LAKEWOOD – Trustees voted Tuesday night to censure Lakewood President Paul Serwatka.
The board voted, 5-1, in favor of censuring Serwatka, who is only in his seventh month as village president and has come under fire in recent weeks. Trustee Richard Ritchie alleged that, among other things, Serwatka left the board out of the decision-making process on several occasions.
Two particular instances where most of the board felt left out were the July appointment of a village administrator, as well as her replacement a few months later in November.
In both situations, the board voted to approve Serwatka’s picks.
But with tensions mounting of late, it culminated in the Tuesday vote, when all but one trustee echoed Ritchie’s allegations that Serwatka was leaving them out of the loop to varying degrees.
Several trustees said they agree with many of Serwatka’s ideas to improve Lakewood, but have problems with his approach.
“Most of the board does not disagree with many of the thoughts that are brought by the current president,” Ritchie read from a prepared statement at a special meeting of the Village Board. “However, we [the board] do agree that the power that the president has attempted to provide himself with in these efforts – trying to bypass five of six board members – is not acceptable by this board and should not be acceptable by any resident.”
They decided to censure him.
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 offenses and correcting future conduct.
“While I respectfully understand that some trustees are in disagreement with some of my actions and the means by which I have conducted certain village business, I also respectfully maintain, with vigor, that all of my actions have been entirely in pursuit of exactly what I pledged to residents that I would pursue once elected,” Serwatka said.
Ritchie, who was a member of Serwatka’s Lakewood Tax-Fighter slate that took over the board majority in April, was joined by Trustees Amy Fues Odom, Patrick Rexroat, Jason McMahon and Carl Davis in voting to censure Serwatka.
Odom also was a member of the Tax-Fighter slate, as was Trustee Phil Stephan, who backed Serwatka and voted against censure. Rexroat was appointed by Serwatka in June to fill a vacancy, while McMahon and Davis were trustees – along with Serwatka – before Serwatka won the president spot in April.
Ritchie detailed what he and other trustees feel were Serwatka’s efforts to stifle the board and control decision making by only communicating with certain board members on certain matters.
Ritchie, Davis and McMahon criticized Serwatka for using media outlets and his personal email newsletter to complain about board members not supporting his initiatives, in particular one aimed at addressing poor meeting attendance that was panned by every trustee except Stephan.
“In no instance have I, in any way, broken any rule, violated any code, committed any impropriety, or followed any uncustomary procedures in any of my actions or in any village business that I have participated in,” Serwatka said. “And I encourage anyone with any concerns to confirm this with our village attorney, chief administrative officer or any staff member.”
In front of a full room of residents at Turnberry Country Club, there was so much arguing and back-and-forth between the board during the special meeting that at one point, residents spoke up to ask the board to stop and handle village business.
Further complicating matters for Lakewood on Tuesday is that a majority of trustees felt they did not have enough time and detail readily available to make a vote on Serwatka’s proposed 10 percent tax levy decrease in the regularly scheduled meeting that followed the special meeting.
Ultimately, the Village Board unanimously voted to continue the tax levy talks, likely at 6 p.m. Monday at Turnberry Country Club.