PARIS, IL. (ECWd) -
Cover-up, hide, lie and deny, it's apparently the path chosen by a select few public officials in many places. Why is it so hard to simply do the right thing?
Many locals may recall the former Paris Fire Chief, Steve Wirth. Paris Mayor was determined to remove him from his position by any means possible. From accusations of city credit card use for personal matters to college education on the city dime which is forbidden. Although we don’t know the details of the settlement that removed the past Fire Chief from his job, we do know it was all resolved to former Chief Wirth’s satisfaction shortly after demanding credit card statements from others to include the Mayor.
Edgar County Watchdogs uncovered the clear cover-up and disregard for the law in the credit card cover up of City Commissioner Jerry Branson; however, the key question that must be asked, why would a Mayor, who is a practicing lawyer, not uphold the law and have this man removed from office? Was the mayor just as guilty?
The Watchdogs kept digging for answers and the things uncovered paint a very interesting pattern, as if anyone in Edgar County would be surprised.
As part of the credit card cover up story the CPA had raised concerns over Mayor Craig Smith having charges on his city credit card for Hotels.com to the tune of $1,200.00 with no receipts. Upon request for those records an interesting salvo of emails told us more digging was justified. In response to a request for 2004-2005 credit card statements, this was one of the responses:
“2004 bills have been destroyed per the State of Illinois Local Records Commission.”
What the city didn’t know is I have been around the block a few times and upon receiving this statement I fired off a FOIA to the Illinois Records Commission and received the last three requests for destruction documents from the city of Paris. Anyone want to predict what those reflect? Facts don’t lie! The last request for destruction was in 2011 and the destruction request only applied up to 2003 for these types of records! Destruction Authorization
I then asked asked the City for a copy of the authorization of destruction document provided from the ILRC. Considering the city claimed they destroyed the records per the ILLRC they should have no problem producing it.
“The City Clerk has not received authorization to date.”
So we have now gone from “have been destroyed” to not received authorization to destroy? So at what point do you call a lie a lie?
My next request was for the City to provide a copy of the request to destroy documents provided to the ILRC. Remember, I had already recieved ALL the requests provided by the City to the State of Illinois and no such request existed.
“The City Clerk cannot locate the request at this time!"
"We destroyed them", to "We’re waiting for authorization to destroy them", to "We can’t find our request to destroy them!"
Would you ever believe these people after this?
You really can’t make this stuff up!
Sure sounds like the city is going out of its way to conceal Mr. Smith’s Credit Card Statements.
More interesting, one of the credit card statements I did receive reflects two charges for $295.00 and at the bottom a notation that it was for Illinois Institute for Continuing Education – State Statutes. Continuing education? That was one of the charges the Mayor used in his efforts to remove the past Fire Chief. Good for the Goose but not the Gander? Credit card Statement
Make special note that "someone" in City Government wrote a note on the bill. Was that information provided by the Mayor? It was his credit card so surely he know what he was purchasing. If it was his note on the statement then it is a lie. If he advised someone that it was for state statutes and that person wrote it on the statement, that too would be a lie!
Again, knowing what I was dealing with I went to work to get all the facts, I contacted the IICLE to find out who they are and what they do. Turns out they are a firm that provides Continuing Education for Lawyers, of which Mayor Craig Smith is one! Now do you suppose Mayor Smith was stupid enough to use the city credit card for his own continuing education?
Always remember get the answer to questions before you ever ask them if at all possible. Again it proves priceless. Another interesting salvo of emails to the city didn’t fail in revealing yet another concealment effort.
When asked what the charge to the IICLE was for, the response was "for State Statutes."
Q: On page 1 of the credit card statement for June of 2005 there are two charges to IICLE for $295.00 each. Please provide a copy of the receipts for those purchases. If the receipt does not give a description of what was purchased please provide that information.
A: Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education. It was charges for the State Statutes. A copy of the receipt was not included with the statement.
Q: State Statutes? Is that like a printed reference set of books that has all the statutes?
A: Yes. There is a new edition every two years, with updates printed on the off year.
Q: Is there a convenient time I could review the printed Compiled Statutes purchased?
A: The State Statute volumes are in the Mayor’s office at City Hall.
Q: Is there a time we can look at the volumes in the Mayor’s Office?
A: Anytime this afternoon after 1:00 or anytime tomorrow.
Q: Can you tell me who determined that payment was for state statutes if you don’t have a receipt for it? I assume the Mayor since they are in his office but I don’t want to assume.
A: The Mayor does not recall. The Finance Director and I are assuming it was the Statutes. It happened in 2005 with a different bookkeeper.
So we have a credit card statement with purchases from the Mayor, a practicing attorney, who provides no receipt for the purchase and the city pays it anyway. More interesting is why would the Finance Director and Deputy Clerk assume it was for State Statutes if they have no idea what it was really for? You know what happens with assumptions!
They claim they purchased state statutes but when questioned they now don’t know what they purchased. Let’s give them a little education in investigative journalism.
The Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education does not sell, nor ever have sold, a set of State Statutes, confirmed by the Director of Publishing for the IICLE!
“I’m the Director of Publishing at IICLE®, and I write to respond to your inquiry to IICLE info regarding whether we publish print, bound copies of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. We do not.” E-mail from IICLE
A screen capture of an online chat with the organization also confirmed they never have provided the city claimed statutes, which I considered my second source of confirmation of the facts being presented. On Line Chat Confirmation
So we have claims of destroyed records that have never been destroyed, to purchased items that have never even been purchased.
The Mayor doesn’t recall? Let us refresh his memory. Good investigative work might take as much as an email from the city to the IICLE to find out what they were charged for but doing so might expose the truth, which it would appear they don’t want out.
What is the truth? Mayor Craig Smith used his city issued credit card to purchase a Continuing Education Seminar. A seminar that he put on his city issued credit card and the invoice confirms it was sent to his own law firm, Asher and Smith, not the city. Asher & Smith Invoice
Well Mr. Smith, do we now have you doing the very same thing you complained about and used in efforts to remove the past fire chief from office?
Considering we have confirmed no one else has authorization to use the Mayor's credit card, one must ask why is it OK for the Mayor to use his city credit card to fund his private continuing education? We take that position because the invoice was in fact made out to his private law firm and before he tries to imply it was city related seminar and just a mistake that it was addressed to his law firm, we must look at one important element in the chain of events. A second charge on the same day at the same time was made on the Mayor’s city credit card to the same organization.
The second charge was for Steve Garst and that is where things get very interesting. The mayor used his City issued credit card, which no one else is allowed to use, and registered himself and Steve Garst to a seminar. The invoice for the city attorney, Steve Garst reflects the city address. City Attorney Invoice
The invoice for the Mayor reflects the private law firm of Craig Smith, Asher & Smith. Now before we get to the issue of the city paying for its hired attorney’s continuing education let’s stay focused on Craig Smith and his actions.
It can’t be a mistake that the law firm address for the Mayor appears on the invoice, instead of the city address, considering he knew quite well the proper address for the city attorney. He had to advise them to use two different addresses when registering.
So to keep it simple, Craig Smith used the City Credit card to cover a continuing education seminar for himself, and had the city pay for, and never reimbursed, the city for that expense, not that that would make it any more legal.
The use of public funds for private purpose is prohibited by our Constitution and is well established as a felony and upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court, even when those funds get paid back. I would bet an audit of the books of Asher and Smith reflects that invoice shows up as an expenditure on his business taxes, however that is strictly speculation as I have no authority to review those and I am sure he would never open up those books willingly!
Clearly such actions by this Mayor are common place. As if this information isn’t damning enough, a recent State Board of Elections hearing I had regarding the use of public money for a campaign contribution, an act performed by Craig Smith, the SBE advised such an act is a criminal matter and outside the authority of the SBE to hear and should be turned over to the State's Attorney. Don’t hold your breath on that ever getting prosecuted either, as the current State's Attorney is the former law partner of Craig Smith. He won’t touch it is our guess.
When a practicing attorney provides no receipts for his purchases on the people’s dime and uses their dime for self-interests as well as giving out the people's money to political figures of his choosing, it’s time for him to be removed. His actions clearly point to Official Misconduct.
The people of this nation are struggling to survive and make ends meet. It's Public Officials like Craig Smith that are leading the charge in ensuring We The People distrust our government and those involved in it.
There are good people in our counties who need to stand up and take back their government. Throw them out on their back side come the next election and file each and every possible complaint you can against them. The public outcry is what gets things done. We The People means nothing if we just read about this stuff and do nothing.
God Help Edgar County!