Northfield resident Gavin Blunt followed up his 22 minutes of public comment that he delivered to trustees throughout the village board’s August meeting by letting local officials know they’re “rolling the dice.”
Blunt again addressed trustees on the board’s Tuesday, Sept. 19 meeting, this time saying that he plans to deliver a letter signed by Northfield residents to the attorney general of Illinois to prompt an investigation into the village of Northfield.
The Northfield resident said the letter will first request state officials to review what he said were multiple violations of the Freedom of Information Act. These violations, Blunt said, occurred when the village didn’t properly reply to his records request inside the allotted period. Blunt noted that it took 44 days for the village to reply to certainly one of his requests.
In a follow-up call, Village attorney Mallory Milluzzi disagreed with Blunt’s assessment of the Village’s response, saying the Village fulfilled all of his requests in a legal period of time. Milluzzi said Blunt’s quite a few requests — specifically nine in a five-day period in June, confirmed by Village documents — qualified him as a “recurrent requester.” In line with the FOIA, public bodies are allowed longer response times for recurrent requesters.
“You may essentially put it on the backburner, which is why his FOIA request took so long to reply to,” said Milluzzi, adding that Blunt’s requests were fulfilled.
Moreover, Blunt, referencing the contract extension of former Village Manager Stacy Sigman, said the letter can even urge state officials to look into the usage of taxpayer funds and the “extension of an employment contract that was done under duress and the specter of litigation.”
“Standing here as a village resident, it appears that evidently the board of trustees do need to move on from what has been occurring — and I don’t blame you,” Blunt said. “You’re rolling the dice, since the letter is being sent. And it is best to know that the AG staff has a complete set of lawyers … (and) we’re going to start out with the FOIA battles. That may get their attention. Absolute confidence about it. And I even have every bit of documentation and I do know the right way to present it.”
Blunt told The Record after the meeting that he plans to offer the letter to the attorney general’s office “somewhere in the subsequent 30 days.” He didn’t offer an actual variety of residents who will sign it but did say he hopes to get “as many village residents as possible to log out on it,” adding that “there are numerous individuals who have expressed an interest.”
A longtime resident of Northfield, Blunt spoke for about 12 minutes on Sept. 19, focusing his comments on an overarching theme of what he described as a “complete failure of leadership and honesty” from the board while reiterating lots of the comments he delivered in August.
Blunt’s September remarks continued to query the departure of Stacy Sigman as village manager and her reassignment to the part-time, distant role of director of special projects.
As previously reported by The Record, Northfield officials approved an agreement with Sigman in July giving her an annual base salary of $267,000 so long as she works 1,000 hours a 12 months, a number that equates to 25 40-hour work weeks. The contract also added that Sigman must perform all responsibilities of her position, which could require greater than 1,000 hours as overseen by the village manager.
Sigman made a surprise early retirement announcement via internal email on June 30, as also previously reported by The Record. As a part of the July separation agreement, Sigman rescinded her retirement announcement.
Blunt, throughout the Sept. 19 meeting, called Sigman’s departure from Northfield “an emotional greenmailing of the village.”
He concluded his remarks by sharing how he hopes the continued board dysfunction will end.
“I hope that when that is all done it can lead to higher local government and governance because there are several of you here who sit on this board who I genuinely consider got here here to do something good for the village,” he said. “I actually feel that. And it’s regretful that I even have to notify you that the village must preserve all emails, texts, transcripts of board meetings and executive sessions. You might have the opportunity to stonewall the residents, but you’re not going to have the opportunity to stonewall the AG.”
The board didn’t offer a public response to Blunt’s comments throughout the meeting.
Milluzzi said within the follow-up call that the village will reply to any attorney general requests and abide by the office’s rulings, but “we consider we’ve complied with the FOIA statute.”
Board commits to meeting with Illinois Municipal League to ‘work on attempting to work together’
After trustees returned from executive session near the conclusion of their Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 19, Village President Greg Lungmus announced that the board will follow through on its commitment to residents to undergo “a strategy of self-evaluation.”
Trustees will get together in 2024 to fulfill with Brad Cole of the Illinois Municipal League to “work on attempting to work together and improve our communication,” Lungmus said.
Throughout the meeting, Lungmus asked each member of the board to commit to the meeting. All trustees noted support for the training. In line with Lungmus, the Illinois Municipal League won’t commit to the training unless there’s 100% participation from all trustees.
Trustee Tracey Mendrek said the meeting will allow the board to “flush out a few of the things (it) must do higher.”
“I feel it’s a very good opportunity for us long-term to essentially lock down the role of a trustee and the way we needs to be interacting with one another in addition to village employees and staff,” she added. “I wholeheartedly support Greg’s efforts to get this going and I sit up for getting the date on the calendar sooner somewhat than later.”
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