By a 4-2 vote on Tuesday night, trustees significantly changed the way village government is run.
After months of talking about it, the Village Board voted to reduce the authority of the village manager, approving an ordinance that eliminates the manager’s ability to hire and fire employees, give raises or cut pay, and add or remove department heads without board approval.
The village manager also now must provide regular evaluations of all employees to the board, and inform the board of any grievances filed by union employees within five days of receiving them.
On top of that, the title of the office has been changed to village administrator, which some trustees see as significant, but Village Attorney Steve Andersson said is merely cosmetic, and has no bearing on the duties of the office. Additionally, Andersson said, since Village Manager Anne Marie Gaura was hired under that title, it will remain until the end of her current contract, in May 2013.
Trustees Matt Brolley and Denny Lee voted against the changes, and tried to spark debate about them during the meeting. But the four trustees in favor remained largely silent, and Trustee Stan Bond, who drafted the new ordinance (with subsequent changes from Heinz and Kaczmarek), said the absence of discussion was reflective of the time the board has already spent on this issue.
“We’ve been talking about this for 90 days,” he said. “We talked about it in governance training (in June). It’s not that it hasn’t been discussed. And I don’t think that anything could have been said that would have made the vote unanimous.”
Trustee Bill Keck said it had been more than a decade since the ordinance was first approved, and it was time to revisit it.
But Lee said some of the changes voted on Tuesday night were a surprise to him. Some, such as the requirement to provide grievances from union employees, were added to the ordinance between meetings, and not distributed to trustees until late last week.
Lee called the changes “micromanaging at best,” and said they hearken back to an earlier time, when trustees ran the village department by department—a system, he said, that Montgomery has outgrown.
Brolley, as well, called the changes a “step backwards,” and said he felt there was not enough discussion on the issue. Though Trustee Pete Heinz was correct when he said board members are not legally required to justify their votes, Brolley said the board does answer to 18,000 people, and owes them an explanation.
“Everyone talks about this being a more transparent process, and this was the opposite of that,” he said.
In voting against the ordinance, Brolley said the changes would make it difficult for Montgomery to hire a professional manager in the future. He said the village would “officially become a resume builder for recent college graduates, or perhaps a disgraced individual looking to rebuild a career.”
Brolley asked whether any incidents in particular prompted the changes, and he received no answer during the meeting. Bond said afterward that the issue was not with Gaura, but with the “balance of power between the board and the manager.”
“It’s not about Anne,” he said. ‘”It’s about that position, and what relationship we have with that position, and what authority we reserve for ourselves.”
Gaura declined to comment on the changes.
Before the vote, trustees heard from several residents, most of them against the changes. Steve Jungermann questioned whether “the problem lies not with the village manager, but with the trustees,” and Ryan Alltop said the board would be micromanaging under the new rules, and “there are a lot more important things going on.”
But Marjorie Myers gave her support to the changes, and suggested the board take a look at eliminating for employees as well.
Not included in this ordinance was a proposal to change the manager’s spending authority. Currently, the manager is allowed to enter into contracts of $10,000 or less without board approval. That authority is covered by a separate ordinance, and will be discussed in an upcoming meeting, Bond said.
While some trustees, like Bond and Kaczmarek, would like to see that spending limit reduced to as little as $2,000, Brolley wants to see it increased to $20,000, with a stipulation that three quotes be obtained for contracts over $10,000.
Bond said he hopes Gaura and the board can work together under the new balance of power, but said if that proves impossible, “we will look for someone who can.” He said the residents of Montgomery should be proud of their elected officials for shouldering more of the responsibility of village government.
“The board made a huge transformation tonight,” he said.