Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins during an event last year. | File.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 6:43 PM
Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins pushed back against the controversy that’s arisen since a December 2015 report by the Cook County Sheriff’s was made public last week. The report summarized the results of an investigation the department’s Community Inspector Genera (CIG) Unit conducted into eight complaints of misconduct made against the mayor.
The report found some of the claims to be unsubstantiated and cleared the mayor of any wrongdoing, but others were substantiated and followed by recommendations to the board of trustees. The report concluded that the mayor violated village ordinance and policy when she submitted reimbursement requests for supplies — expenditures that were already budgeted — without providing receipts or providing Xeroxed copies.
The report also suggests, but does not go so far as to outright claim, that the mayor may have misused public funds when last year she paid $695 for Trustee Isiah Brandon — who was not a village official or employee at the time — to attend a three-day training program for nonprofit leaders.
The village board voted 6 to 1 (with Perkins voting nay) at a committee meeting on Jan. 5 to send the CIG report to a full board meeting so trustees could vote on whether or it would be sent to the Attorney General’s and Cook County State’s Attorney’s offices.
In a recent interview, Perkins called the complaints that led to the report politically motivated and said she believes the complaints were orchestrated by “the four trustees” sitting on the village board.
“I’m running for reelection [in 2017],” she said. “Who else would benefit by making these complaints?”
While she wouldn’t specifically name the trustees, it’s widely known that Trustees Henderson Yarbrough, Antoinette Dorris, Melvin Lightford and Ron Rivers all came into office on the Maywood United Party ticket that the mayor believes has been a thorn in her side since she first took office in 2013 after defeating then-Mayor Yarbrough. Trustee Michael Rogers also ran on the Maywood United ticket, but it doesn’t appear Perkins included him among the “four” trustees she was referencing.
Perkins, who said she’s reached out to an attorney to “investigate my case” (she wouldn’t go into specifics about it), said that any ordinance violations she may have committed were due to a lack of knowledge of about the village’s purchasing process.
Perkins singled out several complaints as without merit, such as those claiming she defied a board request to move her office to 40 Madison; that she allowed a business operated by her political ally Princess Dempsey and Brandon’s nonprofit to operate out of her office; and that she hired more students than necessary, and hired one employee who didn’t pass a background investigation, for a 2014 summer work program.
__ MORE AFTER THIS JOB LISTING __
ARE YOU COMPASSIONATE, RELIABLE, AND TRUSTWORTHY?
THEN WE ARE LOOKING FOR YOU!
Right at Home the #1 name in home care, has immediate openings for CNA’S, Home Health Aides, Homemakers/Companions.
Flexible Hours: Come and Go from 1 1/2 hours to LIVE-INS.
SIGN UP BONUS!
Call 630-529-4000 for an appointment or go on line and fill out the application: http://www.rightathome.net/west-central-chicago/job-apply/personal-care-assistant?
Right at Home provides high quality care to the Senior and Disabled communities. Come join our winning team we have a client near you.
__ __ __
In their investigatory report, the CIG cleared Perkins of any wrongdoing related to those complaints. The nature of all of those complaints bolster Perkins’s claim that they were politically motivated, since they’ve all been issues that her so-called adversaries on the board have pushed, without much success, in the past.
In June 2014, Trustees Dorris, Rivers, Lightford and former Trustee Audrey Jaycox—all members of the Maywood United Party — voted to direct then-Acting Village Manager David Myers to move the mayor’s office from its current location inside of the police station to the village’s administrative building at 40 Madison St. Former Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross and current Trustee Michael Rogers voted against the move.
At the time, Myers authored a memo noting that the move would cost the financially distressed village an estimated $17,000 and that it wasn’t logistically feasible since there wasn’t enough space to accommodate the mayor’s office. Rogers, a professional architect at the time (he’s since retired), was also openly against the move, noting that the administrative building wasn’t suitable even for the office space that’s currently there — let alone additional office space.
The move didn’t happen, as the CIG report notes, because village staff strongly advised against it — not because the mayor stopped it.
“There was no space for me to move,” Perkins said. “ How could I have moved if there was no space?”
In addressing the claim that she hired more youth than necessary on the work program and that she hired an employee who did not pass a background check, Perkins pointed out that she wasn’t authorized to make hires.
The grant was administered by the Maywood Police Department, where all hiring decisions were made, she said. Perkins said she her role in the summer work program had previously been investigated after complaints were made, but that that investigation found no wrongdoing. CIG investigators noted in their report that they declined to investigate the matter a second time.
The CIG also found claims that Perkins was sharing office space with Dempsey Staffing, the company owned by her political ally Princess Dempsey, and Brandon, who was head of a nonprofit at the time, did not rise to the level of ordinance or state statute violations. Those claims had been raised on at least one occasion by Trustee Ron Rivers.
Dempsey, who has repeatedly denied the claims, has office space in Westchester. The village contracted with her firm to provide temporary staffers to stand in for Perkins’s executive assistant, Jonette Greenhow, until the board voted to end that contract. The CIG report found that Brandon operated his nonprofit from the mayor’s office “until the charity was involuntarily dissolved” in December 2014.
Perkins also addressed the CIG’s findings that she violated village ordinance and policies with her practice of submitting reimbursements without receipts or with Xeroxed receipts —amounting to more than $1,600 in reimbursement requests that weren’t backed by actual receipts — and that, because of her practice of purchasing with her credit card, the village, a tax-exempt body, had to pay taxes on the items.
“I wasn’t aware of the proper way to [make the purchases],” she said. “I was never invited to sit at the table to get the information. I wasn’t aware that I couldn’t add the taxes in. What I purchased had nothing to do with supplies. I bought stuff for those children to give them for their book bags, I bought candy — which the trustees sat up there and ate,” she said, referencing the cups of candy that are placed by trustees, and sometimes shared with the public, during weekly board meetings.
Addressing the reimbursements, Perkins said that she finds it hard to believe that finance department employees would reimburse her without her having shown them a receipt. Besides, she said, if her practices were improper, the finance department should’ve notified her and she would’ve corrected herself. She said if the finance department was, in fact, issuing her reimbursements without having gotten receipts in return, the blame should be on the finance department.
“Why would they give me a reimbursement and I didn’t give them receipts? Whose fault would that be? She [an employee in the finance department] takes my receipts and issues checks. I turn in my reimbursements with my receipts,” she said.
“There’s more to this than meets the eye, because if anything was incorrect it should’ve been caught. Somebody is not doing their job. The first thing I turned in that was not correct, should’ve been told to me — call me, email me, write me or whatever. Tell me it’s incorrect and I would’ve corrected it.”
Perkins said that the same logic applies to her $695 payment for Brandon to take the three-day nonprofit training program. The CIG report noted that the line-item Perkins submitted for board approval didn’t show Brandon’s name, leading the board and staff members to believe that the training was for her. Finance department officials told CIG investigators that they only learned that Brandon attended after the university where he took the training sent the village a letter notifying that it had qualified for a $200 refund due to Brandon’s nonprofit taking in less than $10,000 in annual revenue.
“If the village had not received the reimbursement, there would have been no record of Brandon attending training, paid for by the Village of Maywood,” the CIG report notes.
“The only thing I can speak to is that the paperwork was put in,” Perkins said, referencing the documentation related to Perkins’s reimbursement for Brandon’s training from the village’s petty cash fund. “If it wasn’t correct, it should’ve been caught. With the petty cash, you’re supposed to put in a reimbursement form. There are rules and regulations and if my paperwork wasn’t correct, it should’ve been corrected [by the finance department].”
Perkins did not, however, comment on whether the nature of the expense — which seemed to have benefited Brandon alone — was appropriate, since village ordinance requires all village funds to be used for public purposes.
An additional complaint alleged that Perkins retained employment for Greenhow, her executive assistant, after the latter had been implicated in a scheme to divert water payments received by the village to the accounts of numerous Maywood property owners. One of those homeowners was Greenhow’s mother, the CIG found.
The CIG investigators claimed that Greenhow told them she lived with her mother at the time of the fraud — a statement investigators found is contrary to what she told the village’s contracted attorney, Michael Jurusik, and then-Acting Village Manager David Myers, who conducted an internal probe that led to the termination of four other village employees. The CIG report noted that Myers told CIG investigators that the mayor played no part in Greenhow’s not being fired.
Perkins said the CIG report doesn’t contain the whole story with respect to Greenhow’s alleged role in the water fraud scheme, adding that, if village board members and staff persons were serious about investigating Greenhow, they would have forwarded the matter to the village’s human resources coordinator — the person who investigates village employees.
“She’s an employee,” the mayor said of Greenhow. “The HR department is the one that does investigation of employees. What was the true information about that [water fraud scheme]? There was more to it.”
“There are way more serious things for us to investigate. I’ve asked for a forensic audit for the last three years and haven’t gotten one yet. Why don’t they look into why our seniors are getting these high water bills? Maywood is $7 million in debt. Why won’t they look into that?”
“It’s called politics,” Perkins said. VFP