Wednesday, October 21, 2015 || By Michael Romain
In the wake of a complaint filed earlier this year, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s Office of Independent Inspector General (OIG) conducted what it called a “thorough investigation” into allegations of misconduct by current and former village employees and elected officials in Maywood, and “was unable to locate any corroborating evidence” for the misconduct.
According to a letter read by Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr., during Tuesday night’s regular board meeting, the OIG’s investigation was prompted by a series of events during the municipal elections held in April.
According to the complainants, Lanya Satchell, the village’s finance director, issued “letters to several candidates stating that they did not have any outstanding liabilities” to Maywood. The complaint, however, stated that the three candidates did have outstanding liabilities to the village. So far, it isn’t known who lodged the complaint.
Last December, the candidacies of Henderson Yarbrough, Sr., Readith Esther and Ron Rivers — all of whom were running for trustee seats on the Maywood United Party ticket in the run-up to the April election — were challenged by Darius Johnson, who claimed that all three owed money to the village.
At the time, it was reported that Johnson alleged that the three candidates had outstanding debts related to travel expenses they incurred while they were village officials. Esther is a former village clerk, having served from 2005 to 2009; Yarbrough served as mayor for two terms prior to his 2013 defeat at the hands of current mayor Edwenna Perkins; and Rivers was a sitting trustee running for reelection.
While Esther’s and Rivers’s expenses weren’t spelled out in detail, the OIG complaint alleged that Yarbrough had invited his wife, current Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, to attend a meeting in Washington, D.C., on the taxpayers’ dime.
The OIG’s investigation, however, noted that it couldn’t find any evidence that the candidates had charged companion travel to the village. In Yarbrough’s case, the OIG letter noted that, during an interview as part of the investigation, a former village manager disclosed that he had extended an invitation to Karen Yarbrough, who at the time was an Illinois state representative, to travel to Washington, D.C. for a meeting with former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on behalf of the village.
The OIG letter stated that one of its units interviewed former and current village managers, the three candidates in question and Satchell during the investigation. Despite the absence of corroborating evidence to support misconduct, the OIG recommended two procedural modifications to be made to the village’s travel and expense policy.
The first recommendation was for the board to issue a policy statement regarding official travel for village employees and elected officials. The statement should contain a travel authorization form to be completed by village employees and elected officials requesting authorization for travel for official business.
The statement should also be signed off by the village manager, or his/her designee, and should reflect that board approval is required for travel, if this is the case.
In addition, the OIG recommended that the policy statement “clearly state that paid companion travel is prohibited by the village and the companion of an employee or elected official may not book and/or charge a flight- or travel-related expense to the village, and subsequently reimburse the village for related expense.”
The OIG’s second recommendation was for all elected officials of the village to be required to file annual reports detailing all expenditures from their expense accounts provided by the village.
The village has, in fact, beefed up its travel and expense approval policies since 2013. In December of that year, the board unanimously approved an ordinance amendment that changed sections of the village code relating to administration, finance and taxation, and the use of public funds.
The amendment calls for “additional transparency and accountability regarding the expenditure of public funds” through the establishment of a “more detailed and formal procedure for submitting, reviewing and approving expenses and travel reimbursements.”
Among other regulatory enhancements, it requires all employees and appointed/elected officials to submit detailed expense statements in order to qualify for reimbursement of travel-related expenses, and that “certain travel shall only be reimbursed if pre-approved by the village board.”
The more robust changes were implemented in the wake of another sheriff’s office investigation into alleged misconduct.
In 2013, the office criticized former Maywood trustee Audrey Jaycox for “spending thousands of dollars in public money for more than 20 business trips over four years and for donating public funds to a political fundraiser,” according to a Chicago Tribune report.
The sheriff’s department found that Jaycox violated an “ordinance prohibiting elected officials from taking more than two work-related trips per year using public money.”
In 2012, FOX Chicago News and the Better Government Association (BGA) reported that members of the village’s board and village employees spent more than $100,000 sporting tickets, luxury resorts and trips. VFP