Northfield, News

Resident threatens to challenge Northfield’s handling of public-records requests, but village stands behind response

Northfield resident Gavin Blunt followed-up his 22 minutes of public comment that he delivered to trustees during the village board’s August meeting by letting local officials know they are “rolling the dice.” 

Blunt again addressed trustees at the board’s Tuesday, Sept. 19 meeting, this time saying that he plans to deliver a letter signed by Northfield residents to the attorney general of Illinois to prompt an investigation into the village of Northfield. 

The Northfield resident said the letter will first request state officials to review what he said were multiple violations of the Freedom of Information Act. These violations, Blunt said, occurred when the village did not properly respond to his records request within the allotted period. Blunt noted that it took 44 days for the village to respond to one of his requests.

In a followup call, Village attorney Mallory Milluzzi disagreed with Blunt’s assessment of the Village’s response, saying the Village fulfilled all of his requests in a legal amount of time. Milluzzi said Blunt’s numerous requests — specifically nine in a five-day period in June, confirmed by Village documents — qualified him as a “recurrent requester.” According to the FOIA, public bodies are allowed longer response times for recurrent requesters.

“You can essentially put it on the backburner, which is why his FOIA request took so long to respond to,” said Milluzzi, adding that Blunt’s requests were fulfilled.

Additionally, Blunt, referencing the contract extension of former Village Manager Stacy Sigman, said the letter will also urge state officials to look into the use of taxpayer funds and the “extension of an employment contract that was done under duress and the threat of ligation.” 

“Standing here as a village resident, it seems that the board of trustees do want to move on from what has been going on — and I don’t blame you,” Blunt said. “You’re rolling the dice, because the letter is being sent. And you should know that the AG staff has a whole set of lawyers … (and) we’re going to start with the FOIA battles. That will get their attention. No question about it. And I have every piece of documentation and I know how to present it.” 

Blunt told The Record after the meeting that he plans to provide the letter to the attorney general’s office “somewhere in the next 30 days.” He did not offer an exact number of residents who will sign it, but did say he hopes to get “as many village residents as possible to sign off on it,” adding that “there are a lot of people who have expressed an interest.”

A longtime resident of Northfield, Blunt spoke for approximately 12 minutes on Sept. 19, focusing his comments on an overarching theme of what he described as a “complete failure of leadership and honesty” from the board while reiterating many of the comments he delivered in August. 

Blunt’s September remarks continued to question the departure of Stacy Sigman as village manager and her reassignment to the part-time, remote role of director of special projects.

As previously reported by The Record, Northfield officials approved an agreement with Sigman in July giving her an annual base salary of $267,000 as long as she works 1,000 hours a year, a number that equates to 25 40-hour work weeks. The contract also added that Sigman must perform all responsibilities of her position, which could require more than 1,000 hours as overseen by the village manager.

Sigman made a surprise early retirement announcement via internal email on June 30, as also previously reported by The Record. As part of the July separation agreement, Sigman rescinded her retirement announcement.

Blunt, during the Sept. 19 meeting, called Sigman’s departure from Northfield “an emotional greenmailing of the village.” 

He concluded his remarks by sharing how he hopes the ongoing board dysfunction will end. 

“I hope that when this is all done it will lead to better local government and governance because there are several of you here who sit on this board who I genuinely believe came here to do something good for the village,” he said. “I really feel that. And it’s regretful that I have to notify you that the village needs to preserve all emails, texts, transcripts of board meetings and executive sessions. You may be able to stonewall the residents, but you’re not going to be able to stonewall the AG.” 

The board did not offer a public response to Blunt’s comments during the meeting. 

Milluzzi said in the followup call that the village will respond to any attorney general requests and abide by the office’s rulings, but “we believe we have complied with the FOIA statute.”

Board commits to meeting with Illinois Municipal League to ‘work on trying to work together’

After trustees returned from executive session near the conclusion of their Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 19, Village President Greg Lungmus announced that the board will follow through on its commitment to residents to go through “a process of self-evaluation.” 

Trustees will get together in 2024 to meet with Brad Cole of the Illinois Municipal League to “work on trying to work together and improve our communication,” Lungmus said. 

During the meeting, Lungmus asked each member of the board to commit to the meeting. All trustees noted support for the training. According to Lungmus, the Illinois Municipal League will not commit to the training unless there is 100 percent participation from all trustees.

Trustee Tracey Mendrek said the meeting will allow the board to “flush out some of the things (it) needs to do better.” 

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for us long-term to really lock down the role of a trustee and how we should be interacting with each other as well as village employees and staff,” she added. “I wholeheartedly support Greg’s efforts to get this going and I look forward to getting the date on the calendar sooner rather than later.”

The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.

Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.

Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.

martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

Related Stories