CALEDONIA — Less than a month before the April 2 election, a trustee took to the mic at a Village Board meeting to accuse the village administrator of bad-mouthing him within the Village Hall.
The trustee — Jay Benkowski, who is nearing the end of his first term in office — has been criticized for airing his grievance in a public forum since making his statement on March 4.
Benkowski is running against Tom Weatherston, who served in the state Assembly but did not seek re-election and is looking to return to the Village Board, on which he previously served.
According to Benkowski, Village Administrator Tom Christensen had claimed that Benkowski was “not properly prepared” for meetings and that these remarks were made within Village Hall during work hours.
Christensen, who was not present at the meeting where the accusation was made, denied making any such comments and said he has “no idea” why Benkowski believes he did.
The two had a brief face-to-face discussion regarding the squabble on Monday, one week after the comments were made, Benkowski said.
If Benkowski has a problem with Christensen, Village President Jim Dobbs thinks the issue should have been addressed privately.
“I don’t think we should be handling any personnel issue like this. And I don’t even know if we have a personnel issue,” said Dobbs, who was on vacation during the March 4 meeting. “If a trustee has an issue with an employee, it is never appropriate to bring it up in a public meeting.”
The village president added that, upon further investigation, he did not find Benkowski’s allegation to be credible.
“It’s totally absurd,” Dobbs said. “Tom Christensen did not say those things ... It is absolutely not true.”
But Benkowski has stood by his actions. If there is a “whisper campaign” against him, then he wanted to refute those rumors publicly, rather than potentially allowing them to propagate behind the scenes.
“I wanted to put it out in public,” Benkowski told The Journal Times.
After Benkowski spoke on March 4, Village Trustee Fran Martin chimed in to say that she too had heard about the comments Christensen allegedly made.
“I do think that it is a very unfortunate. I have heard that same rumor, whisper, whatever it is, and it attributed to Mr. Christensen,” she said. “I did not hear him say that, but I did hear that.”
Weatherston said that he had not heard anything about this situation until Benkowski made his comments last week.
“Jay and I talked after the meeting,” Weatherston said in an email, “and I assured him I had no knowledge of any negative talk about him.”