Barbarite evades axe
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello’s village board meeting Monday once again erupted into chaos as the board and the public angrily debated whether or not to fire Village Manager John Barbarite.
Trustee Scott Schoonmaker touched off the verbal explosions by resurrecting a motion to discuss terminating Barbarite, who does not have a contract but works at the board’s pleasure.
“We do not need a reason to release him from his position,” said Schoonmaker, though in the past the trustee has characterized his change of heart as being motivated by the constant turmoil swirling around Barbarite.
When angry words started flowing, Schoonmaker called for an immediate vote on the matter, seconded by Trustee Carmen Rue.
“My impression is you don’t want a discussion,” he told fellow board members.
Mayor Gordon Jenkins and Trustee TC Hutchins, however, continued to protest, with Hutchins making a motion for an executive session despite the fact that Schoonmaker’s motion remained on the floor, requiring a vote.
“I do not want to go into executive session,” Schoonmaker replied.
The meeting devolved from there.
“Scott Schoonmaker has got his own agenda,” announced Jenkins, “and he’s got some personal problems in the village.”
The mayor alleged that Schoonmaker is “being coerced by certain people in the village,” and if Barbarite were to be fired, “we’re going to downsize tomorrow in the village.”
As the shouting intensified, Village Attorney Jacob Billig pushed for an executive session, but Schoonmaker refused to participate in any such private meeting until after a vote was taken on firing or retaining Barbarite.
Hutchins considered that a backwards approach, while Jenkins continued his accusations, saying Schoonmaker’s actions were “nothing but payoff.”
“Mrs. Rue and Scott Schoonmaker are trying to destroy this village… because of payback politics,” he alleged, with Jenkins’ brother-in-law and village resident Tom Mack calling for a federal investigation.
A vote finally was taken, but only on going into executive session, which Rue and Schoonmaker opposed. With Hutchins, Jenkins and Trustee Victor Marinello amenable, the board headed into a private room for what became an hour and 15 minutes.
When they returned to public session, Schoonmaker immediately called for a two-minute recess so he could talk with Billig.
Afterwards, Billig reminded the board that Schoonmaker’s original motion was still on the floor, one the trustee was not willing to rescind.
Instead, Schoonmaker amended the motion, asking for a vote on suspending Barbarite for 30 days with pay.
Hutchins objected, noting Barbarite is paid $72,000 a year and would thus rack up around $6,000 doing nothing while suspended.
“The money is in the budget,” he acknowledged, “but not to be wasted.”
The room continued to be chaotic, with landlords Ray Lustig and Aida Markisic both of whom are in litigation with the village yelling for board members to fire Barbarite, while Rochelle Massey, Jenkins’ fiancee, told Rue at one point to “shut up.”
“This board had better think about what they’re doing with John Barbarite,” warned the mayor, intimating he, as Barbarite’s successor per village law, would not be able to handle both jobs. “Who’s going to watch the village? … You’re going to see a lot of chaos, because no one’s going to control the village.”
Schoonmaker, however, eventually made a motion to rescind his prior motion, which Hutchins seconded and the board unanimously approved.
Thus, Barbarite once again was not fired or suspended, but that didn’t seem to make a dent in the evening’s tension.
As the meeting progressed, the matter was brought up again, with Jenkins lamenting that most people don’t really know what Barbarite does day in and day out.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “Every meeting, I have to come here to see if this man is going to lose his job.”
Then it was the public’s turn, starting with someone who acknowledged she was afraid to speak.
“You need to control your meetings,” said village resident Bridget Stafford, telling the mayor the meeting seemed “like a joke.”
“You know something, I think I’m doing a good job,” replied Jenkins, dismissively thanking Stafford for her opinion.
Mack then took over the conversation, asking Stafford who she was and where she lived.
“Why? You want to come over to my house?” Stafford replied.
“Please don’t ever make that statement, because you’ll never compare to my wife,” Mack yelled at her.
The searing comments continued, with Markisic criticizing the mayor for only entertaining opinions favorable to his own.
And then she, too, got personal.
“Your own girlfriend makes you look like you can’t do your job,” she stated, accusing Massey of telling her tenants her apartment house was due to be closed down.
Still, her target was clearly Barbarite, alleging he is not business-friendly and encourages a Gestapo-like atmosphere, acting against people simply because he doesn’t like them.
Jenkins replied that he couldn’t comment because the village is in litigation with Markisic, but Marinello defended her right to speak.
“If you don’t like it… that’s tough,” he told the mayor. “You represent them, too… [and they] deserve respect.”
“That respect goes both ways,” Jenkins responded.
Shortly thereafter, Barbarite himself finally joined the fray, accusing Marinello of never bothering to talk with him more than once about the details of the lawsuits and Barbarite’s actions.
Marinello replied that he’s busy taking continuing education classes, but after the meeting, he and Schoonmaker did sit down with Barbarite for an extended discussion, followed up by another one later in the week.
Still, the back-and-forth continued, with police at one point warning Markisic she would be removed if she didn’t calm down.
Rue, meanwhile, lamented she is the focus of insulting comments yet never asks anyone to stop speaking. She also denied organizing any attempt to fire Barbarite.
Jenkins once again had a reply: “Stop playing the politics, and it’ll be alright.”
Mack, in a suddenly conciliatory move, then stepped in to credit Rue and Marinello for finally attending a recent CPR (Community Progressive Response) meeting.
“[They] sat down and listened,” he recalled. “… There were no threats ... [and] a lot of good stuff came out of that meeting.”
When contacted later in the week, Barbarite wearily laughed at the situation.
“I can’t get angry,” he remarked. “This is a job you have to be somewhat flexible in.”
Like Jenkins, Barbarite blamed the controversy on “one or two trustees being squeezed by the landlords.”
Past village officials, he said, “didn’t do their job because they were afraid of doing it,” but he is intent on staying, despite the suits and accusations lodged against him by landlords he feels aren’t understanding or are deliberately flaunting village and state laws.
“Their position is, if they can get rid of me, then it will go back to the way it used to be,” Barbarite alleged.