It took Trustee Michael Horvath nearly a year to obtain a document detailing a separation agreement between the village of La Grange and Fire Captain Richard Griffin.
In the letter, Village Manager Bob Pilipiszyn wrote that a village investigation determined that Griffin falsified department records and lied to La Grange's fire chief, giving the appearance that Griffin intended to manipulate the results of a worker's compensation claim. The letter agreed with an offer from Griffin to resign in order to avoid disciplinary action.
The village originally denied Horvath's request for the letter, citing privacy concerns, which ultimately led Horvath to go to the Illinois Attorney General's office in order to get the letter released.
"I was floored when I first saw it," Horvath told fellow trustees Monday at a board meeting.
At the meeting, Horvath said he believed the claims about falsified documents raised, "some very serious questions," about the village manager's authority to enter into separation agreements without consulting the village board.
Horvath outlined his main concerns about whether the village manager had authority to enter into a separation agreement without talking with the board, and if so, whether the board felt that he should have that authority.
Horvath said that if the board had been consulted, it might not have agreed to the terms of Griffin's resignation. He said the village provided the former fire captain with a "golden parachute" to look for a new job and qualify for bonus pay for offenses that could have been prosecuted—particularly forgery.
For Horvath, the entire event raised questions about the appearance of transparency in La Grange. He said that board members weren't notified of the falsified records until November 2010, even though the incident occurred in May that year. He said he felt the board was again kept in the dark regarding the separation terms outlined in the letter, which is dated Nov. 2, 2010. Board members did not learn it had been signed until February 2011, Horvath said.
“I don't call that transparent,” he said.
According to the village's attorney, entering into the agreement with Griffin was entirely within the village manager's authority as the village's chief opperating officer. Board President Liz Asperger agreed and said that Pilipiszyn had followed proper procedure by keeping the board informed of the matter and handling it as part of his position.
Pilipiszyn also consulted with the village's attorney, special labor counsel and the insurance risk management counsel on the issue, also a part of procedure.
Other trustees also disagreed with Horvath about whether the village manager had exceeded his authority. Particularly, trustees said, managing the day-to-day operations of the village was not in the scope of the village board's duties.
"That’s our job to run the village on a day-to-day basis,” Trustee Bill Holder said.
Trustee Mark Langan agreed with Holder and said the board's responsibility was to manage the village manager, and the village manager's job to manage the village.
"An employee two levels down [from the village manager] is not our responsibility," Langan said.
The debate over the scope of trustees' duties on the board is not new in La Grange. At recent meetings, trustees have disagreed over when and how to take the advise of their professional staff.
Trustees Holder and Langan expressed frustration with Horvath and Trustee Jim Palermo over a police department request for new squad cars in May, which also drew the ire of a former La Grange trustee at the meeting for a percieved disrespect to staff's professional expertise on certain issues.
In that meeting, Asperger warned trustees about knit picking and not trusting the village's professional staff to do their jobs or make recommendations to the board.
"I’m very concerned that the board discussion of this issue is couched in a budget analysis, but is without due respect of the considered judgment of expert staff," Asperger said. "Let us not pretend we know better than our professional staff. We need to rely on the persons we hire.”
In the end, five of the seven board members sided against Horvath and Palermo, and said they did not feel it was necessary to make changes to the village manager's authority and did not feel additional oversight of his duties was required by the board.
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