Sunday, June 12, 2016 || By Michael Romain
A June 8 meeting of the Bellwood Public Library’s Board of Trustees was the subject of a probing article published by the Edgar County Watchdogs — essentially two regular citizens from largely rural Edgar County who regularly take local governing bodies to task.
A March 2015 article in the Chicago Tribune described Kirk Allen and John Kraft as “muckrakers of the farm fields, bloodhounds for small-town waste and corruption, self-appointed guardians of taxpayer money who comb through the books of municipal governments all across Illinois in search of misconduct and misspending.”
That search, apparently, has spread all the way to Bellwood, which has a population of around 19,200 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to the Watchdogs, three board members in attendance at that June 8 meeting — Regina Greene, J.B. Carr and Mary Clements — refused to allow their board colleague Dorothy Clark-Smith to phone into the meeting.
The Watchdogs speculate that Clark-Smith may have been refused because if she had been allowed to phone in, her presence would’ve constituted a quorum (the minimum majority of members needed in order for a meeting to become public and thus subject to the Open Meetings Act).
But openness may not be something that the politically connected “mystery man” — who “makes hand gestures at Greene” during board meetings and has seemingly obtained control of the library board — particularly welcomes, the Watchdogs note.
The Watchdogs don’t name the mystery man, only writing that “some have identified [him] as a politically connected man from Maywood who also interferes with the Bellwood school board and seems to have control over board members there too).”
And the only sources directly cited in the article are board meeting documents, such as agendas and meeting minutes. Nonetheless, their description of the man is rather scathing. At the June 8 meeting, the Watchdogs write, the mystery man made hand signals for Greene and the other two board members to meet him outside, which they did.
The Watchdogs claim that the mystery man is colluding with board members to circumvent public scrutiny by abusing closed session privileges.
According to a Watchdog analysis of meeting minutes, on multiple occasions the Bellwood library board has went into closed session before returning to an open session and immediately voting on various big-ticket action items, such as the hiring of the Stuttley Group LLC as the board’s new law firm.
In May, the Watchdogs claim, the board was confronted by members of the public about the hiring of a consultant, seemingly hand-picked by the mystery man, to oversee a “shady” bathroom remodeling project.
Both of those board actions, the Watchdogs claim, appeared to be made at the direction of the unidentified mystery man. The Watchdogs also claim that the mystery man “is engaging in a scheme involving kickbacks of some kind to plunder the Bellwood Public Library, using the board members he controls to achieve this.”
“The Bellwood Public Library seems to have around $500,000 in cash reserves that it appears that the Mystery Man from Maywood may want to get his hands on bit by bit through ‘consulting’ fees and no-bid contracts,” the Watchdogs write.
“The public is not allowed to see or hear what is happening, but the Mystery Man is always lurking and may even be communicating with Regina Greene and other board members during closed session.”
Those are some pretty scathing accusations that, if true, would present a rather troubling picture of corruption. If only the Watchdogs fleshed it out by directly citing the claims, counterclaims and explanations of the actual people involved. VFP
Above photo credit: Edgar County Watchdogs
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