A seemingly routine vote on approving staff salaries set off an argument between Mayor Rory Hoskins and Commissioner of Public Property Jessica Voogd during the Oct. 24 village council meeting.
The commissioner took issue with the fact the council didn’t have a closed session meeting to discuss the salary ranges after the village completed its staff evaluations. In a follow-up interview, Hoskins said he chose to discuss the matter with each commissioner one-on-one in order to have candid discussions outside Illinois Open Meetings Act regulations. The mayor insisted he reached out to Voogd as part of the process, but the commissioner declined to have the discussion – something that Voogd denied during the meeting and in a follow-up interview.
The ordinance applies to all positions that that aren’t covered by union contracts, and it builds on what was approved on Aug. 23, 2021. Under the new ordinance, Finance Director Letitia Olmsted’s salary range went from $65,000 – $82,500 to $65,000 – $130,000 last year and remained the same this year. Mohr Community Center director Karen Dylewski’s salary range went from $50,000 – $74,000 to $50,000 – $90,000 last year, and the upper range increased to $100,000 this year. Village Clerk’s Vanessa Moritz’s salary range went up from $50,000 – $86,500 to $50,000 – $105,000 last year and remained the same this year.
By comparison, Director of Public Works Sal Stella and Director of Public Health & Safety Steve Glinke, who didn’t get salary increases this year, had the upper range of their salaries increase last year from $105,000 to $125,000, and from $86,000 to $105,000, respectively. While police chief Ken Gross’s salary range remained the same, Fire Chief Phil Chiappetta had the upper range of his salaries increase from $140,000 to $144,000.
According to Hoskins and the commissioners in August 2021, the council got together to adjust the salary ranges to bring it more in line with nearby municipalities of similar size. Hoskins was interested in bringing the female department heads’ salary ranges in line with the male counterparts. The salary increases adopted on Aug 23, 2021, were supposed to be the first step in the process, with further increases taking place the following year.
Throughout spring 2022, the council met several times in closed session to discuss the second round of salary range increases. On April 24, Voogd requested that the village do employee evaluations – something that Forest Park hasn’t done since at least spring 2019, when Hoskins was sworn in as mayor. The employee evaluations were completed on Sept. 9.
As the ordinance came up for vote, Voogd said she was under impression that the village council was going to have a closed session meeting beforehand to use the employee evaluation results to agree on final salary ranges. Hoskins responded that “rather than come together and hash through this,” he talked to each commissioner one-on-one to get their input.
“And after closely reading employee evaluations, I contacted each commissioner and we discussed some of the guidelines and what we thought were reasonable salary adjustments,” he said. “The numbers before you tonight reflect a sort of consensus.”
During the meeting, Hoskins said he felt the process had become “too employee-driven.” In a follow-up interview, he told the Review he deliberately wanted to avoid discussing the ordinance in closed sessions because they were subject to the Open Meetings Act and because, in the earlier discussions, they always had some staff member present.
“I wanted us to have a very candid discussions that were not in the earshot of staff, and I didn’t want our discissions to be recorded, either,” he said.
For a five-member legislative body like the Forest Park Village Council, any meeting involving more than two elected officials could be considered a meeting subject to Open Meetings Act regulations. Even for closed session meetings, the village must keep minutes and verbatim recordings. The recordings can be destroyed a few months later, and the council can keep the minutes private because “the need for confidentiality still exists as to all or part of those minutes.”
During the meeting, Hoskins insisted he had reached out to Voogd, but Voogd declined to participate because she believed the council should discuss the matter together.
“I did ask you; you didn’t want to talk about it, you wanted the whole group to talk about it,” he said.
“You did not reach out to me, no one spoke to me, the first time I saw the final numbers was this morning,” Voogd countered.
The mayor and the commissioner argued back and forth, with Voogd at one point asking why he was trying to “gaslight” her.
“I don’t know why we’d chose to speak to each other separate without having the benefit of the full council,” she said, adding she believed the taxpayers expected the council to discuss the issue.
Commissioner of Accounts & Finance Joe Byrnes said he didn’t want to delay approving salary rates any further.
“This pay raise [discussion] has been going on since May, and every time we go ahead and try to do something, we have to go into closed session, it’s not on the agenda for another month,” he said. “I’m just sick and tired of waiting to pass this thing. It’s on the agenda, it’s open to the public. An up and down vote should be taken tonight.”
The commissioners approved the salary range proposed by a 4-0 vote, with Voogd abstaining, saying that, while she didn’t want to get in the way of salary increases, she couldn’t vote on something she only had a day to review.
Hoskins told the Review that, while the department head salaries weren’t perfectly equitable, he was satisfied with the progress he made, and he said he doesn’t expect the salary ranges to be adjusted any further any time soon.
“I think we’re closer to pay equity and I think it’s an important step for the village,” he said, noting that none of the female department heads made six figures prior to the recent adjustment.
Commissioner of Public Health Maria Maxham told the Review that Hoskins “sat down with [her] on more than one occasion,” and what was presented during the Oct. 24 meeting was in line with what they discussed, and that she expected the ordinance to be on the agenda for at least the past two meetings.
“I knew prior to the meeting what we were going to be voting on,” she said. “I knew it was coming up and I knew we would be voting on it very soon.”
Maxham said that she was satisfied with the process and the way the ordinance turned out.
“I think there are different ways of doing things, and I don’t think we have any protocol or written instructions [dictating] that is the way we have to decide salaries,” she said. “It’s my understanding that we can do it in closed sessions, but also if the mayor wants to do it individually, that’s another way to do it as well.”
Commissioner of Streets & Public Improvements Ryan Nero echoed those comments, telling the Review that he was “satisfied with the outcome.”
“I had plenty of time to look at the employee reviews,” he said. “I also had multiple discussions with the mayor on this topic. The salary adjustments were overdue and well-deserved.”
Voogd told the Review that she was “obviously disappointed” with how the process played out.
“I took issue with the process, because when you are avoiding discussions with the full council and just having side conversations, that doesn’t foster a transparent, fully informed decision-making process, and that’s concerning,” she said.