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posted: 10/3/2012 12:01 AM

Coffee discussion turns tense in Bartlett

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A simple update on informal monthly gatherings between the village board and residents turned into a tense end to Bartlett's committee of the whole meeting Tuesday.

Village Administrator Valerie Salmons explained to the board that coffee with the mayor and trustees -- which is held from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at village hall -- now includes short presentations by village staff about one topic that is "interesting or timely."

The practice started a few months ago, when assistant to the village administrator Steve Bosco provided an update about video gambling. Salmons said the topics for the next few months have been decided, and she hopes advertising in the village newsletter, television station and online will get more people interested in coming.

Future presentation topics include economic development in October, local history in November and a still undetermined police topic in December.

Trustee T.L. Arends said she had a few questions about the new structure of the meetings.

"Since we're changing the format it seems to me that it's no longer coffee with the mayor and trustees," she said. "It's a defined program so are we heading away from the meet and greet?"

Village President Michael Airdo said he thought the meetings still offered residents a "meet and greet" opportunity while also giving them a chance to learn more about developments in the village from the staff.

Arends said she still felt like the meetings were too structured now, to which Trustee Eric Shipman suggested she attend a meeting to see for herself what they were like.

"I have to say, I have never been to one," she said, resulting in a lot of laughter from the audience.

Emotions ran high in the moments that followed, with Airdo and Arends fighting to talk over each other.

At one point, Arends moved to adjourn the meeting, but Airdo said no one would agree to that, adding that there were people in the audience who wanted to speak about the coffee with the board meetings. Arends then grabbed her packet of documents, stood up and said curtly that she was leaving, as Airdo banged his gavel and yelled that she was "out of order."

Arends retreated to the back of the room while six residents spoke about how they enjoyed the new format for the coffee with the board meetings.

"From getting to know staff members at these meetings it's been a lot easier to pick up the phone and speak to somebody in a department and be able to put a face to a name," said resident Tracy Smodilla. "I applaud the effort that has been put forth by our officials and by our staff to give us this opportunity."

Trustee Patricia Kelly added that she finds the meetings "invaluable" and feels that they meet some of the goals set out in the village's strategic plan, including the encouragement of community involvement and the recognition of village staff.

Then Arends stepped up to the podium where residents had been making their comments and said her name and address for the record.

"I'm really sorry your reaction, Mr. President, was so harsh," she said. "I have no problem with coffee with the mayor. I was simply asking a question. That's it."

She added she does not want the meetings discontinued and thinks they are a good way to hear residents' concerns. The meeting adjourned shortly after.

The next coffee with the mayor and trustees will take place on Saturday, Oct. 20. Village staff members said they are open to suggestions for future presentation topics at the gatherings.

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