Though rumors had swirled since early in 2012 that the Niles village board did not want Village Manager George Van Geem to continue in his position, it was not officially made public until Trustee Andrew Przybylo stated it bluntly in
It came further out into the open at the May 22 board meeting, when four of six village board members--Trustees Hanusiak, Hynes, Palicki and Preston--voted to the village manager's position.
This week, Niles Trustee Jim Hynes declined to explain the reasons that some of the trustees would like to see Van Geem vacate the position.
"Everybody has their own reasons, and I'd rather not get into mine," he said. "The overall consensus is we need new leadership."
At the May 22 village board meeting, Hynes explained that several months ago, some trustees had, speaking invidually, remarked to him that they wanted a new village manager.
"The consensus was made that it would be inappropriate and just plain wrong to decide there should be a new village manager and wait until May (when the board votes on whether to retain high-ranking village staff) and spring that on the mayor and village manager," Hynes said.
When he asked the village attorney how to proceed, the village attorney advised him to talk to an outside attorney familiar with the village. Hynes, who is also an attorney, worked with that attorney to draft a separation agreement for Van Geem, and presented it in executive session on Jan. 24. Trustees okayed it 5-0.
Mayor adamant about Van Geem staying in job
"The mayor was vehement in objecting to this," Hynes continued, "and said he would do all he could to prevent if from occurring, and I believe stated that if (Van Geem) decided not to take the package and the vote came up to not approve his appointment, he would appoint Van Geem as village manager (every month) until his (the mayor's) term expired."
Hynes said he presented Van Geem the proposed separation agreement on Jan. 26 and advised him to get an attorney to negotiate terms.
Prior village managers got a year's salary in bonus
Negotiations continued, but in February, Van Geem said he didn't want to accept a six month pay and benefits package since his two predecessors had received one year's worth, Hynes said.
"That did not seem like an unreasonable request," the trustee continued.
Did board approve those payments? No records to indicate it did
He asked staff to find records of those payouts, and that's when trustees learned something that raised eyebrows: the last two village managers received a year's pay in bonus, plus the village vehicle they were driving, but no records of the village board approving those payouts could be found.
The person who made out the checks, Hynes noted, was George Van Geem--who was finance director at the time. Van Geem has made available a memo from then-mayor Nicholas Blase, who has since served federal prison time for a felony related to a kickback payment scheme. The memo directed Van Geem to write the check for Morrissey.
On the matter of the separation agreement for Van Geen, the trustees decided to stick with the offer of six months' pay, Van Geem rejected it in March, and, Hynes said, that's where things stand now.
Trustees concerned whether payments were unlawful
"We have to determine, 'what are our duties, what are our obligations in this matter,'" Hynes said Tuesday, speaking of the possible illegality of the lack of board approval for the former village managers' bonus payments.
"My thought is to figure out what happened and prevent it from ever happening again."
That was the reason, he said at the May 22 meeting, that trustees .
vetoed that ordinance at the April village board meeting, and but have taken no further action on it to date.