ELMWOOD – An Elmwood couple pursing the recall of the village board chairperson is adding unfair charges for public records to its list of complaints against the local government.
Jack and Genine Hovick say Chairperson Pat Wray treated board members in a demeaning way prior to the resignation of Hovick and board members Brody Baer and Mike Krass.
Hovick said his experience on the board was largely uneventful until the board approved its budget for the 2017-2018 year. He said he suspects that Wray mistakenly believes that adoption of a budget authorizes the village to enter contracts and spend money with no further input from board members.
Jack : “That was basically when things went awry as far as the park project got out of control, not being done in accordance with Nebraska state law that tells you how you are suppose to approve funds.”
The board agreed to budget $128,000 for the park improvements and pursue a grant through Land and Water Conservation Fund of Nebraska Game and Parks, but Hovick said the board was cut out of the loop at that point.
Jack: “It was never discussed by the board whether or not to even enter into the agreement with Land and Water after the granting of the grant.”
He then realized that costs were exceeding the budget. Hovick said an October report indicated the cost had climbed about $60,000 higher. He said the board had discussed the purchase of playground equipment and a landscaping plan, but learned after-the-fact that the city had entered a contract for a company to do the work.
Jack: “When I read this I about fell over because it’s like how is it possible we entered in a contract , we haven’t even talked about it.”
Genine said, when Hovick asked questioned about the project, he learned decisions had already been made, and it was made clear that his involvement in the project was not welcome.
Genine: “It talks about Jack, that he was being nosy and he didn’t know his place on the board.”
Hovick said he and the other board members resorted to resignation as a last resort.
Jack: “If your vote and your opinion can’t be used, there is no reason to remain on the board. In fact, I felt like I was in a spot where remaining on the board would make me culpable for actions I didn’t have any say over.”
Genine said she was interested in Wray’s explanation for why the board members felt left out.
A printed page titled “What’s Real and What’s Hype” was posted at city hall. It said the parks supervisor held meetings regarding the project, but only a few attended.
Hovick said these alleged parked meetings were also mentioned at village board meetings, so she asked to see the public records, including notices of meetings and officials minutes.
Genine: “I only wanted things from these park meetings that these three board members and citizens did not attend.”
She received notice from the village that the cost of the documents would be in the hundreds of dollars, so she re-stated the narrow limit of her request. She still received 314 pages.
Genine: “My original request is for park meeting information that I can’t get online. I was given online stuff that I could get, I was given Burke equipment information and my request says Nov. 16 and forward . I was given documents that were prior to that too, like 60 some. So, if you take several of those into account, you’re about cutting these 300 copies in half. Then the rest is emails and documents that came out of a binder, we assume because they have copies of the hole punch.”
She said she feels the village inflated the cost to discourage her or anyone else from seeking public documents. She is seeking a refund from the village.
Genine: “Because I paid $569 for something I should’ve paid probably less than $76. Because, you get four hours, allotted to the citizen, to make public record copies. She said she spent 30 hours. That’s why.”
She said she learned from the village clerk that there were no public meetings, it was all e-mail and phone conversations.
Genine: “She said there were no formal meetings that she is aware of that required a notice or agendas or minutes during the design and installation phase. That was my initial request, so it took me $569 to find out there really was no formal meetings.”
Genine: “So there were not any of these meetings, but the chairperson kept saying there were all these meetings. It was stated in the “what’s real or hype.” She then turned around and stated it again in this article.”
Genine started a petition drive to recall Wray from the village board.
Genine: “I pretty much went door-to-door in the town and canvassed the town as much as possible.”
She said most were eager to sign and others welcomed a chance to vote on the question of retention.
Genine: “I expect that the people that represent this town and the chairperson that is supposed to be conducting the meetings that everything is above board and transparent and it is not. That is why I went forward with the recall.”
Cass County Election Commissioner Nancy Josoff said expects to schedule a mail-in election after receiving minutes from the Elmwood Village Board meeting stating that Wray would not resign. Ballots will be mailed beginning Jan. 22 and must be returned by Feb. 13.