Chaos reigned at Tuesday evening’s Lakewood Village Board meeting.
More than 100 angry residents turned out to tell Village President Paul Serwatka what they thought of his efforts to remove two appointed village trustees and express deep concerns about his place of residence.
Shouts and hisses of “Boo!” “Liar!” and “Stop talking!” filled the RedTail Golf Club, where the less than two-hour meeting was held.
The temperature inside was cool, but heads were not. Four police officers made sure the event was peaceful.
Before trustees arrived, the nameplates of Trustees Jason McMahon and Patrick Rexroat were placed upside down and then removed by Clerk Janice Hansen. When roll was taken, McMahon and Rexroat were left out.
Then Serwatka faced residents and told them he had the authority to remove both men from the board. Serwatka didn’t tell those in attendance exactly why he wanted them removed, but in a letter he sent to the two trustees last week, he cited “continued actions to undermine and obstruct the productive efforts of this board.”
When Village Attorney Michael Smoron unequivocally stated that the two men cannot be removed except under rare circumstances – committing a felony, owing debts to the village or moving away – Serwatka pointed fingers at Smoron. Serwatka claimed Smoron failed to express this opinion before the meeting and that he wouldn’t have pressed to oust the trustees in such a manner if he had known he couldn’t.
“I’m really surprised,” Serwatka said, adding that he wasn’t sure how to move forward. “This whole proceeding would not have happened.”
“I’ve had the same opinion throughout this matter. The opinion has not changed,” Smoron replied.
The meeting eventually moved forward, but only after someone suggested all in attendance stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“This whole thing kind of took a left turn,” Serwatka said.
The matter of removing McMahon and Rexroat was skipped, and then the public had the chance to voice its frustrations.
Although there was a sign-up sheet that residents who planned to address the board signed before the meeting, no one paid attention to it.
The public comment section devolved into shouts and laughter.
Some area residents expressed concern that Serwatka no longer lives in the village or planned to move to another state.
“Why are you here?” one woman shouted.
Although Serwatka said he still lives in his Turnberry home, he said he recently bought another home outside of the village and moved some furniture. Still, he said he hasn’t moved.
Former trustee and treasurer Gene Furey said recent events left him shocked and appalled.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen this total lack of respect by a village president for the people that serve,” Furey said. “These people are our friends and our neighbors, and they are here to do the right thing.”
Furey said Serwatka owes voters “absolute honesty.”
“Are you leaving town? Have you moved out of your house? Where are your wife and children? When are you going to resign? That’s what I want to know,” Furey said, receiving applause from the audience.
Resident Jessica Hawryluk said Serwatka told her that he was moving.
“Paul, I was really surprised that you’re here at all. My kids went to preschool with his kids, and you told me, the last day of preschool, your wife and you told me, ‘We’re not going to see you again.’ ” Hawryluk told the crowd, adding that Serwatka told her he was moving to Alabama. “You said you were moving, your wife was moving on Saturday with the kids.”
Serwatka then told the crowd that he “hoped to be moving by July.”
When asked by Hawryluk, “Why are you fighting here?” Serwatka replied, “It’s the right thing to do.”
At the end of the meeting, McMahon thanked the crowd for turning out.
“Thank you guys for coming. I really appreciate it. It’s good to see Lakewood come out and support what’s right, not a manipulation of state statutes,” McMahon said.
After the meeting, Trustee Phil Stephan maintained support for Serwatka’s leadership.
“I think that we’ve done a lot of great things,” Stephan said.
When asked about Serwatka’s effort to oust trustees, Stephan said, “I support what’s legal.”
“I’m not an attorney,” Stephan said. “Do I support our president and our trustees? Absolutely.”