Village of South Jacksonville Resolves Job Description Issue, Mayor and Board Dispute Continues

By Benjamin Cox on August 2, 2019 at 9:50am

Fireworks continued at village hall last night after business as usual began the meeting for the Village of South Jacksonville. The village heard from 2 citizens concerned with the future of the village, the village added 3 new people to personnel and lost another, updated an ordinance, and received answers on the job description issue.

Bob Minor, a resident of Sequoia Drive, discussed deeding the village a remaining parcel of land near the end of his property line to make a through street. He had hoped to complete the road on which he lived to ensure a through street for fire protection purposes and to make it easier for citizens to get around the southwest corner of the village a bit easier. The village trustees said they would confer on the matter at a later time but would likely accept his offer for the deeded property.

Mike Woodyard alerted the village that he no longer has administrative duties with the Morgan County Watch Dogs page and that he hoped the village would set up their own economic development committee in hopes of getting an economic plan. He explained that the new Morgan County wind ordinance removes the regional planning commission’s authority and that it didn’t do much for the village in the first place. He hoped the village would enact an economic plan because he felt that the village’s access to the interstate was the most attractive and could have a lot more done with it.

During the Treasurer’s report of July 2019 payable the job description issue opened up immediately when it came to contractual employee Alice Hancock’s job description. Trustee Paula Belobradjic-Stewart said she didn’t feel comfortable paying her salary if she didn’t know what her job duties were, but that the board should pay her for past work that she’s done.

Stewart explains her reasoning: “It dawned on me looking at payables that we pay her and still haven’t seen a contract and/or letter of engagement. I asked our office manager Tiffanee Peters today about it if since the last meeting, if she had been able to find anything. She did share with us tonight that she had found a letter, which our attorney Jeff Wilday said tonight, was not actually a letter of engagement. It was from January 25th, 2016 so that’s been quite a while ago. She did say that the letter said the employment was temporary and that’s what I had remembered. My point was to the rest of the trustees, I didn’t want to withhold Alice Hancock’s pay because she’s done these services for the village although we are unclear on what exactly those services are. It’s still not fair to withhold payment. Our attorney tonight said that it would be feasible for us to work towards having a contract or some kind of letter. He suggested a letter of engagement. He will help us draft it. It ended up that as we were discussing this that we learned there is a water and sewer department employee, Robyn McQueen, who comes and she was an employee at one time but now she is contractual, too. We’re going to do the same thing for her. It’s all about cleaning things up. What we’re going to do is not use Alice as a contractual person anymore until we have a contract in place. I think we solved more in the 15 or 20 minutes that we discussed this in open session with the attorney than we have in the past three months with Trustee [Jason] Hill asking repeatedly for something that we at least could start the ball rolling on for the future.”

The board then voted to have Hancock’s letter of engagement as well as other employees to be completed by the August 13th codification meeting in two weeks, in which the board would make final approval. The board approved the payable as it stood for the month of July and moved forward.

During committee reports, Sewers and Streets Superintendent John Green gave an update on the water plant. “At this point, we’re still waiting to get some quotes for some prices on the labor for the telemetry system. I’m hoping to have that by Friday or this coming Monday. Hopefully, we can get the equipment ordered by late next week. We could hopefully see it being installed, without any other unforeseen problems, in the beginning of the following week. We should be back up and running then.”

Green explained the paving project on Comfort Drive that will be done by Moeller’s, who recently completed the Michigan Avenue project for the City of Jacksonville. “It’s the road behind Qik N Easy and in front of Holiday Inn Express. We’ve got a chunk of road that’s coming up. We’re going to have to have it tore out, redone, and overlaid from there to the new asphalt that’s over by Love’s. Then, there is a small section up by the stoplight that’s coming in on Comfort Drive that is also going to get repaired.”

The village approved the internal hire of Phil Black to the Public Works laborer position for $14 per hour to replace retiring Public Works employee Danny Wynn.

Police Chief Tim Mann announced the resignation of part-time police officer, Brock Meyer, who had taken a new full-time job with the State of Illinois. Fire Chief Richard Evans said that he had spoken with LifeStar in the past week about the Boat Races schedule in September. He said that LifeStar had indicated that it would be a great help to their company if the Village of South Jacksonville would cover 2 of the 3 days due to all the events at the time requiring EMTs on site. Evans said he had scheduled a staff meeting for August 3rd to see if he could get staffing for the boat races that weekend. The board voted to table the action item until August 13th to see Evans answer to staffing for the September event. Evans also announced the hiring of South Jacksonville residents James Martin and Donald Jewell to the volunteer fire department, which the board approved.

The village passed a resolution of notification to contractors that prevailing wage oversight is now being handled at the state level and that they must pay their workers on all jobs if they are subcontracted by the village. They also approved a bid of $3000 for labor by CR’s to install fabric and new mulch at Godfrey Park. Despite not having the VIN numbers from Morrow Brothers Ford in Greenfield, the village passed the purchase of 2 new squad cars to place all village vehicles on the 3 year state buyback program for the price of $34,385. Approval of the RV Parking ordinance and Prairieland Heritage’s usage of the South Main Billboard to promote the upcoming steam show also went through unanimously.

The village went into closed session for personnel issues for a little more than an hour. After the board returned from closed session, Trustee Stewart opened the floor with questions regarding updating the personnel manual regarding social media policy and the use of a village official’s representation of the village to the public. She also referenced electioneering materials and whether it was legal or not for a village official to use the likeness on the village for electioneering purposes. Jeff Wilday, standing in for Roland Cross as counsel, said that a formal presentation on what can and cannot be allowed as far as the city and the logo will be made at a later time. Wilday said however that no one individual can present themselves as the Village of South Jacksonville. Trustee Stewart said it was in partial effort to stop confusing voters of the village moving forward about what is and is not an official statement on issues.

Trustee Jason Hill then wanted to go on record about accusations that he had stormed out of a previous meeting. He called Mayor Harry Jennings comments on social media “ridiculous” and “slanderous.” He asked that the entire board review the meeting in question that Hill supposedly stormed out of, and that if Hill were proven correct that the mayor should issue an apology. Jennings said that he would do so and apologize if he were wrong on the account in question. Hill then questioned Wilday if the board could do anything about Jennings mentioning information from closed session to the public. Wilday said public officials mention closed session issues to the public all the time and the question is more of an ethical one rather than a legal one.

Jennings and Hill then went on a heated exchange of opinions. Hill claimed the mayor’s recent actions on social media were “a stain on the village’s reputation.” Jennings said that every thing he discussed on social media and in email to local media to be true – that in the mayor’s opinion, Hill’s questioning of the job description was biased due to information from Hill’s wife applying for the job. Jennings admonished the board that if they didn’t like his operations of the mayoral office to run against him in 2 years when he is up for re-election. Trustee Todd Warrick said that he was “sick and tired of having to answer to constituents for the mayor’s actions on social media.” Trustee Stewart said that if Mayor Jennings wants to go on “that ride of being unscrupulous with people on social media, he can go down it. I don’t want him speaking for me or for the village.” She went on to say the whole ordeal makes the village look bad: “We look like a joke.”

Office Manager Tiffanee Peters then was brought into the conversation and asked about the report of last week’s committee of the whole meeting. She apologized to the board for her actions last week, saying that she “lost her cool” over something that after reflection and discussions, she didn’t feel was out of line. However, she said she did feel somewhat attacked, but after speaking with Trustee Hill during the week believed the differences were worked out as evidenced by job descriptions being brought forward earlier in the meeting. Peters wished that better communication could happen between the board and the mayor to make for easier resolutions to tough questions.

Hill agreed with Peters assessment of the lack of communication. “I would like to state on record that Mayor Jennings admitted that it was his opinion that he felt that I was out after Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hancock’s jobs because of my wife applying for that position 3 years ago that rightfully my wife declined before the position was even hired for. When I tried to explain then and now, he admitted that was what his thought was. I reiterated the question a couple minutes later tonight, and then, he said that he didn’t say that. I think this kind of goes to show truly what we are dealing with as a board with communication and trying to solve issues and get information from our board president. Sometimes it will escalate into the problems we’ve seen just recently.”

Hill again barked at the mayor for telling lies in emails released and that Peters had proven that his questions were legitimate and the bias the mayor had called for was unfounded. The mayor further stood behind his comments that nothing he had reported was incorrect or misleading. After a few more testy exchanges, the meeting was motioned to end.

Mayor Jennings did not provide comment after the meeting and left directly after. Trustee Hill took issue with that fact. “When I questioned Mayor Jennings about whether he would like to review the video so that way we can all prove that it was a lie, he obviously declined and left the meeting. We see how he likes to deal with his malicious lies and the stains he likes to put on village board members that are untrue. It shows that he’s not even willing to justify that he’s even correct with those statements.”

Trustee Greg Nelson who takes unofficial videos and audio of the meeting out of his own time and money for the posterity of the elderly and those who can’t attend meetings gave his opinions on the video.

Nelson explains what he saw Hill do on the video. “When I watched back through it, Hill was standing at one point but we had been there for over 3 hours. He took a few steps over to the kitchenette that’s just off the board room and dumped out ice from his cup. It was very loud in the sink. You can clearly hear it and then walked back over and the meeting continued. Nothing stopped. The conversation on the issues continued.”

Trustee Stewart may have an explanation for Peters behavior from the previous meeting as well as the current state of the board’s relationship with Mayor Jennings. “She is stuck in the middle and she can’t get out. We are not her direct supervisor. Mayor Jennings is her supervisor. I feel like she believes that she doesn’t have the ability to be as open with board as she could possibly be if he were not her supervisor. Again, that’s my personal opinion. Unfortunately, my background with the mayor has been tumultuous, at best. She’s got a great point about communication and I wish we all could communicate with our mayor. For me, it takes place in a board room where there is video and there is audio being recorded. That’s the way it’s going to have to be.”

The next Village meeting will take place on August 13th when the Boat Race Tourism Grant, Letters of Engagement for contractual employees, and codification of city ordinances will all be taken under final consideration. The meeting will begin at 6PM at Village Hall.