Some in Rantoul angry over firing
RANTOUL - A number of residents are angry about Friday's firing of Rantoul Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl, and several of them, including business people and two former trustees, let Mayor Chuck Smith and the village board know about it.
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Smith relieved Sandahl of his duties after he met individually with five of the six board trustees the day before and said he got a consensus that they backed him in the action. But not all of the trustees appeared to support the firing at the study session.
No reason has been given for the firing, Smith citing personnel regulations.
At Tuesday's village board study session, those arguing for Sandahl's reinstatement said the former administrator has been invaluable in bringing new business to the community and was instrumental in reaching an agreement with the Air Force for the planned demolition of White Hall and the steam plant on the former Chanute Air Force Base.
They said firing Sandahl will sever valuable business relationships made with companies looking to locate in Rantoul, and with regional economic agencies.
About 60 people attended the session.
Before taking comments, Smith read a prepared statement saying his decision to fire Sandahl was not taken lightly.
"The issue of economic development was not the pivotal point of the decision," Smith said. "The decision was made from internal and external related issues as explained to the administrator when we visited."
He said the village is trying to "build productive relationships at a variety of levels with parties who express an interest in Rantoul. ... We are also trying to maintain a high morale level in our working environment."
Smith said a rumor last April that he would automatically fire Sandahl if elected mayor did not come from his campaign.
"I attempted to effectively work with the administrator for the last 10 months," Smith said.
Smith and Comptroller Scot Brandon are sharing the administrator's duties until the village hires a new administrator.
Former trustee Margurette Carter said she wonders if the village will be able to find the right fit in an administrator.
"Will we find an individual with quality who has the growth and development of this community as their core or just someone who wants the job? Will a qualified individual apply if they believe their employment will be terminated for no reason by the trustees and mayor, not based on their job performance?" Carter said.
"Keep in mind," Carter said, "many of these projects that are pending are due to the business relationship through Bruce Sandahl."
Several speakers questioned whether the board fully concurred with the decision to fire Sandahl or were fully informed on his intentions.
Sonna Iorio said she contacted five of the trustees.
"In talking with you, I was led to believe that many of you were not aware that this was going to happen as it did," Iorio said, adding she wondered if the action had their support.
The Rev. John Bonacorsi asked that the board consider a resolution at next Tuesday's board meeting to "have a yes or no vote" on Sandahl's firing. (The board meets at 6:15 p.m. at the municipal building.)
Jim Nelson, Country Financial representative, asked for a straw poll of how many trustees supported the termination.
Gary Crane, a local appraiser and businessman, asked the board: "Did you know ahead of time about the dismissal?" and "Do you approve of that dismissal?"
Smith said he met individually with each employee Feb. 27. (Meeting as a group would have violated the Open Meetings Act.) Trustee Jennifer Fox was unable to attend.
"As far as Jennifer being informed (that Smith intended to fire Sandahl), she was not," Smith said. "She came into my office a couple days after that and was very upset."
Fox read a statement on the Sandahl firing, saying "(Smith) does not have my support in this matter."
"Mr. Sandahl has been an outstanding administrator for the village as evidenced in so many ways in our community," Fox said.
She said she was disappointed Smith took the action, "and as shown tonight, many others feel the same."
"We all have the best interest of Rantoul in mind as we each do our own small part in providing government and direction for the village," Fox said. "However, with this termination, I'm sure Rantoul's best interest will not be served."
She asked Smith to reconsider.
The other trustees also weighed in on the issue.
Trustee Jeremy Reale said he met with Smith at 5 p.m. Feb. 27 "and learned about the decision (to fire Sandahl) the next morning."
"My response was that the mayor had the authority, but I told him if it was my decision it would not be the decision I would be making."
Trustee Tony Brown: "I would have preferred that we go a different course. I don't know if the outcome would have been any different. I think, ultimately, the mayor needs to have a team in the village leadership that he can work with, that he can trust, that he can move together with to promote his goals that he came into office with. It was the mayor's decision."
Trustee Roger Jones: "I did listen intently to the mayor and let him provide his reasoning, understandably a difficult (decision). I have to agree with Tony. He is an elected official. He is the mayor. It's a very difficult decision. We do need to be working as a team, with some of the things that can't be publicly discussed."
Jones said he was supporting Smith as mayor, and that he wouldn't necessarily have made the decision to fire Sandahl "if I had that decision to make."
"My decision was in supporting him as a unit, as a team, to move forward as a group, and if we were not receiving that cooperation with Bruce, then I would support him in that decision."
Trustee Hank Gamel: "There are some things that can't be said in a public forum. I feel rather obligated to support the system of government. The mayor does have the responsibility. He articulated his reasons for doing that, and I support those."
Trustee Chad Smith: "He gave me a bunch of reasons. I had also talked to Bruce many times. You don't always agree on everything. I didn't always agree with Bruce on everything, but the administrator and mayor, they have to get along. They have to have an open line of communication.
"From the mayor's discussion, that has not gone on in a while. As Chuck being the mayor, it's Chuck's decision, his appointment. I told him I would support a decision he would have to make. I wish things could have been done differently."
Chad Smith asked the board to consider having Sandahl meet with the board.
"I've sat on this board for eight months now, and there are issues. We've never asked Bruce Sandahl to answer for the issues that come before the entire board."
Reale responded that "the time to do that would have been before (Smith) terminated him."
Reale said he has been asked why the appointment of the village administrator is made by the mayor with approval from the board, but the mayor is not legally required to get board approval when an administrator is fired.
Smith said he will give the public and trustee comments some thought.
Asked during a recess what he might consider, Smith said, "Right now I'm kind of flabbergasted" and said he is not sure how he will proceed.
"A couple of board members kind of backed out on me."