A week after a long-awaited deal to bring Lake Michigan drinking water to Wauconda fell apart, village trustees on Tuesday blasted Mayor Frank Bart for his role in the snafu.
The board members criticized Bart for mishandling the negotiations with the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency since he took office in May. They also accused Bart of misleading them about the seriousness of the deadline the agency had set for the board to vote, and they blamed him for humiliating the town when the agency voted 8-1 to break off talks.
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"Basically, we got slapped in the face," Trustee Lincoln Knight said during the board's meeting, which was moved to Wauconda High School because of a large crowd.
Trustee Ken Arnswald unloaded on the mayor, too.
"I have never, ever been that embarrassed and that angry as I was last Wednesday," Arnswald said. "And believe me, (my anger) was not at JAWA."
The board's harshest comments came from Trustee John Barbini, who with Bart had been part of the committee that has overseen the water issue and had negotiated with agency.
When Bart called Barbini a mentor and said he never acted on the water proposal without talking to Barbini first, the trustee demanded the microphone.
"Frank, I really resent being thrown under the bus," Barbini said. "I take this personally. Please don't call me again. Don't call me a mentor. If you need to communicate with me, do it through the board. I'm done."
Tuesday's board meeting was the board's first since the water agency vote, which shocked village officials and community members.
Village officials have insisted the agency's rejection hasn't doomed the $50 million plan, which was approved by voters in 2012. That sum included $41 million in loans, $9.5 million of which already have been collected.
Last week, Wauconda officials said the Des Plaines-based Northwest Water Commission is their best option, and negotiations with that group are moving ahead.
On Tuesday, some officials said they've reached out to the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency in an effort to repair the damage with that group.
"(The door) may be closed now, but that doesn't mean it's locked," Bart said. "That is a possibility for us, moving forward."
Bart blamed a "communications gap" and "misunderstandings" for the deal's collapse, and he accepted responsibility for those problems.
Bart also said the village committee that had been working on the water issue and negotiating with the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency will be restructured and led by the village administrator, rather than himself.
He also asked the public to "join me rather than fight me."
Most of the audience was more interested in fighting, however. When the session was opened up for public comment later in the evening, people lined up at a microphone to criticize Bart for his actions on the water deal and other matters.
Bart had some supporters in the room, and some addressed the board, but they were outnumbered.
Lake County Board members Nick Sauer and Bonnie Thomson Carter spoke to the board, too, and they offered their support. But Carter also questioned Bart's comments and urged him and the board to try to repair their relationship with the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency.
Water: Mayor asks public to 'join me rather than fight me'