A Positive Ending to an Ugly Chapter for Lakewood – The Resignation of Trustee Rich Ritchie
Friends and Neighbors,
While this Newsletter will shed light on some very unpleasantries that have taken place in our village board over the last 11 months, the very good news, is that it comes with a very positive, very happy, ending – promising only positivity for our village board and even more positivity for our village. I hope you’ll take a few minutes…
I’d like to preface this rather long-winded composition by stating that I understand there will always be a few who will take exception with the negativity that I will speak of here. There are a few who have expressed their disapproval of such candor, while most commend my bringing it forward and appreciate the importance of knowing the truth, even when the truth is not so pretty.
That said, as those who have been following my newsletters, for going on 3 years now, know, I believe it is important that residents know what takes place in their village government and I see no good in “sugar-coating,” shining false light, or “protecting” residents from the truth in our village government issues, though at times the truth can get a bit ugly. My Newsletters serve to bring you the truth in your village government… They serve to tell you what you NEED to know, though it may not necessarily be what you WANT to hear… Sometimes the message is pleasant… Sometimes, not so pleasant. But, we must be aware of the unpleasant if we are to improve, to correct, and to learn from our mistakes.
A Positive Ending to an Ugly Chapter
Last Tuesday, at the close of our village board meeting, trustee Rich Ritchie announced his resignation as trustee, effective immediately.
Although my saying so may come off as a bit crass to some, I will tell you here and now, Rich Ritchie’s resignation was an absolute blessing to our village board and to the village of Lakewood, in general. Residents who have regularly attended our meetings in recent months will attest to this, as will trustee Phil Stephan, as will much of our village staff, and as will those residents who had already begun the process of petitioning for trustee Rich Ritchie’s Recall from Office as trustee.
You may recall that Rich Ritchie was originally part of the Lakewood Tax Fighter slate that I worked to get elected into office last year. Looking back, it wasn’t too long after I filed Rich’s election papers with the clerk’s office, to get Rich and the entire slate on the ballot, that I began to see signs that Rich was not at all who he represented himself to be – and while my intention is not, in any way whatsoever, to purposefully speak ill of or disparage Rich Ritchie – I believe it is vitally important that residents are aware of the absolute duplicity Rich demonstrated in his actions and behavior on our village board.
I can honestly say, with a clear conscience and complete conviction, that Rich Ritchie was the most duplicitous, deceptive and unscrupulous politician I have ever dealt with in the 5 years that I have been active as a “Government Watchdog” and elected official. I assure you, I do not say these words lightly!
The 2017 Election Campaign
In December 2016, once all the political candidate paperwork was filed with the Clerk’s office and the campaign to be elected began, I along with (now) trustee Phil Stephan began working on the Lakewood Tax Fighter Team’s campaign. This campaign included the campaigning for all members of the team, including Rich Ritchie. Day after day, we sought Rich’s assistance, but his assistance was never forthcoming. Eventually Rich came right out and informed us that he would not be helping in the campaign. “You guys are quite capable” was his response, and as the campaign continued over the next 4 months, Rich was, quite literally, nowhere to be found. (Important to note, to run as a slate/new political party as we did, we had to have a full slate. If any member dropped out, was disqualified, or the slate, for any reason, wasn’t full – all “Lakewood Tax Fighter” candidates would be invalidated and removed from the ballot)
Day in, day out, over the next four months, I, along with Phil Stephan, walked the village, distributed literature, sent mailers, etc.. Rich never circulated a single petition, never placed a single sign, never knocked on a single door, never made a single campaign call, never stuffed a single envelope or licked a single stamp. Every one of these necessary functions were carried out by myself and Phil Stephan along with the enlisted help of a small group of resident volunteers who supported our intended efforts.
If you followed our 2017 campaign, you know of the very specific promises that each member of our Lakewood Tax Fighter slate made to residents. And, you may recall the very specific pledges that each member of the slate made and signed our names to, including:
• a New level of Truth, Transparency and Accountability
• No Multi-Million Dollar Village Hall
• No More Pet Projects
• No $66 MIL TIF and Sportplex
• No More Property Tax Hikes
Each of us signed a written pledge agreeing to uphold these principles and others.
We also pledged to waive our salaries and each of us elected to instead contribute our salaries to the Lakewood Tax Fighter & Better Government Project to more directly effect better village government initiatives, such as our historically successful Property Tax Referendum.
Promises Broken – Pledges Dismissed
A New Multi-Million Dollar Golf Club and Police Station
Upon being elected in April, before even taking office in May, Rich Ritchie, Phil Stephan and myself had a number of face-to-face meetings. In these meetings Rich spoke more and more of his desire to build a new dual purpose Golf Club & Police Station facility on Redtail Golf Course property. This quickly became a source of great argument as “ball park” numbers of $4 MIL – $7 MIL Dollars became very realistic projections.
At one point, Rich urged that we couldn’t “drag our feet” on the issue if we wanted “to be able to break-ground on construction before winter” (2017/2018).
I grew quite frustrated at this point, explaining that this was in direct contradiction to everything we campaigned on, that we were not going to be breaking ground on anything, and that I would no longer entertain any further discussion on a new Golf Club or Police Station.
At this point, Rich secretly contacted Lakewood resident and local developer, John O’Hara, looking to garner his support on this project, as we had learned that John O’Hara had previously put together preliminary plans for a new Golf Club, a decade or so prior. As John O’Hara explained, after listening to Rich Ritchie’s proposed concept, John essentially informed him that it was simply not a viable project. John then contacted me to explain why the project was not viable, expecting I was aware of he and Rich’s meeting.
Despite this multi-million dollar project being in direct contradiction of everything we campaigned on, Rich continued to lobby to have this placed on our agenda. At a July village board meeting, more than 100 east side residents spoke for more than 3 hours as to the severity of the flooding and the dire conditions they were being forced to deal with. After this discussion, most residents left the meeting at which point trustee Ritchie announced to our village clerk that he wanted the discussion of a new Police Station to be added to our next scheduled agenda. I refused his request and again explained that this project was in direct contradiction to everything both he and I campaigned on. I explained that we simply were not going to have a board discussion about a multi-million dollar, UNNECESSARY, pet-project until we, at least first, addressed the myriad of issues we currently faced with our existing village assets and infrastructure.
The Northwest Herald subsequently reported on this, which greatly fanned the flames of Rich’s anger.
Unwillingness to Participate
It wasn’t long before we learned that I and trustee Phil Stephan would be the driving force behind any truly meaningful change moving forward. On one hand Phil and I both have more time available to devote to the village, but more so, we both have a much higher degree of passion toward transforming our village.
Rich repeatedly took exception with mine and trustee Phil Stephan’s “extra curricular” (as he put it) work around the village. He didn’t like that trustee Stephan and I were so active in Storm water activities, Lake activities, village beautification projects, and in helping residents with a myriad of other issues. On a number of occasions, Phil Stephan and I invited trustee Ritchie to join in and work with us, to which he replied “that is not what I was elected to do.”
Throughout the course of the remaining months, Rich Ritchie continued to look for ways to obstruct our efforts and make them difficult for us. And, as time went on, there were a number of instances in which his behavior and actions were not only cause for concern, but as trustee Phil Stephan, and many of our village staff, will attest to, served only to harm our village.
As I wrote of in a Newsletter back in October, after a continued problem with excessive absenteeism in our village board meetings, I proposed an ordinance to ensure a degree of accountability in attendance of board members. My proposed ordinance allowed for a trustee to miss 22% of our total annual village board meetings, before an “intervention” type of a hearing would be held by board members to determine the underlying causation of the absences and whether or not the member should remain on the board.
Trustee Ritchie took great exception with this proposed ordinance, first stating that the number of absences allowed for in the proposal was too stringent. As the Northwest Herald again reported, I asked trustee Ritchie what number of absences he felt was a more acceptable threshold before we called for some measure of accountability. His answer was “None”. He stated publicly that his employment could cause him to miss 40% or more of our village board meetings and that he would not support any action by the board that would hold any member accountable for their attendance.
Trustee Ritchie went on to miss three more meetings, two of which he didn’t even have the courtesy to notify myself, our clerk, or our Chief Administrative Officer.
Fighting Public Awareness
On a number of occasions, trustee Ritchie publicly called for me to stop reporting on our village board activities, via this newsletter and the Lakewood Tax Fighter website. Specifically, he took exception with the fact that I continue to make public how trustees vote on important issues – and that I ask residents to participate in electronic surveys on important issues. Rich publicly characterized both of these as “a complete lack of respect for the office and elected officers.” (To be fair, Trustee Pat Rexroat also subscribed to this notion.)
Sadly, trustee Rexroat has told us that he feels it undermines the board, that I tell the public how board members vote on certain issues, as well as their statements at meetings. Pat feels that this is viewed as me “complaining” and that some board members view this as “personal attacks on them”. Pat also feels that residents should not be provided electronic polling surveys on important issues as I have been doing over the past year. Pat feels these surveys are “not scientific” and that it isn’t necessary to “run to the residents” every time we have an issue.
Resisting and Threatening our New Chief Administrative Officer
In November 2017, trustee Rich Ritchie was the sole NO vote in the hiring of our new (current) Chief Administrative Officer, Jeannine Smith. After reviewing her application, resume and recommendations over several days, and after privately interviewing her and participating in board deliberations of her hire, Rich publicly stated that he had no reason to doubt that she was completely capable and qualified for the position. He then cast the only NO vote in hiring her to this position.
Subsequent to her hire, trustee Ritchie informed CAO Smith, that while he meant nothing personal by it, she came to the wrong village, at the wrong time, under the wrong president, and suggested to her that her employment with our village would be short-lived.
As we have now come to confirm, Jeannine Smith has been nothing short of fabulous in her new role as Lakewood’s Chief Administrative Officer and Lakewood would do well to keep her on board as long as possible!
Obstructing The Redtail Revival
In November 2017, our Golf Course Manager reported that there was a substantial degree of deferred maintenance to the exterior of the Redtail Golf Clubhouse. On the exterior there was reported; leaking windows, deteriorated, leaking siding with water infiltrating, leaking gutter/downspouts, etc. A proposal was presented to replace the siding, windows, gutters and more and two things were made abundantly clear:
|1.||The work being proposed was a necessity and that time was of the essence due to the current water infiltration.|
|2.||All funds to be used for this work were funds generated from Redtail operations to be used for Redtail maintenance. No tax dollars would be used for this work.|
Knowing all of this, trustee Ritchie once again, cast the only vote against taking this necessary protective measure, stating only that he did not support putting ANY money into the Redtail Clubhouse.
Subsequently, as I wrote to residents in January 2018, our Golf Club Manager came forward with the next proposal for the much needed renovation of Redtail Golf Club’s interior. This much needed renovation would cure the decades of neglect, deferred maintenance, faulty mechanical systems, and code violations that existed, as well as bring a new, welcoming atmosphere to the club. And, again only Redtail generated funds would be used for this project. No Tax Dollars would be used.
Trustee Ritchie didn’t even show up to this meeting. And, as he had done on other occasions, he didn’t even give notification that he would not be in attendance. To date, Rich is the only board member that has not visited, or even inquired as to the ongoing Redtail renovation.
Abandoning his Pledge to the Public
You may recall that when running for office last year, each member of the Lakewood Tax Fighter slate pledged to forgo their trustee salary and to instead contribute our salaries to the Better Government Project. This was pledged very publicly in all campaign literature, on the Lakewood Tax Fighter website, and the Northwest Herald even ran a Headline story on this very pledge.
Breaking this VERY Public Pledge – Rich Ritchie, after only 6 months as a trustee, stopped contributing his salary to Lakewood’s Better Government Project, abandoned his pledge, and began taking his trustee salary.
Sadly, I could continue on with more examples. But, suffice it to say, I made a huge blunder in judgment of Character, when I selected Rich Ritchie as part of our Lakewood Tax Fighter team. My one saving grace, however, is that I did have a degree of foresight, (knowing that politicians do, often, misrepresent themselves) in that I did require every member of the Lakewood Tax Fighter slate (including myself) to formally sign a written Self-Imposed Recall Pledge – pledging to voluntarily step down from office if petitioned to do so by the residents.
And I do want to personally say THANK YOU to each of the residents that did initiate the Recall Petition Process of trustee Rich Ritchie. Though it turns out your efforts are no longer needed in this particular case, it means the world to know that there are residents out there paying attention and caring enough to make such an effort!
All the ugliness aside, as I stated at the beginning, We are facing much brighter days on our village board. We will soon be appointing a trustee to fill this vacated seat and I am confident that the Lakewood Village Board will work together cohesively, for the betterment of our village, moving forward.
I also want to say THANK YOU to the scores of residents who emailed their congratulations and their support after reading of this resignation in the Saturday’s Northwest Herald. Your support means everything!
As always, your thoughts questions and concerns are always welcome and always valued.
For a better Lakewood,