Niles trustees voted Tuesday, though not without some controversy, to approve severance pay for four full-time employees who were laid off recently.
All four employees worked in clerical positions in the police, fire, public works and MIS (information technology) departments.
However, some trustees questioned the way the village handled the layoffs and severance.
Trustee Chris Hanusiak asked staff how it happened that the four were laid off, and severance in the amount of $31,248 was authorized, without board input.
"We never had a conversation about severance with the trustees," he said.
Village Manager George Van Geem said he had identified the positions to lay off, and the severance to be paid, after the board directed staff to find $1.5 million in cuts during its recent budget meetings. The layoffs saved in the neighborhood of $300,000, he said.
Van Geem took the plan to Mayor Robert Callero, who said he phoned as many trustees as he could reach, though at least one was out of the country, to get their input.
"There was agreement among trustees except for you,' Callero said. "We had to make the move, because as soon as there were wage cuts, morale was down. We had to do it as fast as possible."
Trustee Joe LoVerde jumped into the discussion, querying, "What difference would it have made if it had been held up? Why did we have to do it right then and there?"
Van Geem reponded, "We've never had to terminate people before. When this happens it’s better to do it as soon as possible so you don’t have employee sabotage. As the mayor said there were some notes made on the budget meeting night as to which departments would be cut. There were a lot of rumors so it was my judgment to do it as expediently as possible."
Trustee Jim Hynes said the village should have asked the terminated employees to sign a release, which prevents the village from being sued by them. Employees could sue on any number of grounds, saying, for example, that they were targeted for a layoff because of their age, sex or national origin, he explained.
"This should have never been done this way. There should have been a release. I know for a fact corporations ask for a release. I believe this entire process was flawed and shouldn’t have been done the way it was done," Hanusiak commented.
LoVerde and Hynes both voted to approve the severance pay, agreeing with Hanusiak that the process was flawed but that they wanted the terminated employees to receive their severance.
Hynes criticized the lack of communication with trustees and not going through legal counsel, but concluded "I'll vote yes because I won't hang these poor employees out to dry because I disagree with how something was done."
The terminated employees received one week of severance pay for every full year they were employed with the village, up to a maximum of 10 weeks, Van Geem explained. Two employees got the full 10 weeks, while the others got either three or four. They will also receive insurance benefits for three months.