Discussion during government meetings typically winds down prior to adjournment. That was not the case for back-to-back meetings of the Northfield Village Board.
Instead, to end meetings on March 16 and March 22, the Northfield village president and trustees spent time exchanging arguments, accusations and grievances for the public record.
The primary topic of the infighting was fallout from Village President Greg Lungmus’ altercation with an Amazon driver on Jan. 25. Northfield police investigated the incident, and The Record reported on it on Feb. 21.
When a special Village Board meeting on March 16 exited closed session, Lungmus provided his account of the incident and said he took responsibility for his actions but would not apologize for them, saying “if you had witnessed what I witnessed I think any of us would have reacted in a similar way.”
According to the police report of the altercation, Lungmus was angered when a delivery driver would not respond to his requests to move a vehicle from the roadway. Lungmus reportedly began cursing at the driver before entering the delivery truck; grabbing the driver’s speaker, which he told trustees was loudly playing “some kind of gangster rap”; and throwing the speaker underhand toward the driver, where it hit the ground and was damaged.
Lungmus told trustees he was already late and having a bad day and acted out “out of character,” and while he is “not apologizing for it,” he did lament that Village staff was burdened questions, FOIA requests and more related to the incident.
Trustee Charles Orth said that trustees and staff members have continued to receive complaints from residents, some questioning why the Village has not issued a response to the incident.
He suggested that Lungmus apologize at the March 21 regular meeting in an effort for the Village and Village Board could move past it.
“For the residents and different people who know about this and are spiraling and waiting for some kind of official on your part, (a good thing) would be to say, ‘I apologize. I’m sorry this was out of character,’ and everybody moves forward,” he said.
Lungmus then pivoted the discussion into a search for who leaked details of the altercation to The Record. Lungmus’ name was redacted from the incident report provided to The Record; however, The Record received tips that Lungmus was involved, and the village president confirmed that information via email.
Lungmus asked each Northfield trustee if he or she introduced the information to The Record. After each trustee said no, Lungmus said, “somebody on the inside did this” and told trustees that The Record “alluded to the fact (the sources) are elected officials” — a statement that is not true.
Prior to The Record’s Feb. 21 story, Lungmus did not return calls from The Record. In an email exchange on Feb. 21, though, Lungmus expressed disappointment that “someone brought this matter to (The Record‘s) attention,” to which The Record replied, “Multiple individuals brought the matter to our attention.”
When the exchange was reintroduced to Lungmus following his March 16 comments, he apologized to The Record and said in part that he “conflated” separate thoughts and “it was never my intent to mislead or provide false information.”
While the board’s conversation on March 16 moved on, Lungmus’ behavior that night was a topic of conversation five days later.
Trustee Tom Whittaker interrupted the adjournment vote during the March 21 meeting by criticizing Lungmus’ questioning of his fellow elected officials.
“I feel compelled to share my feelings with the board,” Whittaker said. “I’m still very concerned about our meeting last week when we were interrogated by you, President Lungmus. It was uncalled for. It made me feel like I was in eighth grade again.”
He said that residents continue to call and email him about what happened.
“I need to say for myself that I hold myself to a higher standard than I do any other resident in this community,” Whittaker continued. “What happened is not a reflection of what I believe or what I condone.”
He criticized Lungmus for not apologizing.
“And obviously, you won’t apologize to the community for what happened, what made it into the newspaper,” Whittaker said. “I’m happy to apologize to the community for you.
Lungmus responded only with a “thank you” before adjourning the meeting.
More fireworks on March 16
Before the special board meeting concluded on March 16, Lungmus took aim at one of his boardmates, Charles Orth.
Lungmus said he “personally felt stabbed in the back” that Orth — without notifying the board beforehand — encouraged community members to come to the Feb. 21 meeting to support safety improvements at the Winnetka Avenue-Lagoon Road intersection.
The troublesome intersection had been discussed by the board during previous meetings, and Village staff has been working on multi-jurisdictional solutions for more than a year. Eight residents spoke Feb. 21 about the dangerous intersection and more were in the audience. Orth also provided testimony that included research he had done related to improvements at the intersection.
The meeting ended with trustees agreeing to look into how to allocate funds for the intersection during the budgeting process.
A month later, on March 16, Lungmus and trustees said they were surprised by the Feb. 21 resident turnout and discussion about an item that was not on the agenda, and Village Manager Stacy Sigman commented that Village staff was upset by the presentation
Lungmus, however, was the only one to attack Orth’s motives.
“Your heart’s in the right place, but … that’s not the way you run a railroad,” Lungmus said. “I don’t care what organization you’re in. It’s just not the way it’s done. You surprised all of us, and the showmanship was obvious. You are in full campaign mode. I get it: You want to be the next village president.”
Orth stood behind his actions, saying he believes the board needs to better serve the entirety of the town, suggesting that east Northfield is at times overlooked.
“I took this on to get this done,” Orth said. “I worked on this for all of us to look good. I’m not just looking to pat myself on the back or do anything that you’re saying. It’s to get a huge safety issue done.”
Orth concluded by apologizing for sidestepping procedure in order to get the issue more attention.
“I apologize. I will be man enough to stand up and apologize,” Orth said. “Maybe the method didn’t work. I apologize for feeling that that was my only way to do it. … If I need to apologize (at the next meeting), I will do that, but at the end of the day, the safety of the residents and people that use (that intersection) is what this is all about.”
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