The Wellington Village Council decided Tuesday to review Village Manager Paul Schofield’s contract, which was last renegotiated in 2010 under the direction of former Councilman Howard Coates.
Schofield’s current contract expires Feb. 14, 2016. The agreement can be renegotiated or terminated via written notice by Sept. 1, 2015, or automatically extended for an additional year.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig dissented in the 4-1 vote. She called the action a “passive-aggressive attempt to fire the manager.”
The council asked Village Attorney Laurie Cohen to draft a letter to Schofield informing him that his contract would be up for review. An outside negotiator will be used to review the contract.
“This is something that is required, not something other than that,” said Mayor Bob Margolis, who asked three months ago that a review of Schofield’s contract be put on the agenda.
Gerwig said she favored taking no action and allowing Schofield’s contract to continue as is for one additional year. “I think it’s more appropriate to let this contract continue and not make it an issue,” she said. “With the election coming up, I don’t think it’s appropriate. The way this village has been run, it has been some of the best management in our history.”
Gerwig recounted accomplishments of the village under Schofield’s tenure, most notably carrying it through a recession that cut the village’s budget almost by half with just a minimal loss in services. Schofield was named manager in 2008, when former Village Manager Charlie Lynn retired. Lynn had hired Schofield eight years earlier as one of his top deputies.
“The achievements are incredible, when taxes have been hard to come by,” Gerwig said, also calling attention to his knowledge of water management and planning. “This is a passive-aggressive move to make the manager the bad guy. This is not the time for this to happen, when at least four council members, possibly five, may be up for election.”
Councilman Matt Willhite is term-limited. Councilman John McGovern, who was appointed to replace now-Judge Coates, has filed to run for election to his seat; Margolis and Vice Mayor John Greene are both up for re-election; and Gerwig has indicated that she might run for mayor.
Greene, who had made an earlier attempt to oust Schofield, said the contract review was a council responsibility, and he would not want to put the continuity of management in jeopardy. But he added that if Schofield were to be replaced, that would be in the hands of the new council.
“It is not my intention to fire Mr. Schofield,” he said. “The prudent thing to do would be to see if we can renegotiate. We can issue a six-month or eight-month contract.”
Willhite said he could not base a decision on what might happen, and pointed out that the controversial recent decision to renegotiate the solid waste contract resulted in a savings to village residents.
“We are put up here to be fiscally responsible,” he said. “Renegotiate does not mean terminate.”
Willhite said he thought Gerwig’s comments were “creating more drama” than was warranted.
“Let’s move on and move forward,” he said. “I don’t think renegotiating is out of our parameters or with ill intent.”
McGovern said he favored renegotiation because it was within the parameters of the council’s authority.
“I think the manager and his team are wonderful, but it’s a contract that Mr. Coates and Mr. Schofield reached,” he said.
McGovern made a motion to write a letter informing Schofield that they want to renegotiate.
Margolis pointed out that he had supported Schofield’s appointment after a national search for a manager in 2008.
“I was the one who pushed for Mr. Schofield to be manager when Mr. Lynn left,” he said. “To me, this is renegotiating a new contract, and things have changed. Mr. Schofield doesn’t have to wait a year… We’re not doing it because we want to reprimand you. The contract gave specific dates, and these are the dates right now. You don’t negotiate a termination. We’re making this something more than it is.”
Greene stressed that all he wanted to do was renegotiate Schofield’s contract.
“Hopefully, this will be a fruitful negotiation,” he said, asking Cohen’s help with the process.
But Gerwig disagreed.
“You can package it any way you want, but it’s a passive-aggressive way to fire the manager,” she said. “Talent and ability are rare; creativity is even more rare. I’m not going to allow it to be called anything but a way to fire the manager.”
McGovern’s motion to direct Cohen to draft the letter notifying Schofield carried 4-1, with Gerwig opposed.
ABOVE: Village Manager Paul Schofield.