Month: June 2013

New Documentation Shows Former Village Finance Chair Racked Up Nearly $30K In Unaccountable Finances

By Michael Romain

Maywood — Recently released Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documentation has flashed another spotlight on the Village’s murky credit card accounts, the existence of which the public only realized after a lawsuit filed by four Maywood residents in 2011.

Before the suit, there were intimations among some citizens that certain Village officials had credit cards, but no hard proof. According to a September 21, 2011, report by the Better Government Association (BGA), when Cheryl Ealey-Cross put in a FOIA request for the credit card statements of then Village manager Jason Ervin, she was told that Ervin had neither an expense account nor a credit card of his own. Her request went unacknowledged by the Village, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. This prompted the lawsuit.

As with most spin, the Village’s claim was partly true. Ervin didn’t have his own expense account or credit card; he was merely the guardian of an expense account comprised of three credit cards—two in his name and one in the name of Village finance director Lanya Satchell—that was shared by several Village officials and their spouses (primarily Ervin, then-Mayor Henderson Yarbrough and the Board of Trustees). Call it communal property.

As a result of the suit filed pro bono by Kirkland and Ellis, one of the country’s biggest law firms, streams of documents demonstrating the exact nature of the ‘communal’ accounts poured into Mrs. Ealey-Cross’s possession.

According to a February 4, 2012 BGA report, “Records show trips to Las Vegas, Montreal, San Antonio, Washington, Florida and Denver, to name a handful. One expense totaled $1,017 at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles […] All told, Maywood officials charged nearly $150,000 on credit cards in 2009 and 2010.”

2009-2010 American Express Expenses
A chart detailing monthly charges (2009-2010) to the three American Express cards in the names of Jason Ervin and Lanya Satchell. The exact public purpose of these expenses, which include tickets to sporting events, numerous trips to cities across the country and meals, is unknown.

Of course, that the trips were taken does not constitute sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, Village Ordinance 36.06 allows the mayor and the board to use public expenses to travel to no more than two municipal conferences, in or out of state, in addition to business expenses “directly related to the performance of public office.” According to the Village’s budget for fiscal year 2013-2014, each trustee and the mayor were budgeted $6,000 and $14,000, respectively, for expenses in 2011 and 2012.

But these provisions don’t explain the seemingly arbitrary extravagance noted in more than 100 pages of American Express corporate card statements detailing a range of expenses incurred by Village officials between 2009 and 2010. The statements were accompanied by more than 100 pages of invoice listings from June 2001 to October 2011. This new documentation is the result of a FOIA request filed by a source who wanted to remain anonymous.

While the most outlandish of these expenses have already been reported on by the BGA, the nature of the charges reflects what appears to be a broken financial oversight system. When this expense account was first brought to light in 2011, former Mayor Yarbrough alleged not to have known about it, then-Village manager Jason Ervin could not show complete documentation confirming that the Village was reimbursed by officials who inappropriately brought their spouses along on the tax payer-funded trips and apparently officials weren’t required to provide receipts or fill out reports explaining the purpose of their expenses—one of the most basic elements of any adequate record-keeping process.

According to a source, Mr. Ervin was able to circumvent the board approval process for these credit card expenses by calling the bank himself and requesting that it authorize the purchases.

What’s perhaps even more troubling is that the documents suggest that Trustee Audrey Jaycox, the chairperson of the Village Board’s finance committee at the time—the very entity responsible for holding the unelected Village Manager accountable—may have accrued nearly $30,000 in travel expenses between 2009 and 2013 that have yet to be accounted for (these expenses don’t include personal chargebacks).

The 2009-2010 American Express statements show that the taxpayers paid for Ms. Jaycox to take seven trips in 2009, eight in 2010 and four in 2011—in obvious violation of Ordinance 36.06, which, as mentioned, only allows for up to two municipal conferences per trustee per year. Some of Ms. Jaycox’s destinations include Los Angeles, Cleveland, Tampa, Memphis, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Washington, DC, Houston, New Orleans and Phoenix.

Incomplete List of Trustee Jaycox Travel Expenses
A partial listing of Trustee Jaycox’s 2009-2011 travel expenses, with each dollar figure representative of a different trip. This doesn’t include an additional $15,721.78 accrued between May 1, 2011 and April 30, 2013, according to a source.

That Ms. Jaycox took more than two taxpayer-financed trips is a point beyond dispute. What’s less clear is whether the additional trips constitute “business expenses that are directly related to the performance of public office”—a matter Ms. Jaycox has yet to address. Moreover, it’s unclear whether or not Ms. Jaycox reimbursed the Village for the expenses she incurred in excess of the $6,000 each trustee is allocated. Ms. Jaycox could not be reached for comment.

With Mr. Earvin now a Chicago alderman and Mr. Yarbrough out of office, the status of this ‘shadowy’ expense account is unknown. Mayor Edwenna Perkins, one of the ‘Maywood Four’ who filed the 2011 lawsuit against the Village, said that, to her knowledge, the expense account still exists and is currently controlled by finance department director Lanya Satchell.

When asked if the same lack of reporting standards still apply to the account, Mrs. Perkins simply stated, “it’s still not handled as a separate line-item,” meaning that the board doesn’t authorize particular charges. In other words—same old, same old.

Mrs. Perkins did, however, point to the possibility that reform might be looming on the horizon. Since the new Mayor’s swearing-in, Ms. Jaycox has been relieved of her duties as head of the Board’s finance committee and the Village attorney, Michael Jurusik, has suggested that the Village “setup something different.”

Unfortunately, the precise nature of this different system is still vague at this point, while the individuals who shepherded the current insufficient system in its dark ‘heyday’—namely Trustee Jaycox, Ms. Satchell and Mr. Jurusik (who provided a degree of legal cover for the unaccountable expense account)—remain precisely in place.

This may be a classic case of what in the world of finance is referred to as the ‘agency problem’. To rephrase a definition provided by investopedia.com: An agency problem is, “A conflict of interest inherent in any relationship where [Village officials are] expected to act in [the public’s] best interest. The problem is that the [officials] who [are] supposed to make the decision that would best serve the [public] [are] naturally motivated by self-interest, and the [officials’] own best interests may differ from the [public’s] best interests.”

The agency problem begs the question: Can real reform happen when the people most responsible for this particular financial reporting fiasco are the very ones tasked with trying to implement its solution? More as this story develops. VFP

PLCCA To Host BPI Building Analyst Energy Auditing Program Information Session Tomorrow, 1pm

Proviso – Leyden Council for Community Action, Inc. (PLCCA) has been awarded funding via a grant from the DCEO Urban Weatherization Initiative to train as residential Energy Auditors contractors / students who live in, have their business in, or do work in the West Suburban area, at absolutely no cost to candidates (retail – $2995).

To join the class, which includes live classroom and hands-on diagnostic training, BPI Certification exams provided at the end of the course, and is 100% grant funded, potential candidates must register for an hour orientation session. We are conducting our BPI Building Analyst Energy Auditing Program Information Session on June 28th at 1:00 PM, 411 W. Madison St, Maywood, IL. This training program is best suited and can provide maximum benefit for individuals entering or experienced in the following fields:
• Builders and Architects
• Business / Technical Majors with some or all college (and college construction programs)
• Realtor / Brokers
• Insulation/Air sealing Contractors
• HVAC Professionals
• BPI Certifications
• HERS Raters & Building Analysts

Please email or call me to register for the orientation session. Also if there are questions contact me. Also if you know of any individuals, preferably college graduates or individuals with technical / construction / realtor backgrounds, which could benefit from this training program, please have them contact me.

Lennel Grace
Energy Auditor Training Program Recruiter
PLCCA, Inc
411 W. Madison St.
Maywood, IL 60153

lgrace@plcca.org
www.plcca.org
708.236.5040 (o)
708.244.1673 (c)

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Secretary of State Super Seniors Program

For seniors interested in renewing or correcting their drivers license, obtaining license plate stickers, renewing or correcting their state ID (free of charge),obtaining plate stickers, taking a written rules of the road test and other vehicle-related tasks, see the notification below. This event is open to all adults (not just seniors). For more information, contact the Village’s Senior Coordinator at 708-510-1843.

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Your Thoughts Are Welcome

Anyone interested in putting their comments, opinions, criticism, analysis or feedback up for formal publication should forward the content to thevillagefreepress@gmail.com in the body of the email (preferably) or in a Word file. Please keep content under 1,000 words. All letters are subject to screening and will be published at the discretion of the editorial team. They’ll be published weekly and/or as volume dictates. 

On June 18th’s Board Meeting

The Maywood Trustee meeting was a night of contrasts at once representing both the best, and the most troubling, aspects of local politics.

On the “best” side, there were dozens of highly motivated, involved citizens who want not only to fix their community’s problems, but also make it better. There was also the immediate feedback aspect of local politics lacking in Washington, permitting the Board to hear what their constituents think they should do in real time. Perhaps hearing it is not always pleasant, but accountability is one of the most important parts of our democracy.

The house was almost full. And almost every community member who spoke stated that the Board needs to work together, needs to move past the election and issues from years past in order to serve the Village. Nearly everyone in attendance voiced their agreement. Many with complaints also suggested improvements beyond immediate concerns. Some spoke solely to share their ideas to help improve the community.

On the troubling side, especially just after elections people are polarized by the issues, and are divided because of who won and who did not. People made allusions to scandals involving possible corruption and misuse of Village funds. It was apparent that these alleged scandals combined with concerns that the Trustees lack positive collaboration left many anxious that this new Board will not be able to move past the issues and serve the community.

Some Trustees fear that if no one in the community can forget, then the Board will not be able to move on; however some Trustees are addressing that directly, apparently attempting to build bridges by reaching out to other representatives.

If this post-election level of involvement continues, and the board listens to the citizens it represents to work together, Maywood can overcome its problems and live up to its Congressional designation as a village of eternal light; a village of transparency and accountability as well as collaboration with the community.

Adrienne

Gwendolyn Young Advises Area Girls: It’s Okay To Be

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(Left to Right) Mother Jacqueline Barnes, Gwendolyn Young and daughter Jacquelynne Young

By Michael Romain

A few weeks ago, I talked with Gwendolyn Young, the executive director of Seed of Hope (SOH) Foundation, a comprehensive mentoring nonprofit that targets teenage girls in the Proviso Township community. She spoke about her organization’s mission, its services and its upcoming youth conference. Full disclosure: I sit on SOH Foundation’s board of directors, but I don’t think this has much bearing on how necessary and vital organizations such as SOH are in the local community. This is the first of many organizational profiles to come.

What is Seed of Hope Foundation and what do you do?

We are a resource in the local community for assisting teenage girls with all-around life skills. We offer workshops in communication, conflict resolution, relationships, emotional health and entrepreneurship. These are skills that will grow with them throughout their lives. In addition, each girl must implement concrete goals through action plans that we have them create during the workshops.

Our primary service area covers the entire Proviso Township, although we also take girls from surrounding communities. Our staple program is called Life 101: Building a Foundation. Girls go through this program for 10-12 weeks, during which they learn about the importance of effective communication, building healthy relationships, nutrition and making important life choices. Right now, we have 10 girls who participate consistently in the program, but throughout our history we’ve served over 50 girls in the community.

How did the idea for this organization come about?

It’s always been my mom’s vision to empower women. She always wanted to found a program geared toward young women. She got me involved very early on in the process. We started about three years ago. We came up with a curriculum that we thought addressed issues and topics that just weren’t being addressed in other forums. These are things that complement (without duplicating) what young women learn in school.

Initially, we began focusing on the entrepreneurial piece, but in order to get to that piece, we found that there were so many other things going on underneath the surface we had to address first. So that’s where the OK2B Factor came into play. We want young women to know that they are perfectly made and unique, so there’s no need for them to be anyone else. It’s okay to be you.

What in you and your mother’s personal lives led you to become such passionate advocates for young women?

My mom (Jacqueline Barnes) and I were both victims of domestic abuse, so that helps us to really identify what the girls go through. I’ve been that girl who had the alcoholic father, who lived in the blended home, who had a baby out of wedlock and didn’t fully understand relationships at one point in time. Those are my own personal challenges that I share with them. But I don’t stop there. I’ll be finishing my master’s degree in a few months, I’ve been married to the father of my kids for 17 years, and my mom and I have both worked in the corporate arena for over 20 years. So, my story is also one that illustrates that, with the right guidance and example, these girls don’t have to go through what I did. The same lessons I learned to get from where I was to where I am are ones that they can immediately apply to their lives without the excess baggage.VFP

Seed of Hope will be hosting its OK2B Factor Young Women’s Conference at the Best Western Hillside (4400 Frontage Road) on July 20, 2013. All-day registration begins at 8am. Workshops will cover a host of pressing issues such as self-esteem, depression and life-choices. For more information and/or to register you, your child or family member, click here

AD-SEED OF HOPE FOUNDATION

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West Cook County Housing Collaborative Wins 2013 Urban Land Institute Vision Award

According to a statement released on Business Wire today:

CHICAGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The West Cook County Housing Collaborative (WCCHC), a joint effort between the municipalities of Bellwood, Berwyn, Forest Park, Maywood, Oak Park and community development financial institution (CDFI) IFF, has been honored by the Chicago Urban Land Institute (ULI) as one of five organizations to win a 2013 Vision Award in the program category. The award recognizes organizations for outstanding performance in real estate development for the Chicagoland area. Awardees are evaluated on “how [their] projects and programs highlight creative development practices, inventive partnerships or sharing of resources, imaginative problem solving, and visionary ideas that have contributed to the growth of vibrant communities.”

Formed four years ago to address the extremely high foreclosure rates affecting these five suburban communities, the Collaborative, with IFF providing project management and coordination, has successfully acquired, rehabilitated, and made affordable 21 formerly foreclosed, vacant homes, all within one mile of transit stops.

The Collaborative’s out-of-the-box approach redefines each municipality’s geographical boundaries as one community, which allows for a sharing of resources and the ability to accomplish more together than they ever could alone.

Collectively, Bellwood, Berwyn, Forest Park, Maywood and Oak Park have attracted $10.4 million in funding to address the foreclosure crisis and create new affordable housing options. WCCHC has also secured considerable operating support from The Chicago Community Trust and the Grand Victoria Foundation.

The WCCHC is implementing two major housing initiatives, The Housing Restoration Loan Fund and the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Loan Fund. The Housing Restoration Loan Fund provides funding for the acquisition and rehabilitation of single family homes and affordable resale to moderate-income households. The TOD Loan Fund provides low-cost predevelopment and acquisition to foster the development of multifamily housing within a half mile of a transit stop.

Governor Quinn has also recognized the program multiple times as “one of the best, economically smart ways that we can help working families and address the foreclosure problem in some of our hardest hit areas.”

Newly elected Oak Park Village President, Anan Abu-Taleb, said he is looking forward to working with his fellow mayors in the Collaborative. “The Collaborative’s work represents the kind of creative thinking that produces viable solutions to tough problems, and economic sustainability for our communities,” said Abu-Taleb. “I look forward to building on what the Collaborative has already accomplished and continuing to think innovatively about what more we might be able to do together.”

In addition to the 12 homes already sold, 19 additional homes will be available in Maywood, Bellwood and Forest Park, for a total of 31 new homes by the end of 2013—which will be situated so as to make it easier for families to get to work, doctor appointments, childcare centers and schools.

For more information about the available homes, please contact Marz Timms at the West Cook Homeownership Center at (708) 771-5801 or www.westcookhomeownership.org.

IFF conducts all business in accordance with the Federal Fair Housing Law.

IFF Stands for Comprehensive Community Development

One of America’s leading nonprofit community development financial institutions (CDFIs), IFF strengthens nonprofits and their communities through lending and real estate consulting that helps these organizations plan, finance, and build facilities that are critical to their success. Founded in 1988, IFF has total assets of more than $235 million and serves nonprofits working with low-income communities and special needs populations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin. To learn more about IFF, visit www.iff.org.

About the Urban Land Institute

Founded in 1936, ULI, the Urban Land Institute, is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit research and education organization supported by its members. ULI has members worldwide, representing the entire spectrum of land use and real estate development disciplines working in private enterprise and public service. A multidisciplinary real estate forum, ULI facilitates an open exchange of ideas, information, and experience among industry leaders and policy makers dedicated to creating better places.

Contacts

IFF
Marc Brailov: 312-596-5124
Kate Maher: 312-521-7385

Maywood Home On the Market For $1.5 Million

Yesterday, Curbed Chicago posted word that a Prairie-style home (601 N. 1st Ave.) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice John Van Bergen is up for sale for a cool $1.5 million. The home is representative of those designed by other architectural notables such as EE Roberts and John Drummond to be featured in this year’s Maywood Historic Homes Housewalk & Trolley Tour (see advertisement below for more info). Read more on the home beneath the picture (words by Curbed‘s Ian Spula).

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“A plus-sized Prairie home by Wright apprentice John Van Bergen has just listed in the western ‘burb of Maywood, at the bend of the Des Plaines River (we all know what the river is capable of come springtime, so buyer beware). The 5/3 home sits on 2.9 acres with a dramatic approach courtesy of landscape architect Jens Jensen. The estate was originally much larger (land was ceded to a neighboring church and to the state for a road extension), but the remaining acreage should suffice. The listing doesn’t clue us in to the interiors, so you’ll just have to consult your own Prairie style dictionary for a reasonable projection. Readers may have familiarity with Van Bergen’s other Chicago area works (selections here and here), always a treat to behold. The ask on this 4,700 square foot tease? A hefty $1.5M. Hat tip: Prairie Mod.” VFP

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