EDMORE — Councilman Art Schuitema gingerly walked into the Edmore Village Council meeting, his hands gripping a walker for assistance. Intravenous needles were stuck into his arms, their clear tubes dangling below. He wore a plastic vest chest protector and checkered pajama pants.
It was his 80th birthday.
Schuitema made it to Monday night’s Edmore Village Council meeting. So did councilwomen Bonnie Ashbaugh and Karen Deja.
And yet President Chet Guild and councilmen Eddie Adams, Chuck Burr and Jerry Rasmussen were nowhere to be found. Neither was Burr’s wife, Gloria Burr, the village clerk whose job it is to record meeting minutes.
Due to the lack of a quorum, the special meeting turned into a townhall-style gathering, led by Ashbaugh, who had called for the special meeting in response to last Monday’s 4-minute-long council meeting which featured Adams, Burr, Guild and Rasmussen voting to not extend Village Manager Neil Rankin’s contract. Ashbaugh and Deja voted against the surprise motion.
Schuitema was absent from last week’s meeting due to a lengthy illness. He made a point to attend Monday’s meeting due to the increasing public interest in the actions of his fellow council members.
“I think this is a real injustice to our manager,” declared Schuitema to applause from the audience. “I think he’s doing a heck of a job.”
Open Meetings Act concerns
About 50 people attended Monday’s meeting. Most listened while several got up to the podium and shared their thoughts. Those who spoke used words like “illegal,” “unethical” and “dirty, backhanded politics” to describe the actions of Adams, Burr, Guild and Rasmussen.
Aaron Hadley, who manages the Edmore Farmers Market, had strong words for those four councilmen, drawing enthusiastic applause from the audience.
“Dirty, backhanded politics, deals made behind closed doors and in secret should have no part on the village council,” Hadley declared. “One of the things that disgusts me about this and about the people who are not here tonight is that they have nothing to say about it. I don’t know if they’re afraid or what, but they just want to make decisions behind closed doors and use dirty, backhanded politics to make it happen. It’s wrong, it’s unethical and it’s dirty. I think the people who were involved in that need to answer to us, the voters, for that kind of behavior.”
John Heron brought a copy of a pamphlet called “Your Right To Know,” which explains the law about the Open Meetings Act.
“You cannot have a meeting at someplace else without the rest of the people without posting it,” Heron said. “It’s illegal. Those guys are up there getting hamburgers (allegedly at the McDonald’s in Edmore) and made a deal? That’s illegal! That’s enough.”
A meaningless vote
Rankin was present at Monday’s meeting, but chose not to make a public statement.
Despite the council’s 4-2 vote to not extend his contract, Rankin will continue to work as village manager as if his contract has remained unchanged because his contract requires at least five votes and a council hearing to terminate his position.
The only reason a council would vote to not extend a village manager’s contract would be if the council was going to change any of the manager’s working conditions or duties, such as hours worked, salary earned or job title. This would require the council to enter into a new contract with the manager. Firing a manager requires at least five votes in the affirmative, as well as a hearing.
Since no action was taken at last Monday’s meeting to change Rankin’s contract (or the terms and conditions within), his current contract will renew for another year on Thursday, which is his one-year anniversary with the village.
“This contract is going to continue for another year as written and signed by the president (Guild) and his representatives,” said Jack Miller, the president of Edmore’s Downtown Development Authority.
“So congratulations, Neil, on another year,” declared Miller to applause from the audience.
Bulldogs vs. watchdogs
Some people at Monday’s gathering were unhappy the ongoing situation was garnering so much attention.
“If this is what it takes to get this many people to a council meeting, then maybe we should have more problems,” observed Dana Macklin. “We should have kept this within our council. It should not have been brought to the public or to the newspaper.”
“How do you suppose we control the Open Meetings Act?” Schuitema responded. “They (the public and the newspaper) have a right to be here and know what’s going on.”
Macklin complained that the council was making decisions during special meetings. Schuitema noted that those meetings are open to the public too. Macklin also complained about an Edmore editorial written by The Daily News editorial board in Saturday’s newspaper.
Other residents were pleased The Daily News was reporting on the Edmore Village Council, such as John Lean, who said he has been following the actions of the council in meeting minutes printed in The Daily News for years.
“They’re going behind other people’s backs,” said Lean, referring to Adams, Burr, Guild and Rasmussen. “I think we’ve got a couple guys who like to bulldog. What really fired me up over this was when Neil, whom I’ve never met, went to the village council meeting and tried to draw attention to the village playground equipment.
“Guess what, ‘Who gives a rip, we’ve got insurance?’ he said, referring to the reaction from certain council members. “That upset me, OK? And one of the other members, all he cared about was toilets. What about my grandson’s safety? They don’t care, ‘We’ve got insurance.’
“It about pushed me over the edge and it got me here,” declared Lean to applause from the audience. “I support you, Neil.”
Another meeting on the horizon
Monday’s meeting ended with a bit of drama.
Carol Dodson questioned why Ashbaugh and Deja didn’t speak up at last week’s meeting before the vote to not extend Rankin’s contract.
Ashbaugh and Deja both said they were shocked by the vote and were too surprised to formulate a response before last week’s 4-minute meeting had adjourned.
As Dodson continued her line of questioning, Miller interjected his thoughts, saying he believed Ashbaugh and Deja were blindsided by the vote.
R.J. Nye then spoke up, telling Miller that he had already had his turn to speak and to be quiet.
The two men got into a rather heated vocal dispute, which was resolved when Ashbaugh brought the half-hour meeting to a close. She encouraged everyone to attend next Monday’s regular village council meeting at 7 p.m.
“Maybe we’ll hear from them then,” said Ashbaugh, referring to her four absent colleagues. “I was hoping to hear from them tonight.”