By Bob Uphues
As the number of grievances and unfair labor practice complaints from Brookfield public works employees mounted early this year, the village manager sought help from a consultant to help Public Works Director Kenneth Blaauw sort through the situation.
Now that Blaauw is gone – his last day as public works director was April 28 – the consultant has remained on the job, helping Sbiral manage the public works department.
According to a consulting agreement obtained by the Landmark through a Freedom of Information request, the village hired retired Bartlett Village Manager Valerie Salmons through a company called GovTemp, which is associated with GovHR, an executive recruitment and municipal contract staffing firm.
"I reached out to GovHR's temp unit and asked them if they had somebody that could come in and help with more or less some of the administration of the paperwork involved in all these grievances and hearings and what turned out to be a lot of personnel issues, and assist Ken in that process," Sbiral said.
With the retirement of a longtime public works department administrative assistant last fall, said Sbiral, Blaauw needed "another management person there to help be witnesses to meetings and help with creating some standard procedures."
Sbiral also revealed that on Blaauw's last day, April 28, Teamsters Local 705, which represents the village's public works employees, filed another unfair labor practice complaint and demanded arbitration of three grievances.
The latest unfair labor practice complaint, according to Sbiral, alleged discrimination/retaliation against the public works department's union steward, immediately after the village and union settled a prior unfair labor practice complaint.
In the past year, Sbiral confirmed, the Teamsters have lodged 16 grievances, three unfair labor practice complaints and one Illinois Department of Human Rights EEOC complaint. The latest unfair labor practice complaint and three grievances are still pending.
Most of the grievances are related to employee discipline, many of them verbal warnings.
Sbiral cautioned against drawing any conclusions between the date of union's latest flurry of complaints and Blaauw's departure that same day. Sbiral would not reveal whether he fired Blaauw, whether Blaauw resigned or whether the decision was mutual.
Blaauw did not submit a letter of resignation and no separation agreement exists between the two parties.
"It's been a difficult go of it here for the last 12 months," said Sbiral, who praised Blaauw for instituting new procedures for in-house road and alley maintenance. Public works employees, Sbiral said, resisted some of those changes.
"My goal was to modernize the department and be forward-thinking," Sbiral said. "Ken brought a lot of positive stuff to this village. Hopefully, the new director will do the same thing."
Village management and the Teamsters are in the process of negotiating a new contract for public works employees. Both sides met again last week for negotiations.
Salmons remains on the job in Brookfield and works two to three days a week, Sbiral said. She is paid $70 per hour. GovHR has not invoiced the village for payment as of May 11, Sbiral said, so he had no figure on that cost yet.
The village has used GovHR in the past to help manage the process for creating the West Central Consolidated Communications dispatch agency and served as the search firm to find the agency's executive director.
The company's president is Heidi Vorhees, the former Wilmette village manager. It employs several retired municipal management professionals who serve as consultants. One of the company's most recent hires was Kathleen Rush, the former Riverside village manager, who retired this year after serving as village administrator in Woodridge.
Salmons' initial contract was slated to expire April 21, but it has been extended another 30 days, said Sbiral. It's unclear whether it will be extended again in the next couple of weeks.
Sbiral is months away from hiring a new public works director. He will meet with GovHR, which will be conducting the search for a new public works chief, on May 22 to get that ball rolling. The search is expected to take about 12 weeks, so a new director likely won't be in place until early fall.