A consultant hired by the Wellington Village Council to evaluate issues in the village reported this week that although Wellington has a strong reputation, lack of trust and communication among village officials has contributed to division.
Council members agreed in June to hire Chris McLean, a consultant from the Center for Leadership Studies, at $3,800 a day to evaluate issues that led some council members to call for the firing of Village Manager Paul Schofield.
Mayor Bob Margolis, who would have been the deciding vote on a divided council, asked to have an independent view of the issues before making a decision.
In a preliminary overview released by McLean this week, he outlines some of the issues in the village, including “unresolved animosity from [the] election,” a “fractured council with no consensus” and “broken trust between staff and council.”
Margolis said he agrees with the findings.
“People are not over the election, and I’m not sure there’s a remedy for that,” he told the Town-Crier Wednesday. “At the end of the day, everyone on the council cares about the Village of Wellington, even if they have differing opinions.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig agreed.
“We have such a low level of trust, we can’t communicate and we can’t work together,” she said. “What makes this whole process difficult is that we are all very passionate about Wellington. We all feel there’s something important at stake.”
The report did not directly address concerns from staff or council members about Schofield’s performance.
Councilman Matt Willhite said he didn’t think the report dealt with the issue at hand — whether Wellington is in need of new management.
“The whole reason we hired [McLean] was to talk about the village manager,” he said. “This report doesn’t really deal with that. I don’t think it accomplished what we thought we needed.”
But Gerwig said it was just an overview of the issues.
“I was impressed that he [McLean] could come in not knowing us and be able to put together something that captured our issues so well,” she said.
For two days last month, McLean met with approximately 20 village officials, including council members, the “executive leadership team” and senior management. The preliminary report is an overview of the information McLean gleaned from his meetings.
The report states that there is a “deteriorated culture” among staff, which has caused feelings of “lack of appreciation,” “loss of camaraderie” and “loss of job security and a sense of unsettledness.”
Margolis said he hopes for a more comprehensive report at a later date. “I thought it was a good first step,” he said. “I was a little disappointed in the generalness of it.”
He said he would have liked to see a more in-depth review of the issues, including comments from those McLean met with.
“The reason it couldn’t be done that way is because you have to protect the confidentiality of the people who gave the interview,” Margolis noted, adding that he would have liked to see more specific comments, even if the person making them was not identified.
The report laid out what could be perceived as “threats” to Wellington, as well as opportunities to fix them.
The threats listed include a “lack of trust between [the] council and staff,” an “appearance of division [that] breeds mistrust,” as well as a “divisive and unsettled culture developed by fear” and “negative media exposure.” The report also lists a “fractured chain of command” that causes “broken parameters among council and staff.”
Willhite agreed with that assessment. “It talks about a lack of trust, and frankly, I think there is,” he said. “I don’t know if it can be fixed. There were problems I had that led to discussing the termination of [Schofield’s] contract that haven’t been addressed. I’m optimistic, but I don’t know if a consultant will be able to fix our problems.”
McLean suggested that council members and senior management each have their own workshops to focus on the issues — the first council workshop is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 23 and will focus on goal alignment, trust, conflict and communication.
Gerwig said she thought this could be beneficial.
“If we all walk in with an open mind and a willingness to work toward solutions to problems in Wellington, I think it would be good,” she said.
The report suggests Wellington has an opportunity to “establish and communicate a clear vision throughout the organization,” as well as “build [an] alignment that leads to productive collaboration among [the] council.”
McLean also suggests Wellington implement a leadership program at all levels to create a common language.
Willhite said he thought this could be a benefit to the village, even if it does not directly address the issue. He said he plans to raise his specific issues with Schofield at the workshops.
“Anytime you can provide training to our employees and our council, it’s a benefit,” he said. “But I hope it’s not money wasted, because it hasn’t dealt with what the problems are.”
Margolis said he hopes the programs can increase trust in Wellington, but believed that having McLean as an outlet for staff and council members had already been beneficial.
“There is an atmosphere of uneasiness in the Village of Wellington,” he said. “I think just by having gone through this process, I can already see a difference in the environment. I have a sense that staff is happier they have an outlet for someone to listen to their opinions. I think council members are also seeing a benefit. This is the only way we can discuss our opinions.”
Margolis noted that communication is often hindered by the fact that council members must adhere to strict rules about when and how they communicate.
“Our hands are tied because of the limitations on when we can talk to each other,” he said.
It’s not all bad news. McLean found that Wellington has an “excellent reputation of services,” especially known for its parks and public works department. He pointed to the village’s growth in a down economy and the tightened budget without sacrificing services as highlights for the community.
The report stated that all involved had a “deep-seeded pride in the Village of Wellington,” as well as a “strong commitment” to the village. The report also highlighted Wellington’s Safe Neighborhoods program and A-rated schools as some of its strengths.
The pride Wellington staff takes in the village is evident, Margolis said.
“I think Wellington has the best staff around in any municipality,” he said. “They get up every day and say ‘How can I make Wellington a better place?’ Sometimes [the] council gets in the way, preventing them from doing that, but its unintentional. We need to work as a team.”
Ultimately, Gerwig said she thought the issues McLean identified were on point.
“The problems in Wellington don’t have anything to do with the manager,” she said. “Now it depends on what the mayor chooses to do with this information. But if we decide that this relationship [with Schofield] cannot work, I want to show the community we did everything we could.”