Lakewood residents give public comment concerns about village employees being mistreated

Village President Phil Stephan speaks Tuesday during a Lakewood Village Board meeting held over Zoom.
Village President Phil Stephan speaks Tuesday during a Lakewood Village Board meeting held over Zoom.

Multiple employees have come forward with allegations of mistreatment against Lakewood Village President Phil Stephan and Chief Administrative Officer Jeannine Smith.

Some of these allegations were mentioned during public comment at Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled Village Board meeting.

Lakewood resident and employee Sue Villie said 27 past and present employees and counting have spoken up about the mistreatment, and it is her understanding that more will as well.

In a statement after last week’s special meeting, Lakewood Trustee Bryan Younge said he has interviewed 27 people after he was asked to look into an altercation between two village staff members.

“During these interviews and with all of the documents that I’ve collected, it is clear that we have a serious issue to deal with at Village Hall,” Younge said in the statement.

Other residents also referenced these allegations during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that the complaints detail disrespect and harassment of village employees.

Villie said morale is low because of how employees have been treated by Stephan and Smith.

“Many employees have complained to me ... about things they’ve heard or how they’ve been treated by Jeannine and/ or Phil,” Villie said. “They didn’t like being bullied or belittled.”

Lakewood resident Judy Minsley said elected officials need to step up to the plate and put a stop to what’s going on beyond what was in these initial statements.

“What’s happening is intimidating and harassing staff. We’ve lost enough people already due to this fiasco,” Minsley said.

Residents at the meeting also brought up concerns about the way Stephan acted during a May 4 incident where the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office was called to Village Hall.

In a video recording of the incident obtained by the Northwest Herald, Stephan can be seen telling Lakewood Police Chief Todd Richardson “Look, I’ll square off.” In addition, Stephan, in response to the chief telling him he was having a confidential conversation with a trustee, told Richardson, “I appoint you.”

Minsley said Stephan should be censured for unbecoming conduct based on what happened in the video.

“That [video] certainly gives credence to many of the accusations,” Minsley said.

Stephan and Smith did not address these allegations or complaints at the meeting, though the village president responded to comments about flooding and the village’s pump station during public comment.

Before the meeting, Stephan said in an opening statement that the issue goes back “a little further” than residents might think.

He said that, on April 28, Smith brought a sensitive personnel matter about another village employee to the board in executive session. According to Stephan, Smith said the employee had yelled at her on several occasions.

On May 4, Stephan said, Smith called him to explain that Younge was at Village Hall and he was trying to remove her from access to her computer and terminate her.

Younge, however, said Stephan’s opening statement is not accurate at all.

Trustee Doug Ulrich said the allegations brought by village staff have not been addressed by trustees during public meetings because they go into executive session to discuss personnel matters.

“Many of these types of concerns are delicate and very sensitive in nature,” Ulrich said.

He also defended Stephan and Smith during the meeting.

“Phil and Jeannine work tirelessly. ... I’d challenge you to find someone who puts in more hours as village president,” Ulrich said. “[Jeannine Smith] takes great pride in what she does, and we’re lucky to have her.”

One item on Tuesday night’s agenda was to censure Younge for violating the Open Meetings Act by inviting trustees to an unpublished WebEx Internet meeting. Younge said this invite was accidentally sent by his child.

In a followup email to the other trustees sent by Younge and attached to the meeting’s agenda, he told them to ignore the invite.

During the meeting, Stephan made a motion to table the censure if Younge would agree to ethics and Open Meetings Act training classes.

Although Younge said he wanted to vote on the censure on Tuesday night, he also said he would be willing to take the classes. The board ended up tabling the censure.

The board has voted to censure Younge before, because the trustee asked Stephan and Smith not to contact the police chief or officers about police matters, except by calling them in through dispatch.

Younge said he did this because Stephan and Smith have been texting in service calls to officers, which is against protocol.

Lakewood’s Village Board censured Younge for the May 4 incident as well, claiming he came to Village Hall to revoke Smith’s access to her computer files without Village Board approval, although Younge said he had the approval of four other trustees.

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