Montgomery's cost for resignation: $179,500 : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Montgomery's cost for resignation: $179,500|
|Long-time manager out as village board votes 4-2 to approve agreement|
|by John Etheredge|
The Montgomery Village Board voted to approve a separation and resignation agreement with long-time village manager Anne Marie Gaura Monday evening which will cost the village $179,500 in salary and benefits over the next 10 months.
The board approved the agreement in a split, 4-2 vote in front of an audience of 30 people, including several who urged the board to retain Gaura.
Gaura did not attend the meeting.
Voting to approve the agreement were board members Andy Kaczmarek, Stan Bond, Bill Keck and Pete Heinz.
Board members Denny Lee and Matt Brolley cast negative votes on the motion.
Had Gaura remained with the village, her employment agreement with the village would have expired in May 2013.
In a separate, unanimous ballot, the board named Jeff Zoephel, the village's finance director for the past decade, to also serve as interim village administrator.
A "future statements; confidentiality" clause in the approved agreement with Gaura prohibits Gaura and village officials from "making any written or oral statements to the public or press" concerning Gaura's separation from the village with the exception of a press release issued by village officials to the media during Monday's meeting.
In the release, Village President Marilyn Michelini is quoted a saying it has been a pleasure to work with Gaura during her 12 year tenure with the village.
"Under her (Gaura's) guidance we have not only accomplished significant projects, but have also maintained a balanced budget during the recent economic downturn. Anne Marie brought to the village manager's position a high level of professionalism, enthusiasm, and energy and she has been an invaluable asset to the village. Her professional leadership has positioned the village well for future growth," Michelini said.
The release quotes Gaura as saying, "It has been a tremendous privilege and honor to work for the village these past 12 years through the explosive growth, I will always be proud of all of our accomplishments, including several very significant capital projects and long-range planning that has laid the foundation for the future. I am also extremely proud of the professional staff here and for all that we have been able to achieve together."
Following the meeting, Michelini expressed disappointment with the board's vote.
Michelini, however, said she believes the "writing was on the wall" for Gaura's departure nearly three years ago when the board split 3-3 on her re-appointment of Gaura to another four-year term as manager.
"I think it is really unfortunate," Michelini said of the board's vote. "The village and Anne and I worked together for 12 years and I think we've really accomplished a lot."
Though the four board members who voted to approve the resignation and separation agreement did not comment on Gaura's departure during Monday's meeting, Kaczmarek, who has sought Gaura's ouster since his election to the board in 2009, told the Ledger-Sentinel last week, "I just don't think the direction we are going is the right direction. That's my personal opinion."
Kaczmarek explained he disagreed with how the village has been managed on both financial and personnel matters.
He added he had heard "a lot of complaints" concerning Gaura from unions representing village employees since his election to the board.
Kaczmarek said he would not support hiring a replacement for village manager for at least the balance of the next fiscal year, which will begin May 1.
Asked what kind of qualities he wants to see in the village's next full-time manager, Kaczmarek said the village needs someone who is willing to work with many people and is "not so aggressive and domineering, I guess."
Prior to voting on the agreement, Brolley said he is "extremely opposed" to the process that led up to the vote to Gaura's resignation and separation agreement.
"All of this happened outside the board room," Brolley said. "I understand we can't talk about the person (Gaura) particularly, but people out here (in the audience at village hall) have questions and they've raised good questions and they need answers. We just can't go and spend $185,000 because we figure we can get rid of her now."
Following the board's vote on the agreement, Brolley said, "As far as development is concerned I'm extremely concerned now. We don't have a manager. We don't have a community development director. We don't have a senior planner anymore. We don't have a planning consultant...Our only planner has a few years of experience and the lady in charge of that department has a few years of experience, but not in development. What do we do tomorrow morning if a big box retailer comes in? What's our plan?"
Bond said, "Well, we're not spectators in this process. The village (residents) elected us to manage situations like this and I expect that we will."
"They didn't elect us to manage," Brolley said.
Lee told Bond, "I don't think your background in planning or for any us is worth two hoots."
Kaczmarek said he believes Zoephel and Jamie Belongia, assistant to the village manager, "will function just fine and do an excellent job."
Referring to Zoephel, Heinz said, "Jeff can handle that job very, very well."
Residents seek answers,
ask for more transparency
Prior to voting to approve the agreement, Dennis Schmidt, who retired in early 2010 after serving more than 30 years as village police chief, told board members he wanted to publicly thank Gaura for her service to the village.
Schmidt described Gaura as an "ardent and consistent supporter of public safety and a tireless promoter of the village."
He continued, "She helped lead our village during unprecedented growth and on construction building projects in the community. Anne's achievements are too numerous to list, but I believe history will judge her accomplishments well."
Schmidt also urged the board to find a way to have a public discussion concerning Gaura's employment with the village.
"It's not about how many individuals line up on each side of an issue, it's about open government, transparency, good public policy and the need for residents and businesses to understand what prompted an action of this magnitude," Schmidt said, adding, "Absent this, voters are left with little information to base their decisions as to whether they agree with such a significant action or not.
"At the end of the day, each of us should be concerned about the standard used by elected officials to reach such an important decision. Assuming for a moment that the termination of a contract set to expire at the end of next year is the best course of action, I trust that the village board has explored every contract possibility, every option to reduce the financial impact on the community."
Jason Bragg, a former member of the village plan commission, told the board he was disturbed to learn last year that some members of the board were looking to fire Gaura.
"I was concerned because I don't think that some members of this board understand what Anne Marie Gaura's role in this village is, what she has done for the residents of the community and what she has given up," Bragg said. "We have been very, very fortunate to have her here for a number of years when she would have gone on to another community and made more money. But she chose to stick it out here in this community where she saw growth and promise."
Bragg said he was extremely angered when he learned last week that Gaura might soon be forced out of her job with the village.
"What concerns me is where do we go from here? If you fire Anne Marie Gaura, who's next? The police chief? Public works? Who else? The MEDC (Montgomery Economic Development Corporation)? Are we going to follow the Village of Oswego's way of doing things? I hope not," Bragg said.
Steve Jungermann, a current village plan commission member, said he agreed with all of the comments expressed by residents in support of Gaura.
"I also believe in the interest of fairness and transparency that an opportunity should be given for public participation," Jungermann said.
Jungermann said he also believes Gaura's resignation is the result of "head-hunting. I think the agenda are personal. I don't think there is any room for a personal agenda as a village trustee."
Jungermann added, "I'm afraid of what might happen as a result of missed business opportunities should we not have a village manager. I don't think anyone on the village board has the experience to run a village of 18,000 people and I think eliminating Anne Marie would be a huge mistake."
Jesse Vazquez, a village resident and Kane County Board member, described himself as a "little disappointed" in the board's handling of Gaura's resignation.
"Cutting someone's contract in the middle has some implications that are going to cost the taxpayers money," Vazquez said, adding, "I see we have to pay someone severance pay and then pay someone else to do the job."
Vazquez described Gaura as "rough around edges and tough to deal with at times," but the "last few years I've had nothing but the pleasure of seeing her change her ways and come to terms with some of the projects we've been able to get done, especially from the county perspective like Orchard Road, Montgomery Road, Route 30 and other projects."
Dr. Neil Schlupp, chairman of the MEDC Board of Directors, told the board the last four years have been extremely difficult for the MEDC and economic development in the village. However, he said, currently there are several business development projects in the works.
Schlupp noted that Gaura and MEDC executive director Char Coulombe-Fiore, MEDC executive director, have been working on the projects and he is concerned they will now come to a "screeching halt" if Gaura leaves the village.
Schlupp told the board, "My question to you is who do we work with going forward when Anne Marie is gone?"
Referring to Gaura's leaving the village, Schlupp asked the board, "My questions are: Why? Why now if we are indeed going in the wrong direction and what is the right direction?"
Schlupp noted that 11 years ago he was considering moving his chiropractic practice out of the village, but after talking with Gaura instead decided to invest $700,000 in the construction of a new building for the practice in the village's downtown.
"The Village of Montgomery, I feel seriously, is taking on water and our ship is sinking, but it's not sunk," Schlupp said, adding, "Let not return to the rumbling, bumbling, stumbling backroom politics of 25 years ago. You guys are better than that. You are. Management by committee will not work. Decisions need to be made by a leader or opportunities will be lost.
"I ask you tonight to please put aside your personal feelings, your politics and make the right decision for the village residents of Montgomery and this community. You can right this ship and put us back on the right course by choosing not to terminate Anne Marie Gaura's contract," Schlupp said.