Wauconda officials meet with consultant to build trust

Occasionally at odds because of personalities and politics, Wauconda's trustees and Mayor Frank Bart met Tuesday night with a good-government expert to discuss ways they can get along better - and govern better.

Most of the problems cited during the gathering at village hall came down to communication between Bart and the trustees.

"Communication is nonexistent," Trustee Ken Arnswald told Bart. "I don't know how to fix it unless you tell me we have an issue with it."

After some healthy conversation, the group came up with a number of steps to improve the level of trust on the dais and to keep focused on important issues.

Everyone agreed Bart should meet individually with each of the trustees once a month to discuss any issues that need addressing.

And after Bart complained about his lack of administrative access to the village's official Facebook page, the group agreed that a social media policy would be a good thing.

The session was led by Gerry Gabris, a member of Northern Illinois University's public administration department faculty. Gabris led a similar discussion last year.

Five of the six village board members have battled with Bart over plans for Lake Michigan drinking water, personnel moves and other issues since he took office in 2013.

In what was perhaps the tensest part of Monday's discussion, Trustee Linda Starkey acknowledged she and Bart have been at odds.

"Frank, I feel that you don't trust me," Starkey said.

Bart confirmed her suspicion. He accused Starkey of leaking information from private board meetings to the public. Starkey flatly denied it.

"In 14 years as an elected official, I have never shared anything from a closed meeting," she said.

Instead of getting bogged down in the dispute, the trustees and the mayor agreed that they need a fresh start and should move forward.

That led to a discussion about how to proceed with social media, which led Gabris to say formal rules are needed.

"It will come back and haunt you if you don't (draft rules)," Gabris said.

Bart's weekly digital Mayor's Message to the public also was targeted. Some trustees said they get frustrated when they learn of topics covered in the memo only when it's published.

They requested to get a copy of it before residents, just so they can be better prepared to answer questions.

"I hear you," Bart responded.

Gabris said the officials must find a way to talk positively and not create tension.

"That's the tricky part," he said.

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