East Dundee Village President Jeff Lynam fired Village Administrator Jennifer Johnsen after she acknowledged in an email to staff that she was in a relationship with the assistant administrator, but Johnsen said Wednesday she hopes to be reinstated by the Village Board she believes supports her.
Village Trustee Scott Kunze said Lynam took the action before Monday’s meeting without consulting the board, and the board could reinstate Johnsen if five of the six trustees vote to do so at a future meeting. Lynam will present the reasons for Johnsen’s dismissal in a special meeting on June 14, and the board could take action then.
“I’m just very disappointed in the judgment that was shown by both of them,” Lynam said of the relationship between Johnsen and assistant administrator Brad Mitchell. “It’s in no way supported or condoned by the village. I’m just appalled by it.”
Johnsen, reached by phone on Wednesday, said an anonymous letter was sent to village trustees just before the April election, prompting Johnsen to write an email to staff acknowledging the relationship. Johnsen said there’s nothing in the personnel handbook prohibiting the relationship, which Kunze confirmed.
In the email, dated May 26, Johnsen said she is divorced and Mitchell is in the process of getting divorced. According to the email, they are expecting a child in October and intend to marry.
She said she and Mitchell hadn’t intended on disclosing their relationship and instead planned for one of them to seek employment elsewhere.
“Someone is trying to retaliate against me to the point where I get terminated by the village,” said Johnsen. “The village was running extremely smoothly, but I was hired under the prior village president who then lost the election. This is local politics.”
She said her professional relationship with Lynam became more strained when he was elected as village president in April after serving four terms as a trustee.
“Once he became village president, there was a clear misunderstanding of his role as village president and my role as village administrator,” she said. “He also had a misunderstanding of what the Village Board role was. The Village Board and I did our best to educate him on what his role is but he continued to try to exert authority that he just doesn’t have.”
Lynam called the situation with Johnsen and Mitchell “upsetting” and said he received complaints about the relationship from residents.
“I absolutely understand and I can only communicate to them my regret for having to deal with it,” he said. “And I’m [assuring] them that it is going to be handled with an even hand but it was going to be dealt with swiftly and legally.”
While Kunze noted the difficult position the board has been placed in because of the relationship, he lauded Johnsen’s performance as village administrator since her hiring in 2016. Before that she served as Campton Hills village administrator but was terminated in 2016 “without cause,” according to Johnsen.
Kunze said the trustees wanted the chance to discuss Johnsen’s future employment during executive session before Monday’s regularly scheduled board meeting. There was an item on Monday’s agenda to extend the employment agreement for Johnson, who had a base salary of $158,000 for fiscal 2020-21.
Instead, Lynam announced during executive session he was firing Johnsen and notified Johnsen of her dismissal before the meeting began. Lynam said village ordinance dictates that Mitchell assume Johnsen’s duties until a new village administrator is appointed.
“She definitely had the support of the board,” Kunze said. “This was [Lynam’s] decision and his decision alone. It was a total surprise to us.”