Island Lake trustees, mayor spar over employees
Island Lake trustees say they've curbed Mayor Debbie Herrmann's power to unilaterally suspend and fire village employees, complaining her past personnel decisions resulted in costly legal settlements.
Herrmann, however, said a special village board meeting called Thursday to modify the relevant ordinance was merely a political stunt. Trustees have had the power all along to reverse firings or suspensions, she said, but simply never opted to exercise it.
"In my opinion, it was a wasted meeting," she said Friday.
Whatever the practical outcome, the two-hour meeting further exposed board infighting and put on public display some trustees' displeasure with the mayor's leadership style.
Describing himself as "upset about how this village is run," Trustee Don Saville said he was tired of learning about personnel matters in the newspaper.
"It's simple, folks: There's no communication highway here," Saville said to a dozen residents in attendance.
Trustee Laurie Rabattini said board oversight of workplace discipline would "protect employees from political retaliation" and protect taxpayers from unnecessary legal bills. In the past three months, she said, the village has settled three employee lawsuits.
"We just paid out $20,000 a little while ago for a grievance," Rabattini said. "Enough is enough. We need to put a cap on this."
Trustees approved a $50,000 settlement payment in November to former Village Clerk Christine Kaczmarek, who argued in her 2009 lawsuit that her salary was illegally reduced shortly after her election four years earlier. Herrmann was not mayor at that time.
The other recent settlements arose from the demotion of two public works employees, Herrmann said Friday. The village board agreed to the demotions, she said, which ended in a settlement for back-pay when the matter was resolved through arbitration.
In December, the mayor put parks department head Karen Luebbers on administrative leave after Luebbers was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery. Herrmann also made headlines last year when she demoted interim Police Chief Anthony Sciarrone to sergeant then fired a respected part-time officer, Fred Manetti, who had exceeded the permissible number of work hours with Sciarrone's approval.
Herrmann pointed out Manetti's dismissal was finalized in a village board vote. Trustees are creating a red herring before local elections, she said.
Additionally, none of the settlements would have been prevented by the new ordinance, Herrmann said.
"That's the perception they're trying to convey -- it's just not factually accurate," she said.
The change was approved 4-0. Trustees Connie Mascillino and Don Verciglio were absent.
The new rule requires majority consent by the village board in any instance when the mayor suspends or fires an employee.
Don Anderson, an attorney for the village, said union employees will still be able to turn to arbitration, and discipline of full-time police officers must still be handled by the fire and police commission.