CLARK CO., IL. (ECWd) –
Commissioner Ron Stone, in February of 2016, was the first person to bring up any discussion of the Clark County Park District sponsoring a Wall Dog Mural of Mill Creek Park (AKA Clark County Park District). How interesting he failed to mention during the meeting it was going to be placed on a building he owns, even when questioned by Commissioner Terry Stepp. His answer to Commissioner Stepp was convoluted at best. You can listen to the excerpt here:
It gets worse, believe it or not. Commissioner Stone also decided to vote to approve the payment of the improperly incurred liability (see article here) at the September 15, 2016 regular Board Meeting without disclosing his private interest in the project. He also went along with the discussion that it was “discussed” at a prior meeting – presumably knowing the requirements of the Park District Code that all debt incurred must be expressly approved at a meeting and recorded in the minutes of the meeting. This debt violated the Park District Code.
Commissioner Stone has failed in the performance of his fiduciary duties as Park District Commissioner in that he has perpetrated the use of the Clark County Park District’s money to pay for an improvement to his building in the amount of $5000.00. He had an obligation to disclose his interest in the building where the mural was to be painted and remove the conflict by either resigning or removing the action item from the agenda. This could be considered compensation, by way of payment for building improvements to a building he owns, which by all appearances would violate Section 4.1 of the Park District Code to serve without compensation.
Improvements to a private building owned by a commissioner is not a public purpose, and may have violated the Illinois Constitution, Article VIII, Sections 1(a) and (b) respectively: that “Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes” and “The State, units of local government and school districts shall incur obligations for payment or make payments from public funds only as authorized by law or ordinance.” There is no law authorizing the use of public funds to paint anything on a commissioners private building.
Although the mural may have a public interest on the side of “a” building, putting it on the side of “a commissioners” building who failed to disclose his interest is very problematic. Let’s not forget the expense was not authorized under law or ordinance.
The Clark County Park District Policy Manual Section 3.6 explains that board members must be free from self-interest: “Each action taken by a Board member in the course of their duties will be motivated by the District’s best interests and should, therefore, be free of outside influence and self-interest.”
I don’t believe anyone in their right mind would think that Commissioner Stone’s decision to vote to pay an unauthorized expense was free from outside or self-influence.
The invoice, received and paid in violation of various laws, could rise to violations of the Illinois False Claims Act, 740 ILCS 175/3, for knowingly presenting or causing to be presented a false or fraudulent claim for payment, making false records or statements material to a false or fraudulent claim, and conspiring to do the above.
The Executive Director presented a fraudulent claim to be paid – the Executive Director, Commissioners Ewing, Kuehnel and Stone all made statements in the September 2016 Board meeting alluding that the expense had been approved in advance – and they all conspired, thru discussion and voting, to pay the false and fraudulent claim.
From the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act 50 ILCS 105/3:
“(a) No person holding any office, either by election or appointment under the laws or Constitution of this State, may be in any manner financially interest directly in his own name, or indirectly in the name of any other person, association, trust or corporation, in any contract or the performance of any work in the making or letting of which such officer may be called upon to act or vote.”
Note that the Wall Dog sponsorship was not brought up until it concerned his building which is shown later in the article.
From the Illinois Official Misconduct statute at 720 ILCS 5/33-3
“(a) A public officer or employee or special government agent commits misconduct when, in his official capacity or capacity as a special government agent, he or she commits any of the following acts:
(1) Intentionally or recklessly fails to perform any mandatory duty as required by law; or
(2) Knowingly performs an act which he knows he is forbidden by law to perform; or
(3) With intent to obtain a personal advantage for himself or another, he performs an act in excess of his lawful authority; or
(4) Solicits or knowing accepts for the performance of any act a few or reward which he knows is not authorized by law.”
Here is a brief timeline for your consideration. Documents will be attached at the end of the article for your reading enjoyment.
- July 31, 2015 Mr. Stone writes a letter to the Chamber of Commerce stating he is giving permission for a mural to be painted on the West Side of his building. (Attached)
- August 31, 2015 Marshall Chamber of Commerce posts list of themes and locations which include the statement “Mill Creek is not currently sponsored, going at the Knights of Pythia’s Building. (Attached)
- January 5, 2016 Marshall Chamber of Commerce posts map of murals which still shows Mill Creek going to the Knights of Pythia’s Building and still no sponsor. (Attached)
I have received confirmation from Jennifer Bishop at the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce that the location changed due to the inability of one of the artists to paint on one of the buildings due to the texture. The Knights of Phythia location and the Strohm Newspaper locations were swapped to accommodate the artist.
- February 18, 2016, Regular Board meeting Mr. Stone brings up the Mill Creek Mural not being sponsored and he thinks the park should cover it. This was brought up under Master Planning Committee Report and no actionable item was on the agenda to warrant an approval of the expense. Despite the Wall Dog project being on for 2+ years this is the first mention of the project at a board meeting, and it appears the issue is only raised after it concerned Commissioner Stone’s building.
- March 18, 2016, Marshall Chamber of Commerce post Themes and Locations showing the Mill Creek Mural is still not sponsored but now going on the Marshall Advocate building located at 610 Archer Ave, which is Mr. Stone’s building per his very own letter to the Marshall Chamber of Commerce dated 07/31/2015. (Attached)
- Sometime in April of 2016, Mrs. Murphy calls Jennifer at the Chamber of Commerce, per Jennifer Bishop, telling Mrs. Bishop that the park district will sponsor the project because “several board members said it was OK.” Obviously, this did not happen in a meeting as it was not voted on in a meeting.
- July 6, 2016 Marshall Chamber of Commerce posts Picture of Mill Creek Mural with a note stating Sponsored by Clark County Park District. It appears that all other major donors were announced before the murals were painted.
- September 2016 – Bill for $5000 presented to the board for payment at the September 2016 Board meeting despite the invoice being dated June 22, 2016 which was the first day of the Wall Dog event. This invoice is marked past due. When was the first one sent and who got it? Why does the park district continually lose public documents?
So many questions and so few answers from our elected officials. Shout out to Jennifer Bishop of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce on her transparency and her willingness to answer my questions! More people should take her lead.
I almost forgot to mention that Commissioner Stone is not just a landlord of Strohm Newspapers (who fails miserably at actually informing the good folks of this area) he is also a shareholder and receives dividends. He is consistently called on to vote on Strohm Newspaper invoices for payment and abstains from voting at the advice of legal counsel. He knows it is a conflict and an abstention does not remove that conflict as the courts have said as much in numerous cases. He understands the issues. All indications are his motto is “It is better to ask forgiveness than permission.”.
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