This is an edited version of an email sent out last week by former trustee and village clerk Gary Woll. Mr. Woll was gracious enough to allow us to publish the contents of his email, in addition to consenting to sit down for a follow-up interview, which will be published tomorrow.
By Gary Woll
Two housekeeping items before I divulge. First, I don’t know if any of what I’m about to disclose qualifies as potential criminal activity, but it certainly arises to the level of terrible financial mismanagement and waste. Second, I want to dedicate these musings to all the Village employees who have endured very low wage increases and even wage losses (due to four unpaid leave days that were instituted to relieve the budget). Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Let me begin by crediting Mayor Edwenna Perkins, Joe Ratley, Dorothy Lane Thomas and Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross, since they are the four who first began sniffing around this story in the winter of 2010. They filed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for financial information when I was the clerk. Of course, the clerk’s office has the responsibility of supplying this requested information. What the four did not receive were copies of the credit card bill that only then-Village Manager Jason Ervin and the finance director [Lanyae Satchell] could sign.
My office even has an email on record wherein it is denied the credit card even existed!! Since I had never had use of the card, I was naive enough to believe the email. I place entire blame on the manager [Jason Ervin]. However, when he left and Joe Ponsetto became acting manager, I twice asked Mr. Ponsetto to allow our attorneys [at Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins] to help us respond truthfully. He consistently denied my requests. As a result, the FOIA requests that I recently filed reveal that this decision cost the Village about $100,000 — $25,000 paid out to the four who sued and $75,000 to the Village attorneys for defending a case that should never have happened. Thank you Jason and Joe.
There are many legitimate reasons for Maywood’s recent brush with bankruptcy:
- The horrible recession of 2008.
- The joblessness that caused a huge amount of Maywood foreclosures and resulted in less tax and water revenue.
- The state of Illinois’s delinquency in providing funds to local governments.
- The huge amount of fire and police pension funding that, for two years, ate up all of the increases in the Village operating fund.
- The Village’s mass purchasing of property for economic development before the crash, which meant we paid high-end prices for properties for which there was little demand from developers. As a result, we couldn’t put them back on the tax rolls.
These are the major causes of our still very tight financial restraint, but our Village government did a lot more to enhance the downward spiral. To paraphrase Emile Zola, many Village officials had their “heads in the sand” and were fiddling, while Maywood was “burning” in debt. Let’s look at Jason Ervin’s record.
I was the only trustee who voted to keep his predecessor, Robert Nelis; however, I did vote to hire Mr. Ervin. Initially, I thought that his background (his BA, MPA and experience as our finance director), were good assets. I also thought that his political skills and ambition might make for a good combination to run the Village. Was I ever wrong.
By the time he left in December 2010, to become alderman of the 28th Ward in Chicago, Maywood was in bad shape, but you would not have known it. There was little information supplied to Trustee Audrey Jaycox’s finance committee, nor were there many questions asked! I was clerk, so I couldn’t really ask nor vote, but I should have [asked more questions], so I am partly to blame.
Finally, members of the committee started to notice that the Board had vote to pay the big bills, but there was still not enough money. We were running further behind, especially for water and garbage pickup (both of which, under current manager Bill Barlow, were painfully paid up).
Because of my years on the Board, I was able to ask for information that went beyond the so-called non-existent credit card. In the fall of 2009, just about every member of the elected body and department heads (spouses included), spent three days in a luxurious Galena resort at Eagle Ridge. There was only one day of [official Village] meetings, which occurred on a Saturday from 9am to 11pm. We broke twice for meals. I have traced this cost to well over $15,000.
Jason Ervin also authorized hugely expensive suede winter jackets, besides the typical summer and winter shirts. Finally, Mr. Ervin paid $2,700 for tickets to a college football game at Soldier Field and over $1,200 on concessions from a skybox. I cannot find out who went to this game. Anyone know?
Now for the elected officials. While Trustees Guzman (who sat on the finance committee) and Trustee Perkins were the first to publicly raise questions about our finances, it was late in the game. Others remained silent for whatever reasons (one of which may have been ignorance).
Let’s look closely at trustee expenditures. They each have a $6,000/year expense account. They each are paid $7,600 in salary. The mayor’s and clerk’s expense accounts are higher.
Several years ago, a trustee running for mayor in November took two busloads of seniors to an out-of-state casino. The bill was not submitted until after she lost the election, which hadn’t occurred until the following April. By then, her expense account was well over budget. I questioned this one instance, but legal counsel said that it was consistent with Village rules since she did not campaign on the trip!
For the record, I have gone to one out-of-state conference and ten in-state conferences during each one of my 34 years in office. Fore the record, those conferences are supposed to come out of that $6,000 expense account. I know that every one of mine was booked by me and the Village repaid me when they got a copy of my credit card, proving that they were charged against my account.
As far as I can tell, up until Mr. Barlow became manager, all elected officials except for myself went on trips that were paid not from the trustees’ expense account, but out out of some fund in the manager’s budget. Village staff isn’t sure exactly which account this may have been. This is horrifyingly wasteful, since no trustee should have been allowed to spend more than $6,000 period — trips or no trips.
The one trustee who never went on trips was Mayor Perkins. Former trustee Gil Guzman only went on about two trips during his most recent 4-year term. Trustee Ron Rivers was not on the Board back then. And former Trustee Flowers went on one or two trips.
Now for (in my opinion) the guilty ones. Remember, none of the following trips were ever charged against these trustees’ expense accounts:
Trustee Marcius Scaggs, during his last year in office (2010-2011), went on three trips to Washington, D.C., Seattle and Las Vegas, at a cost of well over $2,000. In many cases, I did not find records of three major costs (travel, hotel and conference registration).
Trustee Melvin Lightford was great in several of his years on the Board, but in 2010-2011, he went to Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Denver, Washington, D.C. and Seattle for a cost of over $7,000!!! Trustee Lightford was re-elected this past April with the most votes of any trustee candidate.
Trustee Kim Johnson, who was a narrow re-election loser two years ago, had a couple of great years before she was ousted. Trustee Johnson (Trustee Jaycox’s best friend on the Board), went on seven — yes seven — out-of-state trips between the 2009 and 2011 fiscal years. She went to Cleveland, Las Vegas, Louisville, San Antonio, Washington, D.C. (twice), Tampa and Denver. The total cost to the taxpayer was almost $10,000. I hope she had a great time!!
And last, but not least, the beloved chair of the finance committee, defeated candidate for clerk and recently appointed trustee, Ms. Audrey Jaycox. Over a three-year period, Ms. Jaycox went on over seventeen — yes 17 — out-of-state trips at our expense, as our ship of state was sinking, Titanic-like. She went to Las Vegas (twice), Washington, D.C. (thrice), Cleveland, Louisville, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Denver, Savannah, Memphis, Birmingham, Beaumont and New Orleans. For those years, partial payments show that she racked up a total of $18,600!!!
The only defense I can muster for these actions is that the newer trustees, such as Mr. Lightford and Mr. Scaggs, did not know that these trips were supposed to be charged against their expense accounts and that they were only allowed to take no more than two per year. However, Trustee Jaycox and Jason Ervin, as veterans, knew these rules. They nonetheless let everything go out of this “slush” account to fund bread and circuses, while Rome (I mean Maywood) burned (I mean became further and further indebted).
In closing, as one who has usually defended “politicians,” this was a very hard piece for me to write. I pray that at no other time will I feel obligated to write such a totally negative piece about any elected or appointed officials. Friends of mine know that I often avoid confrontation and seek “compromise.” Still, Maywood is, and always will be, “my kind of town.” VFP