Veterans Assistance Commission of Will County, IL. (ECWd) –
We started looking at the Veterans Assistance Commission (“VAC”) of Will County after being informed of allegations of a $495,000 no-bid contract given to a company who had not even been legally formed when the grant was approved, and whose owner was friends with the VAC Superintendent at the time, and the contract was paid in full up front and was for social media and marketing of the VAC to Will County Veterans. Add to that, further allegations indicated the Superintendent resigned after FOIA requests for information on the grant, the business owner shuttered her website, and removed all of her money from the bank she had been using for decades.
One of our first steps in investigating a public body is to ensure those on the board are qualified to sit on the board. In Will County, most are not qualified.
Denise Williams is an alleged Delegate to the Veterans Assistance Commission of Will County from the American Gold Star Mothers – Department of Illinois, a Congressionally Chartered (June 12, 1984) Veteran Service Organization (“VSO”) formed by Mothers of Veterans on July 5, 1929. This American Gold Star Mothers – Department of Illinois serves people in more than one county in Illinois.
We say “alleged delegate” because the paperwork appointing her as a delegate did not surface until after we published our article explaining that 8 of the 10 executive board members were not appointed as a delegate or alternate in 2022. We asked for any emails (including on private email accounts) Williams might have had concerning her alleged appointment, but she refused to provide them, and we are filing a FOIA lawsuit seeking those records.
During the September 1, 2022, meeting of the Executive Committee of the VAC, Williams decided it was time for her to make a prepared public statement to somehow “set the record straight,” but what she did was dole out misinformation disguised as truth.
We urge our readers to watch her comments during the special meeting held last week prior to reading the rest of this article. Here: VIDEO LINK
Here is a partial list of her false or misleading statements, mostly regarding membership on the VAC – a future article will address her comments on the $500,000 no-bid contract which was paid in its entirety up-front:
- Amanda Koch, Commissioner and County Board member did not vote for the grant – FALSE
- Eligibility statements, either false or misleading:
- 2-year term IAW their bylaws
- Law changed in 2021 after the current executive board membership vote to require 25% residency requirement for a VSO serving more than one county to appoint a delegate to a Commission
- This change does not retroactively invalidate current board members
- Not representing organizations with congressional or state charter is misleading
- Change including that (definition of VSO) language does not become law until January 1, 2023
- A VSO changing its delegate appointments after the executive board is elected does not remove an executive board member according to their bylaws
Short version explaining how wrong her comments were:
False: Amanda Koch did not vote for the grant
- This is a false statement according to the Will County Board meeting minutes. Amanda Koch did vote in favor of the $495,000 grant to the VAC during the February 18, 2021, Will County Board Meeting (See meeting minutes here – page13 and 14 of the minutes and pages 227 and 228 for the actual resolution)
- Amanda Koch, in voting for the grant engaged in an impermissible conflict of interest, which in all likelihood violated the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act
- Even if she did, as WIlliams suggested, abstain from the vote (which she did not), the Prosser Rule makes an abstention go with the majority when concurrence is required – and the only possible ways to get rid of an impermissible conflict are (see bottom of page 2) to 1) remove the conflict, or, 2) resign from the office. Koch did neither, but instead voted in favor of the grant for the VAC in which she is also a sitting board member
False or Misleading: They have a 2-year term according to their bylaws
- Bylaws cannot conflict with state law. No exceptions. Just because a public body inserts something into its bylaws, doesn’t mean it takes precedence over state law.
- When state law changes, bylaws must immediately change to conform with state law
- Since at least 1997, Section 9 of the Military Veterans Assistance Act (“MVAA”) has stated that delegates and alternates are selected by each VSO annually.
- If delegates and alternates are selected annually, a committee of the commission cannot have a 2-year term since some of those members may not be selected again by their VSO. This is one of their bylaw items violative of state law.
- We noticed she didn’t mention the committee having “past chairmen” as voting members of the committee – likewise impermissible, notwithstanding what is listed in their bylaws.
False or Misleading: Law changed in 2021 requiring 25% residency for some VSOs and is not retroactive
- Yes, the law was changed and became effective on August 20, 2021, requiring a VSO serving people in more than one county to have at least 25% of its members residing in the county in which that VSO wished to select a delegate and alternate for membership on that county’s veterans assistance commission. See Section 9(a)(4) of the MVAA.
- We have no problem with the delegates and alternates affected by this change and who were lawfully selected in 2021 to have served through the end of the 2021 calendar year, or even until the first meeting in the month of March 2022, when the newly selected delegates and alternates took their seats.
- With that said, starting on January 1, 2022, or within 60 days of January 1, the VSO in which Williams is allegedly a member must comply with the 25% residency requirement. Williams keeps stating they have 15 paid members – but never mentions if they have 25% of their paid members living in Will County as the law now requires.
False or Misleading: This change does not retroactively invalidate executive board members
- We believe it did not “retroactively” invalidate, but it certainly invalidated continued membership past the end of the year (or the first meeting in the month of March 2022).
- We might even go as far as saying if a VSO was not in compliance on August 21, 2021, their delegate or alternate should have been removed at that time. The legislature meant for it to become effective on passage, not 2 years or 4 years later when local bylaws are eventually changed.
- She cannot rely on bylaws that violate state law to keep a stranglehold on her seat on the commission.
False or Misleading: Our articles stating some board members are not representing organizations with a congressional or state charter was misleading
- First, the state of Illinois does not “charter” any organization and the legislature has no mechanism to charter one.
- When a VSO selected different delegates and alternates in 2022, the previously selected delegates and alternates are no longer representing them. These selections are on an annual basis according to state law.
- One member said he represents the 40 & 8, which is not a congressionally chartered nor state-chartered VSO.
- There are three “past chairmen” with voting rights. A clear bastardization of the MVAA, notwithstanding what their bylaws state.
- The vast majority of the current seat-warmers on the executive board were not selected by a VSO to serve on the Commission in 2022 – which by definition means they are not representing organizations with charters
False or Misleading: The change in laws which included the 25% language or being chartered does not become effective until January 1, 2023
- Actually, the 25% language mentioned above became law on August 20, 2021, with Public Act 102-484, which added Section 9(a)(4) to the MVAA
- The language explaining congressionally chartered or state-chartered VSOs has been in the MVAA since at least 1991 and was enacted in Public Act 87-796. See Section 11 of the MVAA
- It is the “15 paid members” requirement which gets repealed on January 1, 2023
- One item of interest Williams skipped over, which we found after reading the MVAA two more times after her prepared comments, was another requirement that each VSO must have been “formed by and for veterans” – the American Gold Star Mothers (according to their website) was not “formed by” veterans as current law requires. This provision also gets repealed on January 1, 2023. See Section 11 of the MVAA.
Below you will see a more detailed explanation of the above shorter version, with our notes.
We reviewed the Public Acts which amended the Military Veterans Assistance Act:
- 87-796 (effective 1991)
- 99-143 (effective 7-27-2015) – Starts on page 1319
- 102-56 (effective 7-9-2021)
- 102-484 (effective 8-20-2021)
- 102-732 (effective 1-1-2023)
The following is a compilation of the current membership requirements and the changes which will become effective on January 1, 2023.
As of this writing, September 3, 2022, the requirements to be a Delegate or Alternate to a County Veterans Assistance Commission in 2022 are as follows:
- Must be selected annually (See Section 9) by a post, ship, camp, etc., and,
- Must be selected as a Delegate or Alternate from a post, ship, camp, etc. (See Section 9), and,
- Such post, ship, camp, etc. must be congressionally chartered (See Section 11), and,
- Such congressionally chartered post, ship, camp, etc., must have been “formed by and for” military veterans (See Section 11), and,
- Such congressionally chartered post, ship, camp, etc., which was formed by and for military veterans must have 15 paid members (See Section 11), and,
- If such post, ship, camp, etc. serves more than one county, then it may select a delegate and alternate for each Veterans Assistance Commission in each county in which at least 25% of its membership resides (See Section 9(a)(4)). This was not a requirement prior to August 20, 2021, which means any delegates or alternates selected in 2022 must have met this requirement of 25% of their members residing in the county (in addition to 15 paid members).
Starting on January 1, 2023, the requirements to be a Delegate or Alternate are:
- Selected annually and by March 1 of each year by a congressionally chartered or state-chartered VSO.
- The 25% membership residing in the county still stands for certain VSOs who serve more than one county.
- Delegate and alternate selections must be made by March 1 of each year (instead of currently permitting 60 days for a post, ship, camp, etc. to respond).
MVAA as of 2015 is included in its entirety (here) starting on page 4 – we borrowed it from the McHenry County website. We used to show how long certain language has been in the law.
As of 2015:
Sec. 9. In counties having 2 or more posts, camps, chapters or detachments of military veterans organizations as may be recognized by law, a central assistance committee may be organized to be known as the Veterans Assistance Commission of such county, composed of one delegate and one alternate from each of such posts, camps, units, and chapters or ship selected annually as determined by each post, ship, camp, or chapter. When so organized a commission shall be clothed with all the powers and charged with all the duties theretofore devolving upon the different posts and chapters as provided in Section 2.
Sec. 11. The term “military veterans organizations” as used in this Act, shall mean those organizations formed by and for military veterans which are chartered by Congress or which are chartered by the State of Illinois with a paid membership of at least 15 and which provide responsible aid, assistance, or services to the veteran’s community. (Source: P.A. 87‑796.)
Section 11 will be REPEALED on January 1, 2023, and removes the “by and for” provision, but replaces it with a new paragraph 1:
(330 ILCS 45/11) (from Ch. 23, par. 3091)
(Section scheduled to be repealed on January 1, 2023)
Sec. 11. The term “military veterans organizations” as used in this Act, shall mean those organizations formed by and for military veterans which are chartered by Congress or which are chartered by the State of Illinois with a paid membership of at least 15 and which provide responsible aid, assistance, or services to the veteran’s community.
(Source: P.A. 87-796. Repealed by P.A. 102-732, eff. 1-1-23.)
CURRENT paragraph 1, effective in 1991, but must still look at Section 11 (above) in its current form.
(330 ILCS 45/1) (from Ch. 23, par. 3081)
(Text of Section before amendment by P.A. 102-732)
Sec. 1. The term “Overseer of military veterans assistance”, as used in this Act, shall be construed to mean all persons whose duty it is, under the existing statutes, to care for, relieve or maintain, wholly or in part, any person who may be entitled to such assistance under the statutes of the State of Illinois. This Act shall not infringe upon the mandated powers and authorities vested in the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
(Source: P.A. 87-796.)
New paragraph 1, effective January 1, 2023 – but must still comply with Section 9(a)(4) effective 8-20-2021 (below):
(Text of Section after amendment by P.A. 102-732)
Sec. 1. Definitions. As used in this Act:
“Veteran service organization” means a post, ship, camp, chapter, or detachment of a congressionally chartered or state chartered organization.
“Administrator of military veterans assistance” means the commanders of the various veteran service organizations, the superintendent of a County Veterans Assistance Commission, or other persons whose duty it is, under the existing statutes, to care for, relieve or maintain, wholly or in part, any person who may be entitled to such assistance under the statutes of the State of Illinois. This Act shall not infringe upon the mandated powers and authorities vested in the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
(Source: P.A. 102-732, eff. 1-1-23.)
Para 9(a)(4) – effective 8-20-20021 and not changed with the newest P.A.:
(4) If a post, camp, unit, chapter, ship, or detachment of a military veterans organization serves more than one county, then it shall be permitted to select one delegate and one alternate for the Veterans Assistance Commission in each county in which at least 25% of its members reside.
(Source: P.A. 102-484, eff. 8-20-21.)