Plainfield Village Board votes down hiring of law firm to consult on administrator dispute

Trustees took issue with the new mayor not reappointing longtime administrator

Plainfield City Hall on Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Plainfield, Ill.

During a special meeting on Thursday, the Plainfield Village Board voted down the hiring of an outside law firm to weigh in on Mayor John Argoudelis’ decision to not reappoint the former village administrator.

The meeting was called earlier in the week by trustees who argued Argoudelis overstepped his legal authority to not reappoint Brian Murphy, who had worked in that position since 2009. A majority of trustees voted during a heated meeting last Monday to hold a special meeting Thursday and consider motions pertaining to the matter.

Thursday’s meeting began with residents admonishing the mayor and trustees for their behavior during Monday’s meeting, with one commenter even calling it “appalling.” Some criticized the push for hiring an outside law firm when the village already has an attorney, and for setting the special meeting at noon on a weekday, even though most meetings are held during the evening.

Argoudelis acknowledged Thursday that tempers got out of hand the previous Monday.

“I think there were moments the other night where most of us at least might have allowed the emotion of the moment to get beyond what should be appropriate,” he said.

Newly installed Mayor John Argoudelis delivers a speech to trustees, staff and Plainfield community members on Monday, May 3, 2021, at Plainfield City Hall in Plainfield, Ill. Argoudelis assumed office during a village trustees meeting on Monday night.

Argoudelis said he felt the motion to hire outside legal counsel was inappropriate, because the law says it is up to the mayor to make the appointment and for the board to vote on it. He also argued it would be a waste of taxpayer money to hire another firm.

The mayor directly asked Trustee Brian Wojowski, who made the initial motion on Monday, to cite what legal authority trustees had to hire outside legal counsel.

“This is not a courtroom,” Wojowski replied. “I’m not going to comment on it. If we take the vote, it passes, you have the remedy in the courtroom where you’ll be able to ask the question.”

The mayor then asked the trustees to at least table the motions to avoid a potential legal battle. Wojowski declined.

But then, Trustee Tom Ruane tried to explain his vote on Monday to call for the special meeting. Ruane said he wanted to learn more about the legal issues surrounding the appointment of the village administrator.

“I just didn’t have enough information,” Ruane said.

The trustee also criticized Argoudelis for the way he went about making his decision to not reappoint Murphy, but ultimately said he felt hiring an outside law firm was not a good use of village money.

When asked later about criticisms over how he chose not to reappoint Murphy, Argoudelis said he did not “understand what could have been done differently,” and said discussing his opinion on not reappointing Murphy with trustees before telling Murphy himself would not have been appropriate.

Still, Trustee Cally Larson and Wojowski argued that Argoudelis acted without legal authority. Wojowski said Murphy continued to work for about a week past when his contract had ended. The trustee said he’s worried about potential litigation due to the the mayor’s action, though no specific threat of litigation was mentioned.

Argoudelis has pointed out Murphy “relinquished” his duties last week, essentially acknowledging his contract with the village had ended.

Ultimately, the motion failed with Trustees Patricia Kalkanis, Larson and Wojowski voting for hiring a law firm, and Harry Benton, Kevin Calkins, Ruane and Argoudelis voting no.

With the effort defeated, Wojowski agreed to table his remaining motions, including one extending Murphy’s contract for two years. He also cited “new information” pertinent to the issue which he felt should be discussed in executive session, but declined to comment about what that information was.

Argoudelis acknowledged in an interview that his tenure as mayor has gotten off to a less cordial start than expected, but assured the dispute did not portend future division.

“I didn’t anticipate it would be quite this contentious,” he said. “I strongly believe that in time, we will move forward, as promised during the campaign, and we’ll move forward together.”

The next Village Board meeting is set for Monday at 7 p.m.