Local

Lakewood hires new chief administrator after months of uncertainty

Village hires second administrator since cutting office staff

Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka
Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka

LAKEWOOD – The village has a new lead administrator.

Jeannine Smith, a former Prairie Grove village administrator and West Dundee economic development coordinator, was approved Nov. 14 by the Lakewood Village Board with a 5-1 vote.

Smith was the top choice of Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka, who was on a quest to find an administrator with experience in both finance and village management to handle the village’s day-to-day business. 

Although the appointment of Smith – who worked for Prairie Grove from 2006 to 2015 – was supported with a near-unanimous vote, it wasn’t without controversy.

Several board members acknowledged that Smith has a great resume and endorsements, but were upset they didn’t have anyone else to compare her with.

Trustee Jason McMahon said he was torn on the appointment of Smith because he knows the village needs an administrator and acknowledged her credentials – but there wasn’t anybody else presented for board consideration.

“I’m concerned we didn’t get to see any other candidates,” McMahon said in an audio recording of the Nov. 14 meeting posted to the village’s website.

Trustee Richard Ritchie, who ran on the same Lakewood Tax-Fighter ticket with Serwatka when they were elected in April, said he wanted to table the vote.

Serwatka said some board members are not pleased that as a village president, he has more discretion than trustees in hires of key positions, such as police chief and village administrator.

“If I can’t have a person who I feel is capable and qualified, and of the right mindset, I can’t keep those promises,” Serwatka said, referring to the Lakewood Tax-Fighter campaign to cut village spending and taxes.

Serwatka reminded everyone that it’s now tax levy season, and the village’s levy has to be set by the end of December.

“Our alternative, if we walk away from this, is to put in a call to temp agencies to get someone in here and get temporary finance people in here,” Serwatka said during the meeting.

The village went two and a half months without an administrator after the late August resignation of Julie Heather Meister, who was the village’s chief administrative officer for less than a month.

In July, the board approved eliminating the village manager, deputy village manager and finance director positions, and consolidating those duties into a new chief administrative officer role that Meister briefly held.

Serwatka intended for months to eliminate redundancy in the village administration and as a result, cut costs.

The hire of Smith essentially makes that process complete.

Smith will make $138,000 in this contract, which goes through April. Serwatka noted it’s typical for top municipal administrators to get four-year contracts with six-month severance packages.

Smith will get no payout if she’s let go.

Under the old structure, Lakewood was paying more than $400,000 for four administrative positions that included the police chief, finance director, village manager and deputy village manager, and it allowed the village manager – not the Village Board – to hold much of the authority when it came to making decisions for the village.

The village manager, who had a receptionist and administrative assistant, also had the discretion to fire, hire and approve policies of the police chief – responsibilities that have been given back to the board.

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