An email to constituents from Lakewood Trustee Paul Serwatka:
[I am well aware that this is the longest, and perhaps most disturbing email I have ever, and hopefully will ever, send. But, I believe it is important. I implore you to take a few minutes…
In truth, I contemplated not sending this out because I fear, if this degree of negativity continues much longer, I will become viewed only as the purveyor of negative news. And that is NOT at all who I am or what I am about!
I truly believe that all the negative news that seems to be in such abundance in our village, is indicative of a village board that has long lost its way, and until we come to grips with it and see it for what it actually is, we will never rise to anything better.
I have complete confidence that we can and WILL rise to something MUCH better – and very soon!
I hope you will take a few minutes to read…]
Reporting on this Tuesday’s village board meeting, I have to say that, in conjunction with our previous, June and July meetings, the behavior, actions and inactions displayed by fellow board members has been some of the most disturbing that I have ever witnessed.
A Quick Overview
The actions and inactions of board members at the last three meetings, collectively, have clearly demonstrated, at the very least, an undeniable appearance of impropriety within our village board & administration – and at worst, a collaborated lie, or a “cover-up”, by certain board members and staff.
In fact, after my calling trustee, Ken Santowski to the carpet for taking the lead on the issue I am about to discuss, Village Manager Catherine Peterson, President Smith and Trustee Ken Santowski all acknowledged having a role in the misdeeds.
Though they didn’t elaborate on their roles, nor go so far as to admitting to collaborating a cover-up or lie, Village Manager, Peterson did apologize while characterizing it as “an error,” and graciously offering to take full responsibility. President Smith, expressed her regrets, also shared in the responsibility and characterized it as a “miscommunication” and Trustee Santowski simply smiled, and said “it was a mistake”.
I regrettably, but confidently, believe it was none of these, but in fact, something else entirely.
Trustee Gene Furey, who knowingly and intentionally corroborated these misdeeds in our July meeting, was not present at this Tuesday’s meeting.
A Little Background
For quite some time now, I have had reason to suspect that certain information was being withheld from trustees or that, perhaps, this information was being shared among other trustees and only being withheld from me. Subsequently, certain FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) requests, among other things, seemed to corroborate my suspicions.
Also, since taking office, I have received board-packets consisting of “scanned images” of documents while other trustees claim to receive actual PDF documents. The major difference – for those not familiar with PDF documents – is the “SEARCH” function which gives the ability to “search” a document for specific terms or topics. This “search” function does not work on the scanned images.
The “search” function adds an enormous amount of transparency and functionality, particularly, when one is attempting to research thousands of pages from past board-packets or study up on a specific topic such as “TIF district” or “Sportsplex” or “village hall” or when looking for information about a particular developer or contractor.
The SEARCH function essentially takes the proverbial “needle in the hay-stack” and places it right in your hand, saving you countless hours of exhaustive searching and reading, helping tremendously to uncover long-buried information.
And, as far as village staff would be concerned, it is actually much less work and much less time consuming for them to provide the packets in this searchable PDF text format.
I have requested multiple times, over the last year, in writing, that staff provide actual PDF documents rather than scanned images. And I continue to be told, it is being worked on…
Back to July’s Meeting
All this in mind – If you recall from my July 13th email – on the morning of our July meeting, Village Manager, Catherine Peterson sent an email to all board members informing us that she wished to forgo the $4000 bonus she was secretly awarded – and instructed that “the expenditure be pulled from the payroll list for tonight’s meeting”.
Having reviewed the board-packet quite thoroughly, I did not recall seeing this bonus listed. After receiving Ms. Peterson’s email, I reviewed the packet twice more and still found no such expenditure item listed.
That evening, at our July Village Board Meeting, President Smith opened the meeting and stated that Trustee Santowski was going to make a motion to have a line item removed from the Bills List in our “Consent Agenda.”
Trustee Santowski then looked down at his packet and publicly made an official motion to have a line-item expenditure removed from our Pay roll list. As per procedure, he then went on to cite the line and read aloud the sentences pertaining to the $4000 performance bonus expenditure to be paid to Village Manager, Catherine Peterson.
At this point, I interjected, asking “is this expenditure on our bills list?” To which Trustee Gene Furey replied: “YES”, followed by President Smith also saying: “YES” and nodding. The other board members sat silently.
Being quite perplexed, at this point, I then stated: “I have dug through this packet at least 4-times and I didn’t see this item listed anywhere!” To this, President Smith replied: “It’s there.” Followed by Gene Furey stating: “It’s listed under Payroll.” I, again, replied: “I have looked at every page, up and down” and I did not see that expenditure listed anywhere.”
At this point, I felt a little foolish, being the only member on the entire board who did not see that line-item listed in our list of bills. From there the meeting continued.
The following day, I corresponded with Ms. Peterson via email (this correspondence is omitted due to its length but is available upon request) who now claimed, in writing, that the line-item expenditure that trustee Ken Santowski cited, read aloud, and formally motioned to have stricken from the payroll, in fact, never actually existed!
Flash Forward To Our August Board Meeting
In our recent August meeting, trustee Santowski first made a public statement that he was made aware that I have made multiple requests to have our board-packets converted to a different format (as I discussed above). He went on to state that he was “happy with the packets the way they were”, he stated that he didn’t see a need to provide the packets in a different format and he, then, asked that staff not make the changes that I have been requesting.
In the course of the meeting, we switched gears a bit, and I asked for an explanation of the events that took place in the July meeting, regarding Trustee Santowski’s official motion to remove the line-item expenditure that has now been officially confirmed to have never actually existed.
Ken hesitated, looking over toward Village Manager, Peterson and President Smith.
Ms. Peterson again stated that no such line item existed and that this expenditure, in fact, did not exist on this bill list. Ms. Peterson then apologized for “any confusion” claiming it to be “an error” and took full responsibility.
I then suggested that an “error” on her part did not explain for trustee Santowski making an actual official motion to have a specific Line-item removed from his board-packet if the line item was, in fact, NOT listed in his packet to begin with.
I emphasized that an “error” on the part of Ms. Peterson did not explain nor account for trustee Santowski looking at his packet… actually citing a specific line item (that we are now told never existed)… and even going so far as to read aloud the text of this non-existent line item, verbatim! And then, of course, making an official motion to have this content, that doesn’t exist, stricken from the record??
At this point, I again asked trustee Santowski to explain/account for this…
Enter, President Smith – who interjected saying this was “a miscommunication between staff, herself and Trustee Santowski.”
President Smith went on to cite the July 12th email that was sent to board members, by Ms. Peterson requesting the line item for her bonus to be stricken. President Smith explained that Ms. Peterson wasn’t aware that the item was never entered into our bills list, so there was nothing to be stricken.
Once again, I suggested that that does not explain trustee Santowski looking down at his packet… making the official motion to strike the expenditure… citing the specific line-item… and reading it aloud verbatim, when it purportedly DOES NOT EXIST!
I, once again, (much to the frustration of the board) asked trustee Santowski to explain: how, and why, he made a motion to remove content that wasn’t even there… I asked him to explain how and why he would cite a line-item that didn’t exist… I asked him to explain what he was reading, or pretending to read, when he rattled off the text of this line-item expenditure that purportedly did not even exist…
To this, trustee Santowski looked up at me, smiled, and said only: “it was a mistake.”
I have to say, I struggle to believe that any of this can be explained away as a “mistake,” a “miscommunication,” or an “error”.
I have given more than ample opportunity for board members and staff to give a plausible explanation for this, and they have not.
I have only two.
And, while I do not want to sound too abrasive or crass, I dare say that the first calls for several psychiatric evaluations and the second, a federal investigation!
I feel compelled to offer my apologies for such a long-winded and negative email. I assure you, it gives me no more pleasure to deliver this information to you, than it does for me to deal with this behavior week in-week out…
But, until residents come to grips with what is really taking place, we will never be able to get this ship back on course…
I will, however, leave you with one very positive and, I believe, very powerfulthought…
“We are in the midst of an Awakening in Lakewood… Be a Part of It!!!”
August Board Packet:
July Board Packet: