If you have to be in a soap opera try not to get the worst role. — Judy Garland
It was a scant 8 days ago when, in regard to those maskless partying Elgin Democrats, I admitted that my nothing-could-possibly-surprise-me-anymore theory had, once again, gone down in flames.
But then I made the same mistake again!
Considering how quickly 2021 is fading, I truly thought I’d remain surprise free for at least the rest of the year. But no! Those intrepid East Dundee, Illinois, Village Board folk conspired to prove me wrong one more tome and they certainly succeeded.
So, as is often the case when conveying a convoluted soap opera tale, it’s best to start at the beginning!
And this story starts with some enterprising soul sending an anonymous June missive to the Village Board claiming City Manager Jennifer Johnson and Assistant City Manager Brad Mitchell were having an affair. And as it turns out, they were!
Johnson, who clearly maintains a middle school mentality, defended the fling by sanctimoniously proclaiming that, “There’s nothing in the personnel handbook prohibiting the relationship.” Really? There’s nothing in the handbook prohibiting you from working at your desk buck naked, either, but that would probably work out just about as well for you.
Our illustrious City Manager further defended herself by explaining that she’d gotten a divorce and Mitchell was in the process of getting his which clearly makes everything alright, right? I’ve always wondered what it must be like to live life with no moral center whatsoever.
So, one of incoming Village President Jeff Lynam’s first orders of business was to fire Johnson, because when the bosses have affairs, it tends to destroy staff morale, and that was the end of it, right?
There was a small hitch in Lynam’s getting-rid-of-Johnson giddyup, and that technicality was, if five of the six Village Trustees voted to reinstate her, like a bad end-of-the-movie Bond villain, she’d be right back at her desk – hopefully fully clothed.
But that’d never happen, right? No self-respecting village board member would ever persist in embarrassing their city and constituents in this absurd a manner, would they? Well, apparently they would because the Board gleefully overrode Lynam’s “veto” and reinstalled our lovelorn administrator who continued to work side-by-side with her new boyfriend.
And what could possibly go wrong with that?
Fast forward to November, and with Johnson on maternity leave with Mitchell’s child (they plan on getting married), Lynam and the Village Board got together to have what had to have been an utterly fascinating conversation. I’m convinced it went something like this:
Considering the havoc we’ve wreaked so far, what could we possibly do to further embarrass our city? How could we top ourselves and get back in all the newspapers? What could we possibly do to make East Dundee the laughingstock of the Fox Valley?
That’s the point at which one of them jumped up and exclaimed, “I know! We could install a city manager who presided over a massive scandal involving sexual misconduct, rape, and underage girls!” And then they proceed to do just that by hiring disgraced former Evanston City Manager Erika Storlie on December 6.
As I’m sure you’ve already surmised, Storlie’s no longer with Evanston as a result of WBEZ breaking a huge story that culminated in 56 female lifeguards and beach workers submitting a petition to city officials demanding they take action against all the sexual harassment and assaults.
Of course, Storlie tried to pull a Sergeant Schultz by claiming “she knew nothing, nothing!” But that’s a boldfaced lie because I was born in, grew up in, and lived in Evanston for 30 years. I also toiled as a consultant for the Township of Evanston for 15 years, and if there’s one thing I know about my halcyon hometown, it’s that no one in city government can keep a secret.
So, trust me, she knew.
With Storlie now on board, former Trustee Scott Anderson did his best justify that bizarre decision by explaining that “She gave an answer that I found to be satisfactory.” Yeah! And that “satisfactory” answer was that she’d work for 75 percent of her going rate.
Meanwhile, I’m sure you’re wondering what Johnson’s response was to essentially being let go while on maternity leave? Gird your loins:
Replacing an employee during her maternity leave clearly crosses all moral boundaries and basic standards of human decency and speaks volumes as to the character of the village board. I plan to pursue legal options to ensure that this does not happen to any other employees and to spread awareness about maternity and paternity rights.
Yes! Because Ms. Johnson is exactly the kind of upstanding individual we want expounding on all manner of morality and human decency. We’re I in the city attorney’s shoes, my eminently simple legal defense would be “There’s nothing in the personnel handbook that prohibits firing someone on maternity leave.”
And won’t the news of the Assistant City Manager’s girlfriend suing the city make for a rather awkward city hall Christmas party.
The only glimmer of sanity in this unheralded form of municipal insanity comes at the hands of the International City/County Managers Association who, last Tuesday, expelled and censured our star-crossed lovers for “ethics violations” issuing this statement:
When a manager engages in a romantic relationship with a subordinate employee, it runs contrary to the manager’s ethical duty to maintain public confidence in the position and in the local government management profession, as well as the manager’s responsibility to mitigate the organization’s exposure to legal and financial risks.”
Apparently, the ICMA is one of those rare organizations that shares my abundantly keen perception of the obvious.
When the Board asked Storlie if Mitchell’s expulsion would affect his employment status with the village, she said she’d review their personnel policy and make the “appropriate recommendations.” Really? Isn’t that a lot like putting Larry Nasser in charge of your teenage daughter?
East Dundee! You have got to get rid of each and every one of these mopes! In 15 years at the keyboard, I’ve NEVER seen anything like this, and trust me, I’ve seen a quite a bit! It’s been more than amusing to cover this story but were I in your shoes, I’d be seething at this ridiculous level of misconduct, corruption, incompetence, and downright stupidity.
East Dundee has, indeed, become the laughingstock of the Fox Valley.