A six-member Washington Park Village Board of Trustees tied Tuesday night in its vote to fire paid consultant Ray Coleman, but the mayor broke the tie and saved Coleman’s job.
The meeting featured two agendas: one posed by Mayor Ann Rodgers and one by Village Clerk Ricky Thomas. Both were drastically different. The mayor’s focused on correspondence, the tax levy ordinance for fiscal year 2017, approving a contract for a public works project, clerk responsibilities and committee reports.
The first item of business on Thomas’s agenda was overriding the mayor’s previous veto to terminate Coleman’s contract.
Trustee Carleen Tucker was absent. Tucker, who was chairman of the village’s personnel committee, spearheaded the move to oust Coleman. Rodgers announced at the meeting that Tucker had resigned, but provided no reason for the abrupt resignation. Tucker could not be reached for comment.
Rodgers appointed Marcus Henderson to replace Tucker on the board. It was a 30-day appointment. Henderson joined two others in voting to keep Coleman in his current role, including Sean Newell and Herod Hill. Those voting to fire Coleman were trustees James Madkins, Debbie Moore and Clyde Jackson.
Thomas said Rodgers was fully aware that they were planning to override her veto and that it was the reason why she appointed Henderson to replace Tucker and vote against firing Coleman.
Thomas declared that the meeting was illegal.
Thomas said that he does not have a personal vendetta against Coleman as some on the board have said. He said Coleman has been doing things outside the scope of his contract.
“He is running the village and the mayor. The mayor does whatever Coleman has her to do,” Thomas said.
Reached later for comment, Coleman said, “No, I am not running the village. Ann Rodgers is president of the board, and I serve the mayor and the board in the best interest of the residents.”
Thomas said he is seeking an opinion from the attorney general’s office and possibly the state’s attorney’s office. “The appointment was not on the agenda, and the mayor did not take a vote from the board on the appointment. Everything she did was in violation of the open meetings act,” Thomas said.
Not so, said Coleman. “The mayor has the authority to make appointments whether it’s him or any other appointment. She has 30 days before she has to bring it before the board.”
Coleman, who is the governmental affairs consultant and TIF administrator, was appointed by the mayor and earns $60,000 a year. Tucker, when she made her recommendation to fire him at a previous meeting, said Coleman refused to take less money, and the village could not afford to pay his salary. She said that money could be used for streets, tearing down more derelict buildings and other things desperately needed to make the village a vibrant place to work, live and play.
No, I am not running the village. Ann Rodgers is president of the board, and I serve the mayor and the board in the best interest of the residents.
Washington Park consultant Ray Coleman
Like Thomas, she has said previously that nothing in Washington Park could get done without going through Coleman.
The meeting was packed with an audience of 45 and was contentious at times. Referring to Thomas, Rodgers said, “Everybody wants power. Everybody wants to fight. I came in to move Washington Park forward. What are we fighting for? I don’t get it.”
At the last meeting, the majority board, led by Tucker, voted to oust Coleman and to hire St. Clair County Democratic Chairman Bob Sprague as the board’s attorney. Rodgers vetoed their votes, and the board said they would proceed with their intention to terminate Coleman at the Dec. 20 meeting. Normally, the meetings are not well-attended. Several individuals in the crowd said they came out to this meeting specifically to see what was going to happen.
Trustee Moore described Tuesday night’s actions as “a play.”
“It was staged. The mayor’s appointment of the temporary board member (Marcus Henderson) was illegal. It was done to create a tie and give the her the tiebreaking vote to save Mr. Coleman’s job. It was unfair, and I want someone with legal powers to look at what’s going on in Washington Park and give us the help we need to do our jobs the way we are supposed to.”
Moore said Coleman has his hands in everything in the village. “We can’t do our jobs as trustees. Everything we are suppose to do, he has already done when we find out about it. We have no say so in anything. We don’t make any decisions on anything. We can’t talk. You saw what happened at the meeting. Trustees Madkins and Jackson tried to get motions onto the floor, and she refused to allow it. All I ask them to do is to be fair and respect each trustee,” Moore said.
Jackson said he was upset over not being given his opportunity to talk as a sitting board member. He said he wanted residents to know why he was voting the way he was, but he was not given that opportunity.
“The mayor and the trustees who support her get to speak and criticize the trustees who oppose what she’s doing. She uses that gavel and repeatedly bangs it on the table to prevent those of us who don’t agree with her from talking. She drowns us out with that gavel,” Jackson said.
Speaking about Tucker’s resignation, Jackson said, “It came as a real surprise. And what was more disgusting was that the mayor put someone in Tucker’s seat that she knew would vote with her and create a tie that she would be allowed to break.”
Jackson said now he and the others who want Coleman gone must seek legal advice. “The mayor gets to do everything she wants to do in front of the public. She talks like she owns Washington Park. But the trustees run Washington Park. The board runs the village. She’s not a vote. She is only a tie-breaker.”
Jackson said Coleman needs to be gone because “he is dipping into personal matters, politics, and everything. He keeps a lot of mess going between the trustees. We are kept in the dark and we find out about things, he has already made decisions about. The decisions he’s made should have been made by the board. Plus, he is making too much money. We can’t afford his salary. Look around Washington Park and tell me what we have to pay him $60,000 a year.”
Trustee Newell called the mayor’s agenda a good one. He said he attended all of the necessary meetings to find out what was going on in Washington Park, and if others did, they would know what he knew. He said Rodgers was doing good things.
Trustee Herod Hill said Thomas and his supporters were trying to fire police officers and get rid of Coleman, who he said has done many good things for the village, including reducing the payroll and paying off debts.
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503