by making the Executive Assistant accountable to the Village Manager, that person may be better able to help out in departments that are currently understaffed, such as HR.
Mayor Perkins has addressed Trustee Rivers’s claims about loitering and unauthorized personnel occupying the office by noting that the two individuals to which Rivers is referencing, Isiah Brandon and Princess Dempsey, are volunteers working on various community projects her office sponsors, such as the Safe Summer initiative and last week’s job fair. She also said that her Executive Assistant, Ms. Greenhow, is already fully occupied with her current duties and is neither trained nor paid to do HR work.
“[Ms. Greenhow] is not an HR person; neither is the HR person,” the Mayor said, in reference to current head of HR, Wilhelmina Dunbar. “[Former Village Manager] Jason Ervin put you in that position with no training,” Perkins said, seeming to address Ms. Dunbar, who was in the audience, directly. Acting Village Manager David Myers admonished the Mayor not to insult Village staff.
“That is not my secretary, that is the secretary for the Board,” the Mayor said, in reference to Ms. Greenhow. “Five days a week, I go to that office and she’s there.”
Trustee Jaycox said that she had actually been in support of moving the Mayor’s office to 40 Madison even when former Mayor Yarbrough occupied the office. She said that it would help streamline the Village’s administrative operations. However, she also noted that the motion to move the Executive Assistant salary as a line item to the Village Manager’s budget has its complications.
“What are we trying to accomplish?” she said of the proposed move. In response to Trustee Dorris’s assertion that the Mayor’s current Executive Assistant, Ms. Greenhow, is talented enough to assist departments at the Village that are short-staffed, Trustee Jaycox said that it would be a mistake to base a move of such lasting resonance on the talents of one individual.
“I can’t look at the individual currently in the position, because the person may change,” Jaycox said. “And the next may not be as talented to do these things.”
Jaycox also cited the fact that one Village body’s gain may be another body’s loss were the Executive Assistant position to be moved elsewhere.
“The person [who] works in that position is assigned to the Mayor and the Board of Trustees,” Jaycox said. “If you put it under the direction of the manager, that person can be moved out to another area of work and should we need some work done, we can’t get it done because they’re under assignment to the manager. I don’t think that’s the answer budgetarily.”
Village attorney Michael Jurusik said that to move the Executive Assistant’s salary from the Mayor’s budget to that of the Village Manager would essentially be the equivalent of shuffling cards. Although the Assistant position has historically been a political hire who serves at the whim of whatever Mayor is in office, and while the Mayor and the Board may have input on whom they select to fill the role, the person is hired by the Village Manager. Whether his or her salary is a line item in the Manager’s budget or the Board’s is irrelevant. Jurusik suggested that the Board direct staff to change the Executive Assistant’s job description in order to allow it more flexibility to help out understaffed departments.
“There are moving parts here,” he said. “How you deal with the budget is up to you, but dealing with the job description may get you what you want.”
In response to Jurusik’s suggestion, the motion was changed to solely address the job description. The motion to change the job description for the Executive Assistant position passed, with Trustees Jaycox, Dorris, Lightford and Rivers voting ‘Aye.’ Trustee Cross and Mayor Perkins voted ‘No.’ Trustee Rogers abstained.
The motion to relocate the Mayor’s office, which required at least five votes (since it would mean that the Board would have to change the FY 2014-15 Budget to pay for the move), failed. Trustees Jaycox, Dorris, Lightford and Rivers voted ‘Aye.’ Mayor Perkins and Trustees Cross and Rogers voted ‘No.’
The motion to relocate is scheduled to come to another vote at tonight’s regular Board meeting. VFP