Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
The phrase applies double to the pending Village of Northfield administrative team after the Village Board signed off on an agreement Monday, July 10, at Sunset Ridge Elementary School.
Trustees negotiated to keep retiring Village Manager Stacy Sigman on staff as executive director of special projects until at least 2025, while also bringing back former Finance Director Steve Noble — a 2020 retiree — to serve as interim village manager, according to a statement read by Trustee Tracey Mendrek prior to two unanimous votes.
In accordance with the agreement, Sigman reportedly must drop all pending and threatened litigation, which includes cease-and-desist letters sent to Trustees Barnaby Dinges, Charles Orth and Tom Whittaker that accused the trustees of defamation of Sigman and Village President Greg Lungmus. Sigman also had alleged the board hindered her ability to do her job, formally known as a constructive discharge.
The board approvals followed a four-hour closed-door session among Sigman, trustees and both parties’ attorneys. The July 10 special meeting was called in response to Sigman’s surprise early retirement announcement made via internal email on June 30.
In the email, Sigman, Northfield’s village manager for 25 years, said her last day with the Village was going to be Friday, July 14. Under the new deal tentatively agreed to Monday, Sigman will stay on as village manager until July 19, when she will pivot to her new role, Mendrek said.
The details of Sigman’s new assignment are unclear, as trustees requested Village counsel to provide a draft of the formal agreement for approval at the board’s next meeting, July 18. As village manager, Sigman most recently collected an annual base salary of $240,000, according to the Village’s 2022-’23 budget. Her compensation package, including medical benefits, is worth close to $300,000.
On the heels of a tense board meeting on June 26, more than 100 guests filled the school’s auditorium July 10 to witness the latest chapter of the Northfield government saga, which so far in 2023 has included a split Village Board, threatened litigation, misconduct allegations and a police investigation.
And while Sigman’s future with Northfield was uncertain at the start of the night, Lungmus’ was in question by the end of it.
Kim Orth — wife of Trustee Charles Orth — was the first to the microphone and revealed more disturbing behavior from the first-term village president, who police investigated for disorderly conduct in January after an altercation with a delivery driver.
Kim Orth read a portion of a text message that Lungmus reportedly sent Charles Orth on the Fourth of July, berating his fellow board member.
The message, in part, reads:
“Charlie, you are the dumbest individual I’ve had to work with and possibly the dumbest guy I’ve ever met. Everyone knows you wouldn’t have graduated high school if you didn’t cheat off (name removed by The Record) high school exams on a regular basis.
“For the rest of your life you’re going to hated by staff and residents alike, and you’re too stupid to understand why. God help this wonderful little village from dumb (expletive) like you.”
Following Kim Orth’s statement, Lungmus did not deny he sent the message nor did he dispute its language; though, he did attempt to add context to it. Lungmus and Charles Orth then argued briefly on stage with Trustee Matt Galin interrupting to regain order.
Lungmus told The Record after the meeting that the message was a “private matter” and declined to comment further.
Ten other speakers followed Kim Orth, either urging Lungmus to resign or condemning the entire Village Board for the continued friction. Some praised Sigman for her work as village manager, while others criticized her recent inability to work with the board.
Multiple speakers said the board’s dysfunction began when the public learned of Lungmus’ altercation with a delivery driver in January and was amplified by the village president’s reaction to it, from declining to apologize to accusing his board members of leaking the police-involved incident to the press.
Other speakers, like Kathy Estabrooke, expressed shock at what she called recent “ugly behavior” throughout the Village, up to and including Lungmus insulting message to Trustee Orth.
“This whole thing has gotten so out of control and way beyond my comprehension,” Estabrooke said. “Listening to that text you send it mind-boggling.
” … Greg you are unhinged and need to resign tonight.”
Lungmus did not address the calls for his resignation.
Nineteen-year resident Mark Umlauf was attending his first Village meeting and called the entire scene “disappointing.” While he hopes “cooler heads will prevail” soon, he praised his fellow residents who came forward to speak their mind.
“I am glad people came forward and spoke their minds,” he said. “It’s refreshing to see people stand up to (Lungmus) and say ‘you should resign.'”
Former Northfield Village President John Birkinbine offered a different perspective, reminding the board that it is watched by more than residents and other local officials.
He said that decision-makers on the state level pay attention to the activity of municipalities.
“Please, please pay attention that you are being watched and considered by … people who can give you what you need for this little municipality,” Birkinbine said.
After closed session, Mendrek also announced that as part of the agreement with Sigman, the entire board will undergo training by the Illinois Municipal League, an organization that promotes “competence and integrity in administration and municipal government.”
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