Northfield, News

Board meeting unravels as Northfield residents continue calls for answers, change

Tensions between the residents of Northfield and its Village Board of Trustees have only intensified as the year has progressed. Members of the public have consistently demanded change, transparency and accountability from their local government following multiple high-profile incidents, including a police investigation into the village president and a spat between the board and its longtime — and now former — village manager.

That tension boiled over at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 22, when, despite the light agenda, much of the two-hour meeting was filled with residents criticizing the trustees and even threatening litigation if change doesn’t happen.

Gavin Blunt, a longtime resident who has repeatedly spoken at public meetings over the past several months, delivered a 22-minute statement in which he criticized recent board actions and his experiences in dealing with the Village.

At the center of Blunt’s comments were the departure of Stacy Sigman as village manager and her reassignment to the part-time, remote role of director of special projects.

Blunt questioned funding for Sigman’s salary, $267,000 through 2025, and asked why the Village worked to retain Sigman, who at one point announced a July retirement, instead of passing her responsibilities to interim village manager, who earlier that evening was approved.

“You had somebody who freaking (announced retirement),” Blunt said, referring to Sigman. “She should have been told, ‘Here’s your pension. Here’s your paycheck. Here’s your benefits. Bye.’ But, no. You guys capitulated because you thought, according to the agreement that I had read, that there was legal action that was threatened.”

Blunt also expressed frustration with the Village’s lack his responses to his six Freedom of Information Act requests. He said because Village officials did not respond within the required time, he has the right to contact the state attorney general’s office and file a grievance against the Village.

“So, you talk about doing a settlement agreement with our former village manager because she threatened litigation?” Blunt asked. “I have every right now. I don’t need to threaten it. I can go and file it. Those are the laws in the state of Illinois.”

He ended his comments by demanding that Lungmus resign as village president, a committee be formed to review village operations, outside counsel determine if there has been any “interference” among Village staff, and a process to recall elected officials.

Several audience members — of which about 15 were present — applauded Blunt’s comments. The board did not respond to Blunt.

A local business owner spoke on a different topic, expressing concern about losing parking to the Village’s incoming roundabout in the business district. Lungmus engaged with the speaker and explained how the Village plans on mitigating the loss of those spaces.

His decision to respond to her, and not Blunt, enraged several audience members, who demanded other questions be answered.

“We’ve got problems here in this village,” said Kathy Estabrooke, a local resident who serves on the Northfield’s Plan and Zoning Commission. “Shame on all of you.”

When Lungmus tried to move on from public comment, the audience continued to demand a response.

Trustee Barnaby Dinges interrupted and addressed some of what was discussed, including stating his support for a recall ordinance: “I don’t think a recall ordinance would be bad for our village. In fact, it might be a good thing.”

But Dinges also said he believes the public criticism has gone too far.

“I don’t think we want to be threatening each other anymore,” he said. “I don’t think that’s worked well for the village. Everyone in this room is here because they care about this village. They want to see good things happen.”

Dinges said he doesn’t want to see everyone “trash(ing) each other every month. It’s not good for any of us. So, let’s come in here with good energy, good intentions, respect, work harder together. But let’s work on a new style.”

The audience continued, with one person saying “We have a village president who doesn’t respect us. And yet he’s still sitting here,” while another called the actions of the village board “pitiful.”

One audience member demanded a response from Lungmus, to which the village president said, “Well, you aren’t going to get it.”

The statement caused Estabrooke and several other audience members to walk out of the meeting.

The board moved forward with its agenda, but just before Lungmus asked for a motion to adjourn, Dr. Jeff Shipko, a resident and former public school teacher and professor, approached the board to discuss what he had witnessed. Although it was not the time designated for public comment, Shipko was allowed to speak without interruption for 10 minutes.

He called the board “dysfunctional, hostile and out of touch with the 21st century,” suggesting that Lungmus and Sigman both resign from their positions.

Shipko also criticized both the board and the audience for their tone, particularly calling out those who demanded immediate action.

“You’re not going to get quick answers all the time,” Shipko said to the audience.

He believes Lungmus resigning is best for the Village.

“But I think that, by you not resigning, or Stacy, and addressing that money, there’s no competence on this board,” he said. “There’s no leadership. And I know you’re all competent.”

Lungmus declined to comment to The Record following the meeting.

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Peter Kaspari

Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.

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