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Rocky ending to Adams’ tenure

David GiulianiMay 26, 2019

BRADLEY — Bradley’s village administrator alleges former Mayor Bruce Adams was considering firing her in his final days.

One day before Adams resigned last month, administrator Catherine Wojnarowski sent an email to the mayor and village board members saying that Adams indicated he was receiving pressure to let her go.

She reported that the mayor said this pressure was based on her recommendation that the village withdraw from the agreement with Kankakee County’s nonprofit tourism agency, the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Through an open records request, the Daily Journal obtained emails from Wojnarowski, Finance Director Rob Romo and then-Trustee Nick Allen in the weeks leading up to Adams’ abrupt April 26 resignation.

Adams disputed Wojnarowski’s account of their conversation.

“That is totally not true. No one on that board is going to put me under political pressure. That is a person with a family and a life. I value people more than political pressure. If I wanted Catherine gone, she would have been gone. I have let other people go,” he said in an interview.

In the April 2 election, Adams’ Democratic Party lost its majority on the village board. The rival Progressive Citizens Party took control. That group is led by Mike Watson, who was appointed mayor after Adams’ exit. He decided to keep Wojnarowski.

On April 25, Wojnarowski sent an email addressed to Adams and copied it to village board members. This was three days after the new members were sworn in.

She indicated she had a conversation with Adams on April 5, three days after the election, in which the mayor indicated he was receiving pressure from trustees Allen and Lori Gadbois to fire her because of the visitors bureau recommendation. Both trustees lost their bids for re-election.

In her April 25 email, Wojnarowski referred to a meeting earlier in the day in which the mayor said he was receiving “external” pressure to let her go. This, she said, was despite a recent positive review.

During that conversation, she wrote in the email, “I was reassured and glad to hear your statements of support for my work, directives and deliverables; further I am glad you feel my work is successful.”

But she questioned the mayor about the pressure he was receiving.

“This morning, when I asked you for specifics about what the pressure is, from whom and why you stated that it was ‘political.’ Not having any details nor having my work connected with that ‘pressure’ has left me uneasy,” said Wojnarowski, who was hired in December 2017. “Due to this, I feel I need reassurance for my job and am asking that my contract is re-evaluated to ensure me and my family have security.”

In the email, she said the mayor responded he would not re-evaluate her contract and that she knew what she was getting into when she signed her contract.

Adams told her that the request for a re-evaluation created trust issues because of “her political affiliation with the newly elected board members.” She said the mayor indicated he had heard that she was recently at a restaurant with the newly elected officials.

She asked the mayor to have her contract re-evaluated during a closed board session on April 29. As it happened, Adams had resigned by that point, citing health issues.

‘GAUGE SUPPORT’

In response to Daily Journal questions, Gadbois and Allen said they did not pressure the mayor to terminate Wojnarowski, but Gadbois said she had concerns about the administrator’s performance.

In an email to the newspaper, Gadbois said she told the mayor that Wojnarowski had too many projects in the air and nothing was getting accomplished, which was not a benefit to the community.

“Never at any time do I feel I personally put pressure on the mayor regarding the administrator. We did have a conversation about continuing employment of the administrator and what was best for the village,” said Gadbois, who is the elected Kankakee County Recorder of Deeds.

Allen said he did have qualms with Wojnarowki’s recommendation to withdraw from the agreement with the visitors bureau. In Adams’ last week, just before the Progressive Citizens took control, the board voted for a five-year agreement with the bureau, but the new majority rescinded it a week later, a decision which remains in dispute.

Allen said he had little power as a departing trustee, even if he wanted to fire Wojnarowski.

“I never initiated any conversations about removing her,” Allen said in an interview. “In fact, my impression is that the mayor wanted to do that. He was seeking out support to do so. Bruce wanted to get rid of her and was trying to gauge support for that.”

Allen said this might have been a part of the mayor’s history of being passive aggressive.

“I never gave a yes or no (on Wojnarowski). I figured it was his appointment,” he said. “I believe she was being told by the mayor that it was coming from us when it was really coming from him. I had no problem with Catherine except I felt she didn’t handle the (visitors bureau) well.”

Allen favored staying with the visitors bureau agreement, saying tourism must be approached on a regional basis. Most of the hotel tax dollars that fund the agency comes from Bradley hotels.

‘TARGET ON MY BACK’

In an April 5 email chain, Allen had pointed words for Wojnarowski. He said he had first heard that day that a village consultant had advised against renewing the agreement with the visitors bureau.

“Please be aware that the perception in the community is that you are pushing this idea,” he wrote. “That certainly will not sit well with others you have to work with regionally in your position.”

Wojnarowki replied she was hired to advocate for Bradley, not the county as a whole. She said she supported the visitors bureau and thought it did a good job.

“I DO NOT want to see their funding or organization diminished. However, I do feel there is an inadequate distribution to the current funding model that leaves our village vulnerable,” she wrote.

But Wojnarowki said she wanted the hotel tax money from Bradley hotels to flow through Bradley, not the county government, which is how it’s been done since the CVB was formed in 1983.

“Relinquishing our taxing powers to an agency that is not accountable to our taxpayers is a fiduciary irresponsibility that no village should have to make,” she wrote.

Allen responded, “I’m well aware you were hired to advance the village’s interests. However, I don’t believe you understand that, in this case, it is in the village’s best interest to work regionally. This is not the south suburbs,” where Wojnarowski used to work. “You will have to interact with many people who will be upset by this decision if you are to continue accomplishing things for the village of Bradley.”

‘REMAIN APOLITICAL’

The behind-the-scenes communications on the day before Adams resigned also involved Romo, the finance director.

In an email, Romo told the board that the situation involving the visitors bureau had “put a target on my back” as well as Wojnarowski’s. He, too, said he was representing the village’s interests, not the county as a whole. And he argued the agreement with the visitors bureau “stunts” Bradley’s growth.

In his email, Romo attached an email in which Allen called him “ballsy” related to the visitors bureau, “especially for someone who has been in their position for a month.” Romo said he was receiving this criticism for giving “factual information and my professional recommendation.”

Romo requested that his contract be adjusted.

“I feel in order to alleviate political pressure and ensure I can act, speak and recommend professionally, I should receive the assurance that my job is not in jeopardy,” he wrote. “I wish to remain apolitical in my career with the village of Bradley — these contractual changes will ensure that.”

‘POLITICAL PRESSURE’

In an interview, Wojnarowski said Adams favored the recommendation on the visitors bureau at first, but did an “about face.”

“He got a lot of political pressure,” Wojnarowski said.

Overall, she said she had a “harmonious” relationship with the mayor. She said it was sad conversation when Adams informed her on April 26 that he would resign later that day.

“It was sad that his tenure and legacy was unfolding in this way,” Wojnarowski said.

Asked about Wojnarowski’s work, the mayor said, “I won’t get into her performance. That’s between her and I.”

Adams served as mayor for a decade. He was a village trustee for a dozen years before that.

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