Arena re-appoints trustee after failed attempt, enacts ordinance that raises oversight questions

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

The Arena Village Board met for their regular monthly meeting May 4 to attempt to fix a failed trustee appointment, fill another vacancy and take up an ordinance that looks to streamline claims against the village, in a meeting that saw disputes raised in everything from the approval of the agenda to public comment.

Arena Village Hall (File photo)

Trustee (re)appointment

The board first took up action to appoint Rachel DePouw to the open village trustee seat vacated by Jessica Voight, with a term expiring in April 2022.

The appointment was previously taken up at the board’s April 13 meeting, in a vote that purported to fill the resulting vacancy, after Village President Kate Reimann ruled the motion to appoint DePouw had passed. An analysis by Valley Sentinel found that the vote didn’t include enough trustees to meet the statutory requirement to fill the position, rendering the appointment functionally void.

The appointment was taken up at this meeting and passed unanimously, with DePouw filling the vacancy and again taking the oath of office.

Village Clerk DeNean Naeger has not responded to emails seeking information on the process the appointment went through to initially appear on the agenda. Typically, interested residents have submitted letters of interest and appeared before the board under a general appointment agenda item.

Agenda dispute

The board then took up the approval of the meeting agenda, with Reimann quickly making a motion to approve the agenda excluding a new business item requested by Trustee Paul Pustina that would have discussed the issuing of permits that fall under the village building inspector’s duties.

“We don’t have any information, I mean I know you asked for this to be put on, but next month we can put it back on if you have information to share with us so that we’re prepared,” stated Reimann.

Reimann explained that Pustina had failed to provide any context for the agenda item, with Pustina stating the agenda item was requested to ask questions.

“I had questions, that’s why it’s under discussion,” Pustina shared.

“Well we need information,” Reimann responded, before moving into a vote without further discussion.

The agenda passed as amended, with only Pustina dissenting.

Public comment dispute

Among public comments, the board heard from current plan commission member and former trustee, finance committee chair and president pro tem Melissa Bandell, who passed out a statement to the board.

Bandell shared that she felt harassed by Pustina, who she said had contacted her requesting her direct supervisor’s contact information at her employer, among other actions she felt constituted stalking and harassment. Bandell further requested no contact from Pustina, warning him that she would potentially seek a restraining order if his alleged conduct continued.

Pustina disputed the harassment assertions following Bandell’s statement, sharing that he felt threatened by her accusations and her warning of a restraining order. Pustina confirmed he contacted Bandell seeking her employer’s information, due to the nature of her employment with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and questions he had regarding what he alleged were potential oversteps when she was serving in her previous village positions in 2019.

Bandell ended her statement by recommending that Pustina resign.

Toutz lawsuit and disallowance resolution

The board took up and passed a resolution that disallowed a claim, having postponed the action at their previous meeting based on village attorney advice.

Village residents Christopher and Deana Toutz filled a lawsuit against the village on March 24, claiming inaccurate assessment of property and asserting that the village did not provide written notice/appeal rights. The Toutz’s had received an omitted property tax bill for 2019 from Naeger of $5858.30 that was accruing interest, despite the fact that the Toutz’s hadn’t owned the property in 2019.

Court records indicate that the lawsuit was dismissed on April 20 at the request of the plaintiffs, without prejudice, meaning the action can be brought before the court again.

The village’s insurance carrier had recommended disallowance, meaning the village would reject the claim in the lawsuit. The resolution outlines a six month period for the Toutz’s to appeal.

Claims against the village ordinance

Despite not passing committee, after failing to receive a second on the motion to recommend to the board, the board took up and passed an ordinance that purports to streamline the process the village and the clerks go through to pay claims against the village, raising questions about financial oversight. Pustina was the sole trustee to vote against the passing of the ordinance.

The ordinance provides that, other than claims under certain statutes regarding those being “against governmental bodies or officers, agents or employees; notice of injury; limitation of damages and suits”, claims may be paid after the clerk audits and approves each claim.

The ordinance includes an indefinite provision that the claims have to be “duly authorized” and provides that the clerk must provide a list of claims to the board for review at least monthly. The ordinance, written by Naeger and Village Attorney Paul Johnson, would allow the clerk flexibility to pay claims like invoices without fear of accruing interest or late fees. See analysis of ordinance below.

Editorial Analysis: Ordinance pushes lack of oversight to the legal limit

The ordinance doesn’t make any explicit grant of power, but it does remove the role of the finance committee, and impliedly leaves the clerk to issue checks with no actual supervision. Mostly, the new ordinance trims the old one down to just the minimal necessary provisions required by statute (with some redundancy). In that sense it seems designed for maximum flexibility. It’s lawful but arguably quite imprudent and dangerous. It literally pushes lack of oversight to the legal limit.

—Gary Ernest Grass, esq.,
Legal Editor

Approval of monthly financial reports

After leaving them off the agenda last month, the board discussed an item brought by Pustina to consider if the board wished to approve monthly financial reports.

“What we’re looking at with financial reports is, basically, if we have
enough money to pay our bills,” said Kathy Stoltz, trustee and finance committee chair.

Previously, these reports were taken up in the finance committee before being reviewed by the board.

During April’s meeting, Pustina noted that the monthly financials weren’t included in the consent agenda as they typically were. The consent agenda being monthly items approved as a package in one motion without discussion unless a trustee requests that an item be removed for individual discussion.

Stoltz noted that it was her belief that the financial reports don’t need to be approved by the board, which is why they have since been removed from the consent agenda. The reports are included in the board packet for review by trustees, but would not have their own agenda item for review or approval.

“Each board member really needs to take a look at them and acknowledge that they’ve taken a look at them,” stated Pustina. “My point is that by bringing it to the board and by letting the board vote on it, each board member acknowledges that they’ve looked at them and they’ve approved them.”

Pustina motioned to include the monthly financial reports in the board packet for approval by the board, with Reimann declaring the motion dead without a second.

“I’m hearing no second on this motion, motion dies,” said Reimann.

Board vacancy goes unfilled

Under two separate agenda items the board discussed the remaining vacancy in a trustee seat, with a term expiring April 2023, with the board ultimately declining to take action to fill the seat.

Under Speakers on the agenda, the board was to consider a letter of interest from Matthew Schroeder, a former trustee. Schroeder wasn’t in attendance at the meeting and Reimann said that Naeger had told her that the village didn’t receive a formal letter of interest.

Pustina claimed that the village hadn’t followed up with Schroeder after he stated he couldn’t attend the meeting and offered to answer questions by email. Reimann ended discussion until the next vacancy agenda item.

Reimann stated that there was interest by one resident in the seat outside of Schroeder, but didn’t identify the resident.

Under the next agenda item, the board declined to appoint someone to fill the seat, with a consensus of the board agreeing that those interested should submit a letter and attend the next meeting on June 1.

Other items and actions taken

  • The board updated the 2021-2022 Standing Committees to reflect the appointment of DePouw.
  • The board heard from Dave Rasmussen, of MSA, on updates to the financing plan and timetable for tax incremental district (TID) projects.
  • The board heard from Kathy Jennings, of MSA, on updates for the second well project for the village and regarding sewer televising/cleaning. The board approved a contract with MSA for sewer televising/cleaning at a cost of $11,200.
  • The board heard from Public Works Superintendent Mike Schmidt and approved cleaning of the village water tower by National Wash Authority at a cost of $6,800.
  • After failing in committee, the board approved an operator license for Tiffany Statz.