Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker participates in a bike ride from Oak Park to Maywood on May 15. | File
Sunday, May 22, 2022 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
The conversation that took place at a Maywood village board meeting on May 17 was heated, as usual. Tensions between Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker and his hand-selected village manager, Chasity Wells-Armstrong, spilled over into a conversation about Wells-Armstrong getting a village vehicle.
The board conversation and the mayor’s attempt to block the new vehicle purchase for the manager took on fresh significance after news broke the next day, May 18, that Booker had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and obstructing traffic about a week earlier, on May 13 — while driving a village-owned vehicle.
The irony is that the very criticisms that Booker had against purchasing a new vehicle for the manager — that the purchase would be too costly and that, since she lives in Bolingbrook, Wells-Armstrong would be using the vehicle more for her personal use while at home than for village purposes in Maywood — are falling back onto the mayor.
According to police, Booker was found asleep behind the wheel of the Explorer, with his vehicle blocking traffic in an outbound lane at around 1:30 a.m., on the Kennedy Expressway near Halsted Street, potentially exposing the village to liability if he caused any property damages, injuries or fatalities while in the village’s SUV.
Now, it falls to Manager Wells-Armstrong and the board to figure out what they’re going to do about the mayor’s village-owned vehicle, a 2021 Ford Explorer that the village is currently leasing for $49,000. The board voted 4-2 last year in favor of the lease agreement.
So far, there’s no indication that the mayor has relinquished the vehicle, which he drove to a public meeting in Maywood on May 21. Both Booker and village officials have declined to comment on the mayor’s two misdemeanor charges.
During the meeting on May 17, Booker argued that Wells-Armstrong should continue utilizing the $500 travel stipend that she currently gets. The manager said she suggested using a stipend to compensate for the wear and tear on her personal vehicle while at work, because she didn’t think it was appropriate to accept a vehicle while she was commuting from her hometown of Kankakee, where she was mayor before being hired last year in Maywood.
The manager said Kankakee is 60 miles one-way from Maywood and she didn’t want to subject a village vehicle to such a strenuous commute. Wells-Armstrong’s contract calls for the village to purchase a work vehicle for the new manager once she found a home within the village’s 15-mile radius map that outlines how far away village employees can live from Maywood.
Trustees Isiah Brandon, Miguel Jones and Aaron Peppers all agreed that the village should honor Wells-Armstrong’s contract, even though Brandon and Jones were vocally opposed to Wells-Armstrong’s hiring last year.
Now, Jones said, Mayor Booker is using the very arguments they lodged against the manager’s hiring. For his part, Booker has said that the trustees’ opposition to most of his proposals have been primarily obstructionist and designed to harm him politically. Brandon lost his bid for mayor against Booker last year and Jones ran successfully for trustee in 2019 on a slate that Brandon organized.
“If anybody should have a vehicle in the village of Maywood, it should be the village manager,” said Brandon during the May 17 meeting, before arguing that leasing a $50,000 vehicle for a part-time mayor “makes no sense.” Booker and Jones both voted against the lease agreement.
“You pushed for this,” Jones told Booker, referencing the Wells-Armstrong’s hiring and, by extension, her employment agreement that calls for the village to purchase a vehicle once she relocates.
“This is something I didn’t even agree to, but you have a contract,” Jones added. “Have some accountability. Let’s stick to our word and say what we’re going to do … Really, this is a technicality. We already agreed to this.”
Wells-Armstrong had been initially getting a $200 stipend, which she said did not cover insurance, gas or maintenance on her personal vehicle. The board then increased the stipend to $500, but she said that stipend is taxed.
“So, I’m not even getting a $500 stipend, because that’s taxed,” she said on May 17. Wells-Armstrong added that she “did not ask for a $50,000 car” and said she “downsized” to a midsize car.
“There were other village managers who did not live in Maywood and complied with residency boundaries, but were not subjected to this new standard proposed by this mayor,” she said.
Trustees Shabaun Reyes-Plummer and Antonio Sanchez agreed that any vote on purchasing a new vehicle for the manager should wait until a third-party law firm completes its investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct that have been lodged by the manager against the mayor.
The investigation and the May 17 fight over the manager’s vehicle are part of a nasty power struggle between Booker and Wells-Armstrong that almost dates to the moment she was hired, despite Booker advocating for the board to bypass a competitive search process in order to bring her on board.
The board voted 4-2 on May 17 in favor of the motion to wait until the investigation is completed before voting on the vehicle purchase. Brandon and Jones voted against the measure.