WOODMERE — Council members convened for a special meeting last week to discuss the ongoing tension between the administration of Mayor Ben Holbert and council members. Each council member aired a variety of grievances throughout the two-hour meeting, but most focused on improving communication and respecting each village leader, including the mayor and his administration, council members and the department heads.
“It’s obvious that this isn’t the most harmonious atmosphere,” Councilwoman SharNette McCully said during the June 3 session. “A better question is what can we do to fix it.”
Mayor Holbert said that he worked well with council in 2018, his first year in office. Since January, however, the relationship has slowly declined. He said that he has not had a conversation with Council President Jennifer Mitchell Earley in five months. Council members shared their concerns before the mayor responded. Councilwoman Alberta Fanning was absent from the Monday session.
Councilwoman Glenda Todd-Miller said recent events have contributed to the strained relationships. She was referring to disagreements over an $1,100 expenditure for gifts to employees at the 2018 holiday party and the mayor’s veto of two ordinances and a resolution, which council unanimously overrode with no discussion.
“It has impacted my ability to function in a professional setting, especially during our meetings, and I need to know why,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa Brockwell, who also serves as chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said that she takes her job seriously because the village had little savings when she started in 2006. Ms. Brockwell has disagreed with some of the mayor’s proposed expenditures, such as appropriating $75,000 for the 75th anniversary. Mayor Holbert explained that he did not intend to spend the whole amount, but council never approved the funds. Ms. Brockwell said that the officials must learn how to disagree without resorting to personal attacks.
“What we have to realize is that we live in Woodmere and we love Woodmere. Everyone has the best interest of the village at heart,” she said. “Sometimes passion comes across as people going head to head when it doesn’t need to be that way.”
One of council members’ biggest concerns is the lack of detailed information on projects the mayor is working on, such as bringing new businesses to the village. Councilman Craig Wade asked Mayor Holbert to keep council members in the loop as much as possible.
“The mayor is out there meeting with businesses and he’s very passionate about moving the village forward,” he said. “But when you come back to council with some ideas, we’ve got a ton of questions and we should. We all want the village to move forward but at what pace?”
Mayor Holbert said that in 2018, he communicated often with Ms. Earley and had a great relationship with her. This year, he said that the relationship has changed.
Ms. Todd-Miller stated that there is tension between Mayor Holbert and Ms. Earley, and said that Woodmere’s two top leaders should work together for the good of the village. She said that she needs support as a councilwoman from both leaders and offers her support to both.
According to Ms. Earley, village officials must work together. “You don’t have to love the people you work with. You just have to be able to work with them,” she said.
Ms. Earley described herself as a free-thinking individual and a professional, strong female. She expressed a need for complete and accurate information before voting on matters because rubber stamping is not an option.
Mayor Holbert said that he understands that council needs to review items on the council agenda to make informed decisions. He pledged to work harder to provide the needed information.
The mayor also explained that respect is crucial and that includes members of his administration.
“Whenever it seems that someone is being disrespected in temper, taste, tone or text, I have a problem with it,” he said. “One of the things that we try to bring to the table is a level of civility, a level of appreciation and a level of ‘thank you’ for doing a good job.”
Councilman Tennyson Adams closed the meeting by asking about how to solve differences between the mayor and council. Ms. Earley said that she is ready to work with the mayor for the good of the village. Mayor Holbert agreed to talk to Ms. Earley about village matters and work to mend the relationship between the administration and council.