Ridgewood Village Manager Ken Gabbert and Councilman Paul Aronsohn over the issue of storm-related communications on Wednesday, with the councilman saying Gabbert displayed a 'disturbing' lack of accountability and the manager retorting that Aronsohn was "insulting" village staff.
It's not the first time the two have had public spats on the dais on the issue. and refusing to disclose his whereabouts, adding that village communications to residents during the freak October snowstorm was effectively "radio silence," a point Gabbert has denied.
It all boiled over Wednesday night.
Gabbert began the tense discussion by "correcting" "misconceptions and misstatements" regarding a statement last week made by Deputy Mayor Tom Riche, the OEM Communication Director, that once the OEM Center is activated, the OEM Director (Brad Mason) takes control and the village manager in theory is not in charge.
"The mayor is not giving up any authority, I'm not giving up any authority," Gabbert exclaimed, adding Aronsohn's statements were "insulting" to village staff. "We do have a focus so there is not misinformation in the middle of the crisis. I think we were all on the same page, the focus had to be from the OEM on resolving the crisis. Somehow it got on the blogs the mayor and manager were delegating responsibility to the OEM director; it's not the case."
Aronsohn was unconvinced Gabbert was aware of the procedures or protocol.
The councilman listed several grievances with Gabbert's conduct during the storm. "It's disturbing he wasn't clear on his role in a time of crisis," Aronsohn said. Aronsohn – who has often opposed Gabbert on various issues – then alleged he had to file a public records request to get the OEM manual, which he claims Gabbert said he couldn't find and further stated "may not exist."
The manual – one of three in the village – was eventually given to Aronsohn after the public records request.
"Communications were lousy, Ken. Your attempts to deflect this to your staff is just unbelievable," Aronsohn said, drawing a tired look from Killion. "This isn't about their attendance at meetings, it's about your non-attendance at meetings. It's not about them knowing what's in the emergency operations plan, it's you not knowing that one existed."
The village manager took umbrage to Aronsohn's point that there was "radio silence," calling it a "misstatement" and saying much of his critiques are the benefit of "20/20 hindsight" that can't be known in the middle of a crisis.
"Anyone in the village knows the radio waves were in full communication concerning the storm," he said, calling the organizational response "paramilitary-like".
"If the suggestion is that we let our residents know by whatever method possible that it is snowing, or please stay inside, those are valid suggestions . . . if anything we'll have people calling us saying, 'Please stop sending me messages, I know it's snowing outside.'"
Gabbert said that he and the mayor were still top of the food chain but it's a flexible plan designed to focus all efforts to control the crisis with Mason.
"I don't give up my reporting authority to those individuals [village staff] but in that crisis, if Brad Mason needs the health coordinator to help him that crisis, then he's got that authority to reach out and direct that individual."
"He either doesn't get it or he just isn't willing to accept responsibility for it," Aronsohn said after the meeting. "Either way, we have a problem."
Killion ended the discussion, stating it was becoming a "personnel issue" and should be discussed in closed.