LAKEWOOD – A trustee was given a formal reprimand Tuesday night after the village president and other trustees deemed him to be providing the public with “false misrepresentations.”
Trustees voted, 4-1, Tuesday night to censure Trustee Jason McMahon for allegedly making multiple false assertions and incurring about $800 in “inappropriate and abusive” taxpayer-funded legal expenses in an attempt to validate claims brought against Village President Paul Serwatka and other trustees.
Trustee Carl Davis was the lone trustee opposed to the censure, and McMahon abstained.
A censure is a formal expression of strong disapproval or harsh criticism that in government is adopted by a majority vote as a means of publicly reprimanding a person for offense and correcting future conduct. Grounds for censure can include embezzlement, absenteeism and drunkenness, among others.
Although Serwatka said censure essentially amounts to “a slap on the wrists,” the village is limited in its options for disciplining publicly elected officials.
“There were some very specific untruthful statements made,” Serwatka said Tuesday. “The fact that he refused to retract the statements … and the fact that he has not agreed to reimburse the village, we came up with a resolution to censure Trustee McMahon.”
Serwatka and other trustees had a problem with what they felt were misrepresentations McMahon was spreading to the public both in board meetings and in online posts.
A McHenry County Blog post in June, citing an email from McMahon as its source, claimed that the dissolution of the village’s tax increment financing district would result in a 12 percent increase in Lakewood property taxes and cost every Lakewood homeowner an average of $150.
McMahon also posted June 24 to his public Facebook page challenging Serwatka’s ability to accept the resignation of the village’s police chief, to appoint a new police chief and to create an ordinance amendment adjusting the village’s authority over the office of the police chief.
The ordinance in question, which passed nearly unanimously at the June 27 board meeting, took from the village manager sole discretion over hiring, firing, directing and appointing the police chief and gave it to the village president with advice and consent from the Village Board. McMahon was the lone trustee opposed.
McMahon clarified in the post that he was not opposed to Michael Roth being appointed as the new chief but rather the “dangerous ordinance amendment” that he believed did not align with the village’s form of government.
“What happens when the president or a future president, his family or friends get a traffic ticket, into a neighbor dispute, an ordinance violation, marital dispute, DUI or any number of other issues?” McMahon wrote. “This new policy would be a step backward for government transparency.”
Serwatka said in an email that both former Deputy Village Manager Shannon Andrews and village attorney Michael Smoron addressed McMahon’s claims and clarified “line by line” that each one of his assertions were false.
The board then asked McMahon to make a statement correcting his misrepresentations and to reimburse the village for the legal fees, which Serwatka learned about from the village’s legal counsel and cut off when informed the fees were becoming “quite substantial.”
McMahon refused both requests.
Trustee Richard Ritchie addressed the heated arguments that have taken place over the past few board meetings between McMahon, Serwatka and other trustees, and deemed the entire situation “unbecoming” for board members.
“I also would ask from the president of this board that in the future we stay away from what I would call petty bickering at these meetings, but I do support the censure,” Ritchie said.
On Tuesday, trustees also approved and ratified the termination of Andrews as deputy city manager in addition to voting to eliminate the position all together – a vote from which McMahon abstained.
Both approvals align with Serwatka’s recent efforts to reorganize Lakewood’s administrative structure, which also will include eliminating the position of village manager.