Barbarite fired, board strife continues
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello’s village board, already strained by accusations and counter-accusations, came apart at the seams over the weekend.
In the process, Village Manager John Barbarite lost his job, Mayor Gordon Jenkins charged trustees Carmen Rue and Scott Schoonmaker with convening illegal meetings, and Schoonmaker was stripped of his title of deputy mayor.
Three meetings followed one another in rapid-fire succession on Friday, Sunday and yesterday, each building upon the anger and distrust swirling in the county seat.
Friday’s special meeting, called by Schoonmaker, turned out to be the briefest, with Schoonmaker, Rue and Trustee Victor Marinello agreeing to fire Barbarite for an “ineffective ability to manage the village.” Mayor Jenkins and Trustee TC Hutchins were opposed.
Since Barbarite serves without a contract, the termination was effective immediately.
Sunday’s special meeting, called by Rue, lasted for about half an hour and resulted in the hiring of Monticello attorney Zachary Kelson to replace Barbarite at least temporarily, while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement.
Kelson reportedly will take no benefits or mileage reimbursements. Schoonmaker confirmed he had mentioned Kelson’s candidacy to Rue and Marinello but not to Hutchins and Jenkins.
Thus, the same 3-2 split occurred in the vote, though this time Hutchins and Jenkins abstained rather than cast dissenting votes in a meeting they deemed illegal.
Village Attorney Jacob Billig had not been able to assure them that Rue’s emails to the press and trustees sent out late Friday night were sufficient legal notice for a public meeting.
However, Jenkins called for an executive session after the meeting to discuss a village employee’s allegations of sexual harassment.
Though Jenkins didn’t specify who was the target of the allegations, a series of documents filed with the village confirmed it is Schoonmaker.
“It’s going to be disturbing, and it’s going to be a lawsuit that really is going to ring the bell of this village,” Jenkins warned. “... It’s not going to look nice and pretty here.”
But an executive session was not convened, thanks to Schoonmaker, Rue and Marinello’s “no” votes. A similar situation had ensued Friday, when Jenkins’ motion for an executive session didn’t even garner a second.
Still, Jenkins stripped Schoonmaker of his deputy mayor position on Friday, a move that keeps him on the board but does not empower him to act in the mayor’s absence or incapacity.
“I do this because I am aware of serious acts of misconduct committed by you which renders you unfit to hold office as Deputy Mayor,” Jenkins wrote in a letter hand-delivered to Schoonmaker this weekend. “I have reason to believe charges will be filed resulting in legal action against you and the Village of Monticello as a result of your misconduct in office.”
Meanwhile, last night’s regularly scheduled board meeting was supposed to feature further discussion on the situation, including the as-yet-undetermined salary of Kelson and the naming of a new deputy mayor. Since the meeting occurred past press time, full details will be included in this Friday’s issue.
Barbarite has his say
When contacted yesterday, Barbarite promised lawsuits are coming Schoonmaker and Rue’s way for alleged conspiracy, general misconduct and calling illegal meetings.
“Unfortunately when you have three votes, you can be pretty illegal,” he remarked.
Barbarite contends that Kelson’s hiring as interim village manager violated village law, which stipulates that the mayor is to serve as the manager’s interim replacement. He believes Kelson was hired because Rue had been unable to get him named village attorney earlier in the year causing a rift between her and Jenkins, who were running mates.
Barbarite feels he’s also been the victim of a political conspiracy to get rid of him before the sexual harassment allegations come to light. Though he, too, didn’t name Schoonmaker, Barbarite said it was a trustee he was investigating after an employee complained.
In the meantime, Barbarite continues to look for employment whilst collecting unemployment insurance from the village.
What Rue has to say
Jenkins, Kelson and Schoonmaker did not return phone calls by press time yesterday, but Rue did have replies to Barbarite’s accusations.
“The meeting was not illegal,” she said of the Sunday meeting she called. “If it was illegal, why did Gordon chair the meeting?”
In fact, Rue said Jenkins was the very reason for the meeting to appoint Kelson.
After Friday’s termination of Barbarite, “Gordon told employees the village would shut down on Monday,” Rue related of remarks that had also been made by Jenkins in a prior board meeting.
“We had to call an emergency meeting,” she said. “We cannot let the village be shut down.”
Rue also contended that the board is legally empowered to appoint a village manager, temporary or otherwise.
As for the charge that Kelson got the post because of a friendship with Rue, Rue denied a close relationship, saying, “Everybody knows everybody in this village.”
She added that she never thought of him for that or the village attorney’s position until Scott talked to her about it this weekend, denying Barbarite’s claim that Rue had tried to find Kelson a spot in the village’s employ earlier in the year.
“And we’re still going to receive applications and search for a manager,” Rue promised. “I want people to apply. I believe in that.”
As for the sexual harassment allegations against Schoonmaker, Rue declined to comment, save to point out that “there was no complaint signed by anyone in our [board] packet.”
She’s glad Barbarite is no longer village manager, maintaining her belief that he was trying to blackmail her with a tape recording of a conversation between her and Marinello.
As for the future, Rue said she longs for a more cooperative board atmosphere.
“I hope Gordon and TC work together with us to move the village forward,” she concluded.