Orland Park, IL. (ECWd) -
Orland Park Library Board returns some (but not all) of gold it took from taxpayers
A few Orland Park Public Library trustees have now returned some (but not all) of the gold that they had accepted as rewards for being on this Board through the years. This gold was purchased for trustees by Library Director Mary Weimar at Noral Diamond Jewelers in Palos Heights in violation of state law. Library board trustees cannot accept compensation for being on the board. A lot of questions are raised by a public library having an active account at a jewelry store in the first place and there is no clearer form of compensation than gold. Taxpayers think this library is spending its money on books and DVDs, not buying gold for Board Members.
State law is blindingly clear on trustees not being able to accept such bling. The Illinois Local Library Act (75 ILCS 5/4-5) provides:
"Trustees shall serve without compensation but shall be reimbursed for their actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties from library funds."
An interesting twist here is that the OPPL’s own attorneys at Klein Thorpe Jenkins put out an e-Law newsletter that was sent to all KTJ clients in 2012 that specifically warned public libraries not to allow their trustees to accept rewards for being on the board. (Page 1 - Page 2)
That e-newsletter went to great lengths to make it clear that “compensation” as used in the Illinois Local Library Act (75 ILCS 5/4-5) is defined in Illinois statute as "renumeration in whatever form it may be given" and that "renumeration" is itself defined by the dictionary as "a reward for service". KTJ, thus, told its clients that Illinois law prohibits library board trustees from receiving rewards for their service as trustees.
But, as usual, the Orland Park Public Library Board chose not to listen and decided it could accept gold jewelry that Mary Weimar bought from Noral Diamond Jewelers with taxpayer money for board members as rewards for their time on the board.
Megan Fox and Kevin DuJan caught these violations of the Illinois Local Library Act in documents they received responsive to FOIA requests and confronted the OPPL Trustees with not only the gold spending but also lavish meals that board members were treating themselves to as social events. These were $500 steak dinners for board members and meals ordered for board meetings, all in violation of the “no compensation” provision of the Illinois Local Library Act.
At the December 2014 regular Board of Trustees Meetings, Fox & DuJan spelled out some of the violations to the Board. Trustee Diane Jennings argued that she did not do anything wrong in taking the rewards and compensation. Fellow Board Member Cathy Lebert, however, asked board attorney Dennis Walsh (from Klein Thorpe Jenkins) if what the Board was doing broke the law…but Walsh refused to answer! He said he didn’t know the law and would have to check on it and declined to answer despite Lebert pressing him to tell her if the Board was breaking the law by taking these meals and other gifts from Mary Weimar. Here, Walsh was billing the OPPL $200/hour to sit there during the board meeting and when a Board Member directly asked him if the Board was violating the law, he said he did not know and would have to get back to them. How is that possible? Watch this unfold here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Thk3xeZc1U4&index=20&list=PLILXCDHJg4yL-AlrgRxCYIIFANM-uSzIz
The OPPL Board refused to ever comment on, explain, or address this matter again. But, in August 2015, Fox & DuJan stumbled upon the old KTJ e-newsletter proving that Dennis Walsh should have known back in December 2014 that what this Board was doing was wrong, since his own law firm (KTJ) wrote the e-newsletter telling library trustees they can’t do this. (Page 1 - Page 2 of newsletter)
Fox & DuJan confronted the OPPL with the old KTJ newsletter and asked again why trustees like Diane Jennings still insisted they could take food and gold from taxpayers as rewards for being on the Board. Within days, Jennings was forced to write a check for $369.86 to cover food and other things taken from taxpayers in violation of the Illinois Local Library Act. She even gave back the gold she took and the library made a big production of photographing the gold along with Jennings’ check!
The OPPL has now provided a list of former and current Trustees and what meals and gold jewelry gifts they have reimbursed the public for as of 9/9/15.
The list is incomplete, as several trustees (such as John Parker and Sharon Fritz) who are listed on documents as having received gold have not returned the gold or provided reimbursement (see who has not returned the stolen library gold). There are also former trustees who ate food they should not have eaten who have not reimbursed the public for those meals.
Cathy Lebert, the trustee who asked Dennis Walsh at the 12/15/14 Board Meeting if the trustees were allowed to accept rewards and compensation for being trustees, followed though on her pledge to reimburse the public for food she ate in violation of the Illinois Local Library act…but no documents show her giving back the gold she took or reimbursing taxpayers for that. She needs to give back that gold, as Diane Jennings and Nancy Wendt Healy gave back the gold they took from taxpayers.
Only a small portion of what was spent on former Trustee Maryann Ahl’s lavish going-away party in March of 2014 has been reimbursed to the public. There were actually several parties involved in Ahl’s spectacular send-off, one of which consisted of 7lbs of Italian beef and quarts of various peppers served Caligula-style in her honor. Close to $1,000 was spent rewarding Maryann Ahl for her time on the OPPL board with that Italian Beef Party…but only $150 or so has been paid back by various Trustees who attended the event.
No reimbursements at all for food and gifts taken by Board Members seem to have been made by Trustees Dan Drew, Denis Ryan, or Julie Anne Craig. It is unlikely that they did not attend the Italian Beef Party at least or that they did not eat or drink other things provided to them by Mary Weimar through the years in violation of the Illinois Local Library Act.
But, the reimbursements made so far are a good start. This public body just needs to track down the missing gold watch and other golden trinkets that former Board Members still have in their possession, which Mary Weimar should have never used taxpayer money to buy from Noral Diamond Jewelers.
The Board should also pass a resolution stating that Mary Weimar is no longer allowed to spend taxpayer money at Noral Diamond Jewelers and that this Board of Trustees will from now on respect the Illinois Local Library Act and its prohibition on trustees accepting food, drink, or gold as rewards for being on the board.
Remember that the OPPL is the very same library that last year claimed it was going to cut children’s story time and stop reading to kids if it did not get more tax money in the form of a levy quadrupling they wanted. So, they threatened they were going to stop reading to children if they did not get more tax money. And all the while, they had plenty of money to buy gold jewelry and take Board Members out to fancy steak dinners. There was always plenty of money for that…but they claimed they were so broke they were going to have to stop reading to kids (which, by the way, costs nothing but a book and a librarian who can read and some children sitting on the floor waiting for a story).