On Monday night, trustees met with the intention of deciding whether to fire Village Manager Anne Marie Gaura. But in the end, they didn’t need to—Gaura submitted her resignation on Monday afternoon, and the board voted 4-2 to accept it.
Gaura’s resignation brings to an end her 12 years with the village, during which she oversaw a period of tremendous growth—a 237 percent population increase, numerous large commercial developments and two new village buildings.
The question of her employment was placed on the agenda by Trustee Andy Kaczmarek, and a majority of the board was expected to vote to terminate her Monday night—a vote that has been brewing since last year’s election.
Voters chose to re-elect Pete Heinz and elect Stan Bond, both of whom were vocal in their criticisms of the village manager. Heinz complained that Gaura made too much money—her salary at the time of her resignation was $147,940—and had consolidated too much power.
There were no public reasons for Gaura’s exit given Monday night, and in fact the separation agreement worked out by her and the board prohibits either party from speaking out. A joint statement was provided to the press, announcing that Gaura “has decided to pursue other career opportunities.”
Trustees worked out a separation agreement in executive session last Thursday, Bond said, but were unaware until Monday night that Gaura had accepted it.
That agreement guarantees that Gaura will receive the severance due to her under her employment contract: 10 months’ salary (minus IMRF contributions), which comes to $125,749, and benefits, which total $35,483. She will get 10 months’ insurance coverage, and an additional $2,000 for resigning.
Trustees Matt Brolley and Denny Lee voted against accepting Gaura’s resignation. After the meeting, Village President Marilyn Michelini also said she was against Gaura’s exit—she provided a letter of recommendation to Gaura as well.
Michelini said the “writing has been on the wall” since the election, but she did not expect Gaura’s ouster before the end of her contract, in May 2013.
Gaura’s last contract renewal, in 2009, split the board, and Michelini cast the tie-breaking vote in favor.
Michelini lamented the fact that none of the trustees were allowed to give specific reasons for Gaura’s resignation, but said, “To me, it boils down to too much power, too much money and personality clashes. There’s no one trigger.”
Plans for future
Trustees voted unanimously to appoint Jeff Zoephel, the village’s finance director, as acting village administrator. (Last August, the board to reduce the village manager powers, and formally change the name of the position to village administrator.) Zoephel said he was asked to take on the role, and accepted "to help out."
Before the vote to accept Gaura’s resignation, Trustees Brolley and Lee pressed the other four for specific plans for the future, with no response. Brolley asked if the other trustees had thought about where the money for Gaura’s severance would come from, or how some of her duties—such as union negotiations and working with interested developers—would be covered.
Brolley also pointed out that Oswego just hired a new village administrator, Steven A. Jones, and will pay him $135,000 a year—not much of a savings from Gaura’s salary, he said.
“We’re not sending a message that we have a clear and defined path for the future,” he said. “It seems like we don’t know what we’re doing.”
Bond took umbrage at that during the meeting, and afterward said that while the board did not have all the answers Monday night, the notion that the village will be directionless without Gaura is “insulting.”
“It’s bordering on worship to accept that in the absence of one person, we would not succeed or thrive as a community,” Bond said.
He added that there are “places he would like to see Montgomery go” that will be easier to achieve with new leadership. Zoephel is on board as acting administrator for a year, during which time the board may hire a new permanent administrator.
“I have the utmost confidence in Jeff (Zoephel) and Jamie (Belongia, assistant to the village manager) and the rest of the staff to function just fine,” Kaczmarek said.
Residents speak out
Before the vote on Gaura’s resignation, seven village residents took their opportunity to address the board, offering praise for Gaura’s achievements during her 12 years in Montgomery, and in many cases, pleading with trustees not to terminate her contract.
Former Police Chief Dennis Schmidt said Gaura has been a tireless advocate for public safety. He urged the board to discuss the issue in public, and inform residents of the reasons for ousting her.
“Anne’s achievements are too numerous to list, and I believe history will judge her accomplishments well,” he said.
Jason Bragg, a former plan commission member, said news of the board’s plan to fire Gaura angered him. He likened it to “kicking her in the teeth for all she has done.”
“I don’t think the board understands what Anne Marie’s role is in this village, what she has done for the residents of this community and what she has given up,” he said.
Steve Jungermann called ousting Gaura “a huge mistake,” and said he believes the “agendas are personal.” Kane County Board Member Jesse Vazquez said he hopes the board has worked to minimize the financial impact of this decision on taxpayers.
“I hope this decision is not based on personality,” Vazquez said.
Dr. Neil Schlupp, chair of the Montgomery Economic Development Corporation Board, said he is worried that several in-the-works business initiatives will “come to a screeching halt” without Gaura. He said her leadership and vision for the community factored heavily into his decision to keep his practice in town 11 years ago.
“The village of Montgomery is taking on water,” he said. “The ship is sinking, but it is not sunk. Let’s not return to the rumbling, bumbling, stumbling, backroom politics of 25 years ago. Guys, you’re better than that.”
Bond said he was respectful of what people had to say Monday night, but noted at least as many people in the audience who he knows agreed with ousting Gaura, and chose to keep quiet.
Gaura was not present at Monday’s meeting, but provided a quote in the joint statement announcing her resignation.
“It has been a tremendous privilege and honor to work for the village these past 12 years through the explosive growth,” she wrote. “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,” she wrote.