Trustee fails in effort to sideline boss at Gurnee's Warren-Newport library
As the five-hour board meeting inched toward midnight Wednesday, Warren-Newport Public Library District's executive director finally learned whether he'd get to keep working until his retirement in July.
Library board Vice President Ron Friedman motioned that Stephen Bero be placed on administrative leave at the Gurnee-based district for three weeks and immediately turn over all work property to elected officials. He did not provide any explanation or details in making his request.
However, no board members seconded Friedman's motion -- a parliamentary move that was necessary to bring Bero's possible administrative leave to a vote.
That brief opening was seized by library board Trustee Andrea Farr-Capizzi, a Bero supporter, who received a second on her motion to end Tuesday's session just before it spilled into Wednesday morning. The elected officials voted 4-2 for adjournment, with board President Socrates Rivers and Friedman as dissenters.
Bero, library boss since 2005, said after the meeting he was grateful for the packed house that supported him and he looked forward to presumably working at Warren-Newport until his July 31 retirement. He said he's yet to receive an explanation on why anyone on the board would want him on leave.
"I'm proud and privileged and happy to still be in the driver's seat, so to speak," said Bero, 59, who has a $163,000 total compensation package. "I love my job. I'm proud of this library, proud of the staff, proud of the public here."
Rivers said he didn't know if another attempt to place Bero on administrative leave would be made at the next board meeting, March 18.
Most of the 140 employees, patrons and others who were present at the start of the evening in Gurnee remained until the library board adjourned. A petition circulated in the crowd asking the board to respect library employees and abide by its policies, while singling out Rivers and Friedman for causing "a state of turmoil."
Before the board went into a closed-door meeting and emerged with Friedman making the motion to place Bero on leave, Rivers outlined what he said have been several problems with the administrator's financial acumen.
Rivers criticized Bero for seeking about $200,000 less than the maximum property tax money the district was allowed to receive in last year's levy, and providing employee raises without board knowledge. Bero responded he wants property taxes as low as possible and stays within budget parameters for employee compensation.
"I just hope board members realize their fiduciary responsibility and look under the hood," Rivers said after the meeting.
Bero wasn't the only issue at the meeting.
Friedman tried to get trustees to approve paying a private security company that worked at the session. Officials said a Gurnee police officer, four Warren-Newport library security guards and two employees from Waukegan-based Tactical Security LLC attended the meeting.
Trustee Jo Beckwith bristled at Friedman's request, saying he hired Tactical in advance as his "personal bodyguard" and public money shouldn't pay the bill. A board majority declined to pay a maximum of $250 to Tactical.
"We have a really wonderful security team," Beckwith said. "No one here has been in danger. No one's life was threatened here tonight."
But Rivers contended security concerns have been justified since former Gurnee Mayor Richard Welton disrupted a library board policy committee meeting March 3.
Welton, 71, responded from the audience that he would not harm Rivers or Friedman.
Friedman contended Tactical was not present to serve only his personal security needs.
"If there was order in the public assembly, then we wouldn't have to be concerned for the safety of the environment," he said. "It's not just me, it's everyone, because we don't operate by mob rule."
Warren-Newport Public Library serves about 67,000 residents. The library's 55-square-mile boundary covers all or most of Warren and Newport townships, including Gurnee, Wadsworth, Park City, Wildwood, Grandwood Park, Old Mill Creek, and portions of Grayslake, Millburn, Lake Villa, Libertyville and Waukegan.