The only thing denser than the crowd in Northfield Village Hall on Monday night was the tension.
As the Village Board set for a closed-session evening, energized residents prepared to defend longtime Village Manager Stacy Sigman, whose employment, many believed, was on the line during the special meeting.
Sigman’s future with the Village of Northfield, however, was not the purpose of the executive session, according to a joint statement from trustees that was read by a board-hired attorney.
The statement, though, did not end the drama on June 26.
In reading the statement, the attorney revealed that in May Sigman accused members of the Village Board of Trustees of interfering with her responsibilities and thus, “constructively discharging her,” and the board was set to discuss the allegations in closed session.
In addition, Trustee Barnaby Dinges followed the attorney by reading an extensive statement alleging that residents and officials have criticized the behavior of Sigman and Village President Greg Lungmus, and Dinges claimed that he and two other trustees received cease-and-desist letters after notifying the village attorney about the criticism.
Dinges said the leaders’ behavior is negatively impacting Village business. The Record could not confirm further details related to the alleged behavior and has filed a public-records request to obtain the cease-and-desist letters. The request has yet to be fulfilled.
“I can assure you we have not engaged in defamation,” Dinges said. “We have simply observed and conveyed what everyone else has observed and as representatives of this Village, we sought counsel … to protect the reputation and effective operation of our Village.”
A few residents in the crowd asked the board to stop Dinges from continuing. Others, however, shouted over them, urging Dinges to finish his statement.
Referencing a virtual petition with more than 175 signatures in support of Sigman’s retention as village manager, Dinges said residents were given inaccurate information about her job security.
“As you just heard — and it’s worth repeating — the board has never once discussed removing the (village) manager,” he said. ” … If someone has told you that, they have given you false information.”
Earlier in the meeting, Lungmus praised Sigman’s performance as village manager. No other trustees commented in open session.
Sigman was not in attendance at the meeting. She told The Record earlier in the day that based on the meeting’s agenda, her presence was unnecessary. She also said language in her contract precludes her from commenting on the virtual petition. She did not immediately respond to The Record’s followup questions.
Lungmus told The Record before the closed session began that Dinges’ comments about his actions angered him and the claims were false and unfounded. He did not participate in a large portion of the closed session.
Eighteen guests spoke for a collective hour during the public comment portion of the open session. Most of the speakers were on hand to support Sigman and her work as village manager. Some slammed Dinges for addressing town rumors in a public forum.
Former trustee Evan Carnes pounded the lectern as he assailed the discussion. He received applause for doing so.
The loudest applause, however, was delivered to speakers who criticized the general dysfunction of the board and urged the public officials to right the ship.
“We have (a lot) of people in this room talking about a relationship when we have way bigger fish to fry,” resident Stephanie Stefanik said. “… We find it a bummer that we know your names because of (alleged bad behavior) when we should know your names because you made this town a better place to live.”
Nancy Whiteman and her husband, Don, a former village president, both said the entire board’s recent discussions were concerning and asked trustees to focus on their sworn duties.
“My biggest concern is simple. We have a Village Board and presidency who are focusing on the stuff that is not getting Village work done,” said Don Whiteman, who currently serves on the town’s pension board. “I am very concerned. … I don’t want to see us wallowing around, worrying about all this innuendo and lawsuits going back and forth.”
The closed session lasted close to 90 minutes, and the board took no action before adjourning in open session. Multiple trustees declined to speak with The Record before exiting Village Hall.
The Village Board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for July 18.
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