LiGreci walks out as board wrangles
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO John LiGreci says he will indeed come to work as Monticello’s new village clerk.
But after a rancorous village board meeting Monday night where LiGreci walked out two questions remain: when will he take the job, and how much will he be paid?
LiGreci said Wednesday that he anticipates beginning work today or Monday.
“My starting date is being considered under advisement,” he said, referencing the real possibility that he and the village board will end up in court over his salary.
After a failed attempt last week where three trustees didn’t show, Mayor Gordon Jenkins introduced LiGreci to the board Monday, saying he’d start on Tuesday.
“At what salary?” Trustee Carmen Rue asked.
And the battle was on.
“Whatever’s budgeted,” Jenkins replied.
“The board has to set up the salary,” Rue pointed out.
Former Village Clerk Edith Schop, who resigned last month while under investigation on double-dipping charges, earned just over $58,000 a year, but Rue noted that she’d been in that position for nearly three decades.
Rue thus refused to agree to a salary for a newcomer in that $50,000 range, finding support from trustees Vic Marinello and Scott Schoonmaker.
“Have you come up with a number?” Deputy Mayor TC Hutchins asked Rue.
“No, it’s up to the board,” she said.
Hutchins frustratedly replied, “We hired our manager, Ray Nargizian, at the full going rate, whatever was budgeted [just over $72,000]. I think this is a move to suppress some of the duties of the mayor.”
Jenkins concurred, saying he had told LiGreci that the salary “would be as budgeted.”
“You’re hampering the whole process,” Jenkins accused the three trustees. “God above can come down here, and Mrs. Rue and the board would not approve him!”
He charged Rue, Marinello and Schoonmaker with “playing games and politics.”
“You’re probably going to cut his salary in half so he won’t take the job!” Jenkins snapped.
But, he added, the board would only be hurting Monticello’s residents and employees.
“It’s taking something away from this village,” the mayor said, offering his apologies to LiGreci. “We definitely need a clerk!”
“My obligation is to watch the money,” Rue replied, chiding Jenkins for promising LiGreci a particular salary.
Hutchins motioned for an executive session to privately discuss the matter, but Rue, Schoonmaker and Marinello refused.
Schoonmaker felt LiGreci should earn between $38,000 and $41,000, noting that Goshen, a similarly-populated village that serves as Orange County’s seat, pays its clerk $48,000.
Hutchins pointed out that Deputy Village Clerk Stacey Walker is overwhelmed by taking on additional duties as Acting Village Clerk, so trustees offered an alternative.
Rue said she had come across a woman at a recent meeting who was desperate for work, and Marinello agreed that a part-time assistant to Walker could lessen the workload and “save the taxpayers some money.”
Jenkins replied that a qualified, experienced village clerk is needed, with experience in planning and zoning as well as running a municipality.
“You just should say you don’t want John LiGreci,” the mayor remarked bitterly.
Schoonmaker said the argument is solely over salary.
“I have no qualms with Mr. LiGreci taking the job,” he told Jenkins. “If you feel he’s qualified, fine!”
LiGreci finally took an opportunity to address the board.
“I really don’t want to get caught up in the politics,” he explained. “It’s not political on my end.”
LiGreci said the village clerk’s base pay is currently $53,374, and he considers that a reasonable salary.
“The question is whether you want to pay for service,” he remarked, then walked out of the meeting, not to return.
Meanwhile, the board continued to bicker.
Rue said Jenkins can appoint a clerk after March’s elections, while Jenkins claimed that she simply wanted to install her own preferred candidate.
“I don’t want a person here because they’re my friend,” he stated. “... We need a good, competent person!”
Rue said she didn’t have a particular person in mind, only that Jenkins hadn’t done a decent job of communicating his intentions to the board.
Later in the meeting, the public criticized the board for delaying the appointment, with resident Bess Davis noting former Village Manager Zach Kelson got around $5,000 a month with no objections from the three trustees.
“It’s like you’re picking and choosing what to complain about,” she lamented. “... And it’s not very fair.”
During the course of the meeting, Jenkins had indicated LiGreci would not be appointed, due to the salary dispute. And LiGreci did not report to work the following morning, nor the day after.
However, on Wednesday, LiGreci confirmed to the Democrat that he has not been swayed in his desire to work with the village.
His term as Lumberland’s supervisor ends this month, and he said he does not want to stay idle.
“I’m going to take it,” he affirmed. “I’m going to do the job.”
He expected the board would be more amenable to his continued presence once they’ve seen him in action but he didn’t rule out taking them to court over the salary, which he maintains should be at least Schop’s base pay.
“I only know you can’t hold an appointment hostage by taking the money away,” he concluded.