Is It Really Legal?

The agenda for the last meeting of the local chapter of Insomniacs Anonymous included a reading list. So, I’ve been perusing the Illinois Statutes (this one, this one, and this one). Each contains provisions allowing elected and appointed municipal officers to do business with their municipalities — but only under strict conditions. The following is from the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act (the above middle link).

(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 interested 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…

— snip —

(b) However, any elected or appointed member of the governing body may provide materials, merchandise, property, services, or labor, subject to the following provisions under either paragraph (1) or (2):

(1) If:

A. the contract is with a person, firm, partnership, association, corporation, or cooperative association in which such interested member of the governing body of the municipality has less than a 7 1/2% share in the ownership; and

B. such interested member publicly discloses the nature and extent of his interest prior to or during deliberations concerning the proposed award of the contract; and

C. such interested member abstains from voting on the award of the contract, though he shall be considered present for the purposes of establishing a quorum; and

D. such contract is approved by a majority vote of those members presently holding office; and

E. the contract is awarded after sealed bids to the lowest responsible bidder if the amount of the contract exceeds $1500, or awarded without bidding if the amount of the contract is less than $1500; and

F. the award of the contract would not cause the aggregate amount of all such contracts so awarded to the same person, firm, association, partnership, corporation, or cooperative association in the same fiscal year to exceed $25,000.

Two more sets of conditions follow, but as with paragraph (1) above, each set contains limits on the percentage of ownership interest, public votes and disclosures, vote abstentions for the interested party, and annual limits on aggregate income derived from contracts.

The Wogen Arrangement (and perhaps others?) adhered to none of the conditions. Why? What is the exemption for DeKalb? Is it that the work resulted from a quote process instead of a formal public bidding process? IANAL (I am not a lawyer) but it seems to me ethics laws are put into place for the purpose of holding people in public offices to a higher standard. It should follow, then, that if you are an alderman, you have to go to a public bidding/voting/disclosure process no matter what the local ordinances say. If you are an alderman, you must follow the limits on ownership percentage and aggregate annual income no matter the policies that cover others.

With this in mind, I’ve e-mailed the city council members whom I’ve adjudged to possess instincts for political self-preservation. I’ve asked them to question the city attorney as to the exemption that allows Victor Wogen to do business without following State law, then to take that information and find an outside municipal attorney for a second opinion.

Because I believe dreadful mistakes are being made.

One thought on “Is It Really Legal?”

  1. Thanks for this find Yinn. Most would just have to think that something like this existed.

    This really gets me wondering about the lack of ethics training our council and mayor have received and now I also worry about how our city manager missed this.

    There is however, NO EXCUSE, in our city attorney missing it. If I was sitting on the council this evening, my first order of business would be to bring forth the motion to fire City Attorney Norma Guess on blowing the advice given to Biernacki and Wogen on this issue if in fact it was handled as stated by Wogen.

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