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Did officials overstep in aiding former staffer? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Did officials overstep in aiding former staffer?
Oswego Board members disagree on retrieval of personal items from village hall

by John Etheredge


Oswego Village Board members disagree on whether two board members, Pam Parr and Gail Johnson, should have helped a village department head who had just resigned her job with the village retrieve her personal possessions from her former village hall office.

Village Administrator Steve Jones said Patty Lariviere resigned as the village's building and zoning department manager on the morning of April 2.

Jones said Lariviere, who had worked for the village since 2007, resigned her position to explore other career opportunities.

He declined to comment further on Lariviere's departure from the village.

Jones said a separation agreement between the village and Lariviere will be on the agenda for the board's consideration when they gather for a special meeting set for next Tuesday, April 29 at village hall.

Following a closed-door executive session held April 15, board members Terry Michels, Scott Volpe and Tony Giles took exception to Parr and Johnson assisting Lariviere on the day she left the village's employ.

Parr went to village hall during business hours the day Lariviere resigned and asked another village employee for Lariviere's thumb drive which she had left in a computer. The employee, unaware that Lariviere was no longer employed by the village, gave Parr the thumb drive.

Later that evening, Johnson accompanied Lariviere when she returned to village hall after business hours to collect her personal possessions.

Volpe said he was concerned that Johnson had assisted "a friend while being a village trustee."

Volpe explained, "While it was probably good for the friend, had that incident happened anywhere else you probably wouldn't have been allowed to attend. But here no one can tell you 'no' and it certainly puts a lot of undo influence on the other people that were involved, (including) the administrator, because you are a trustee and that is one of the people that we (the village board) supervise. That is my concern. I understand why it happened, I just would have preferred it didn't happen and we try to keep that personal separation."

Michels told Johnson and Parr that he can't tell them who they can be friends with, but he personally has always made it a practice never to get close to people he works with because in the event there is a disciplinary issue "I don't have to a second guess myself and I don't have to be upset with myself about losing a friend, close work associate or otherwise.'"

Michels continued, "...I can't tell you what to do, it's your relationship but I certainly think it calls into question the relationship of board and staff on disciplinary issues and it also adds questions in the additional staff members' minds in terms of what they see and their ability to freely think, act independently and share information."

Responding to her board colleagues, Parr said that Lariviere came to Johnson's house after she resigned the morning of April 2.

She described Lariviere as being "very upset." Parr was also at Johnson's home.

Parr said, "Lariviere said, 'Oh my god, I left my personal jump (thumb) drive in the computer (in her former office at village hall.") I said-and maybe I should have thought it through better, but I've owned four businesses and I do trust some people-but I said, 'Patty, let me go back (to village hall) and get it, I have to pay my utility bill.' Patty did not ask me, there was no rush, I was going to pay my utility bill."

Parr emphasized that she "never hid the fact that I was there (at village hall) and asking for" the thumb drive for Lariviere.

A village staff member gave the thumb drive to Parr.

"I never for a moment thought there was anything but personal data (on that thumb drive) and I still believe that," she added.

Michels noted that a memo from Jones indicated that the village staff was not aware that Lariviere had left the village's employ when she provided Parr with the thumb drive.

"That puts a village employee in a very precarious position. Had they known about it and had they given it away I can tell you at our company she would have been terminated right then. That is information that should have never been released at that point in time."

Giles told Parr he believes her actions show "a complete lack of judgment"-despite her prior governmental experience as a member of the Kendall County Board and more recently on the village board.

Giles said Parr went "into the workplace of a terminated employee and removed a device that was in the computer of the employee, not knowing what was on it and removed it from the building. There could have been anything on it."

"I understand your comments. I will say that of all the things that occurred this is the most minor," Parr responded.

"I know but you can't compare everything and say, 'I only did a little wrong,'" Giles said.

"I don't think I did anything wrong," Parr said.

Giles said he disagreed.

He added that if it was so urgent that Lariviere retrieve the thumb drive earlier in the day April 2 instead of after office hours someone should have called Jones and asked his permission.

"I can't even imagine what would be on that flash drive that was so urgent it had to be removed when she was going to be coming in hours later," Giles said.

Parr said, "There was no urgency. I was coming up to get it and understanding what building and zoning managers do and what information they are entitled to it never occurred to me. If she had been a personnel clerk or in finance it would have been a different story. But building and zoning is not a high priority area."

Johnson said her friendship with Lariviere preceded her time on the board.

"I think I am very cautious, probably overly so, when it comes to my judgment when it comes to people I know, although there is probably nobody on (village) staff I don't know. I've been to weddings, to baby christenings to different things just because I've been in the community a very long time. So I won't apologize for that but I do take my position and understand the power that is given with it very seriously."

Michels said, "I'm not asking for an apology, I'm simply saying it's not a good relationship to be in...and I think it puts the other staff members in a precarious position and in a uncomfortable position when that relationship exists."

He added, "In my own personal business life I just like to keep all that neutral so it doesn't pose a problem for anyone else."

Board to consider
hiring interim manager

In a related matter, Jones said during the board's April 29 meeting village staff will ask for the board's consideration of a contractual services agreement for an interim building and zoning manager.

"Our goal with this (agreement) is to get through the busy construction seasons ahead," he said.

Also, Jones said the hiring of an interim building and zoning manager will provide village staff with an opportunity to complete an overall assessment of the building and zoning department and its operations over the next few months.

Jones noted the agreement that board members will review next Tuesday calls for the hiring of an in interim manager who is "very heavily credentialed" in the building and zoning profession with multiple certifications.

"This person is basically retired and we can use his excellent experience to judge our department and give us some tips," Jones said.

Jones added he is hopeful that after six months or however long the interim manager is employed, village officials will have a better idea on what type of credentials they would like to see in a permanent department replacement.

In addition to the manager, the department employs an administrative assistant, three full-time inspectors, a code enforcement officer and a permit coordinator.

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