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Archive for the ‘Conflict of interest’ Category

Snow Plow

The 2021-2022 Winter Season will be a topic of discussion today at 4 PM at Village Hall.

The Roads & Bridges Committee will meet today at 4:00 PM.  The only two topics on their agenda are:

  • 2021-2022 Winter Season
  • 2022 Road Program

A copy of the agenda can be viewed and downloaded here.

Audio recordings from some previous R&B meetings are now available for review.  The December 13th, 2021, recording can be heard here, and the recording from the October 14th meeting where a resident first voiced concerns over switching snow plow services can be heard here.

Residents who would like to publicly comment on the new snow plowing contractor’s performance this year or other items can do so at the meeting, or they email the committee chair at lekstrom@barringtonhills-il.gov prior to the meeting.

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OBH Capture

Our gratitude goes to those who’ve followed our four-part journey thus far. Hopefully, it may lead you to the same conclusions we now share.

Obvious to all, there is no way that the current Board of Trustees (BOT), especially President Cecola, would ever consider seating Robin VanCastle next to them in the MacArthur Room. She has shown the unwavering honesty that causes many to avert their eyes, for fear that eye contact would reveal truths some, such as President Cecola, cannot hide.

No one will ever know if Trustee Buettner contemplated this in her discussions with Pro-Tem Konicek. The question is, do we owe her a debt of gratitude for setting the bar so high as to cause the BOT themselves to raise theirs?  Only time will tell.

As we’ve stated, our Village President nominates appointees of his (or is it his household’s) choosing.  At the very least he should have reached out to Ms. VanCastle as he did to other prospective nominees to express Trustee Buettner’s desires.  That is just common courtesy, which apparently he and most trustees have forgotten. It’s that change which can lead to moral turpitude that prompted this series.

The Observer was founded over twelve years ago, since many residents at the time recognized the ethical erosion in our Village government, not only at the Board level, but Commission levels as well. We like to think our communications had some influence in correcting that situation beginning in 2013.

Unfortunately, last year we witnessed our Village government heading in a downward path, and the speed at which it is continuing has us concerned.

Last year we elected four people to our BOT, one being an incumbent Trustee escalated to Village President.  For six years, then Trustee Brian Cecola relied almost exclusively on the guidance provided by former Village President Marty McLaughlin and Trustee Colleen Konicek Hannigan. Their education, experience and long hours studying the many issues facing our Village proved immensely beneficial to Cecola and were arguably the reason for his election to President.

Sadly, President Cecola did not retain enough of what he should have learned from his previous mentors to be effective in his new responsibilities, which has become glaringly evident to residents. And it appears that the three newer Trustees are following Cecola’s lead, but the question is, who is setting his leadership path? From our observations, not him, and in fairness, we need to explain why.

President Cecola is a hard worker when it comes to performing tasks he derives income from.  However, in his volunteer roles he seems to prefer to relegate research and decision making to others in his duties at Village Hall.

He appears to lean heavily (some say exclusively) on the former Building Permit Coordinator and the current (inexperienced) Village Administrator for guidance (and decisions).  The has led to the three new Trustees relying on often biased counsel from non-elected sources.

Examples include the former Permit Coordinator’s well documented advocating for aboveground swimming pools for a neighbor, now permitted for the first time in our Village of estate properties’ history. This in Cecola’s first month in office, dutifully approved to his wife’s delight.

There are other examples of Cecola’s self-interest voting that have occurred, not the least of which is convincing the BOT to terminate a longstanding snow plowing and salting relationship with Cuba Township in favor of awarding business to a private landscaping company he socializes with. Without providing a reason when asked, Cecola conveniently abstained on voting on that one.

Before our newer Trustees continue in this trend, governed by two non-elected people planning Cecola’s course in our Village, we implore them to pause and take stock of where they’re at now and how they’re perceived in the community.

President Cecola is no longer credible and has lost the support of many former supporters, apparently including President McLaughlin, who now can be heard opining that Cecola is not the same today as the person he and others supported and voted for last April.

If Cecola continues to be disinterested, we sincerely ask Trustees Ekstrom, Riff, Strauss and now Hills, to pay much closer attention to what is happening in our community and to the management of our Village.

Related: “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 1),” “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 2),” “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 3),” and “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 4).”

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BS

This year’s “State of the Barrington Region” economic summit will take place virtually on Wednesday.

The public is invited to hear firsthand updates from area village leaders, including: Karen Darch of Barrington; Brian D. Cecola of Barrington Hills; Greg Rusteberg of Deer Park; John Tatooles of Inverness; Nandia Black of Kildeer; Kevin Richardson of Lake Barrington; Bill Jacob of Long Grove; Eleanor Sweet McDonnell of North Barrington; Keith Vogeler of Port Barrington; Paula McCombie of South Barrington; and David Parro of Tower Lakes.

The event is 8:30 to 10 a.m. Wednesday. Registration is $10.

Sign up at BarringtonChamber.com to receive the Zoom link.

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Cecola Buettner

President-elect Brian Cecola and Trustee Debra Buettner paused for a photo taken on May 3rd, 2021, before Cecola took the Oath of Office.

Monday, we published a memo written by Village President Pro-Tem Colleen Konicek Hannigan to the Board of trustees in November. On January 7, 2022, Village President Brian Cecola convened a special meeting of the Board of Trustees to nominate his choice to fill the seat of Trustee Debra Buettner.

Following is a transcript of a portion of that meeting:

Konicek: For purposes of discussion, I want to read into the record my email to President Cecola of November 18, 2021, which was disseminated to the rest of the board on that same day.

(Pro-Tem Konicek’s memo can be found here.)

Konicek: So, having sent that email on November 18, 2021, I was never approached by the president following that. He and I did meet at one point with Mr. Hammond, Deb’s husband, at his request, and also discussed his conversations with our departed trustee, and the fact that she very much endorsed Robin VanCastle for this position.

I wanted to go on record that while I appreciate Darby Hills immensely, and I think she would be a wonderful fit for this board, that I find this to be an incredible disservice to Trustee Buettner, in not having considered her recommendation which she was very vested in.

She did not want to step down from this board. She wanted to serve out her term, and health prevented her from doing that. And not even considering her recommendation is a slap in the face, in my opinion, so I wanted to bring that to the board’s attention, and I will speak on behalf of Deb since she isn’t here to speak for herself.

And I will also let everybody know that I spoke to Darby about this. I called her following the announcement that was made like two days ago, to all of us which was the first I’d heard that Darby would be the person that the President would put up for this position.

So, I reached out to her, and I called her and told her what I would be saying to the board today, and she’s fully aware of that. She was very appreciative that I brought this to her attention since she wasn’t aware of it prior to our conversation.

Riff: I got a question, so I’ll go. I was elected in March, is that correct? We got elected in March, and I haven’t seen Deb for most of the summer as we all know, and I did not know she was ill, nobody would really express that. Later on in the fall we found out that she was ill, never once heard about Robin VanCastle from her. Sat in many board meetings, four, five, six she did not attend. Then we got a note from you in November with her recommendations, but that was through you, through her husband, through somebody else.

I mean, I would have loved to have heard, spoke to her about it, but I know she’s been, she’s no longer with us, but I never heard her express or say she wanted Robin VanCastle or sent me a letter. That’s just my two cents.

I don’t know. I would have loved to have discussed some things with Deb, here and there, but we can’t.

Konicek: That’s right, we can’t, and I’m sure she would have loved to have had the conversation with you as well. She intended to have it with Brian, and she died.

So, I am honoring the conversations I had with her. At the time, I was honoring the confidentiality that she asked me to place in our conversations because they went beyond just those related to the Village position. Some of them were related to her profession. And, you know, all of you did utilize Deb, and you sat in her office during your campaigns and utilized her services during your campaigns, not just the ones that took place this past April, but ones that took place over the last three or four election cycles.

President Cecola and Trustee Croll all utilized those services, as well as yourself and Trustee Strauss and Trustee Ekstrom, and Deb was very supportive of all of you, and she was supportive of me as well. And she was supportive of this Village, and I want to be on record as saying that I am going to voice support for what she asked for. The fact that she wasn’t able to ask you personally, I’m sure she would loved to have had that opportunity, but she didn’t.

So again, I’m just going to stand, or I guess I’m sitting, I will sit here on her behalf to the best of my ability at this time. She’s much more eloquent that I am, but her voice isn’t here, so I will be it to the best of my ability.   

Cecola: I’ll say a few things. I did…, it was not an easy decision or nomination or recommendation. Uhm, I really wish I would have been able to speak to Deb. I did reach out to her prior to her passing, after a month or two of her missing meetings, I was just concerned.

It was not an easy decision. Did I meet with her husband and you? Yes. It was not easy. I just came to the conclusion, I thought about a lot of different people, I took everybody’s names that they, you know, suggested to me to hear. I weighed everybody’s name to my best ability, and I came up with that,  

Konicek: Did you meet with Robin?

Cecola: I did not, no.

Konicek: Did you even talk to her?

Cecola: (unintelligible)

Konicek: Is that a no?

Cecola: No, correct.

Konicek: So, may I ask why?

Cecola: I know Robin, um, there was no need to…, I know last time she did not want to run in the last election when we asked her, but no, I did not reach out to her.

Konicek: So, you didn’t reach out to her because you were relying on the fact that she had said a year ago or more that she wasn’t going to run in that election.

Cecola: No, I ju, I re, I just, I really don’t have no answer. I didn’t reach out to her.

There were several people that came to mind, and I did not reach out to everybody.

The recording can be reviewed beginning at the 32:25 mark here.

We’ll wrap up our series next week, though most should have a good idea what we’ll say.  And for the record, none of the other Trustees took the time to meet or even talk to Ms. VanCastle either. None, except Pro-Tem Konicek.

Related: “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 1),” “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 2),” “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 3)

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DAB 11.11.21

Friday we published a letter written by Deputy Clerk and Plan Commission Vice Chair Robin VanCastle (seen here), as submitted to our Board of Trustees (BOT) communicating her concerns over a conflict of interest at our Village Hall. That conflict was corrected months later, but now our series takes a sad turn.

Trustee Debra Buettner passed away unexpectedly on November 11th, 2021, after a rare reaction to chemotherapy ended her life prematurely.  A week later, Village President Pro-Tem, Colleen Konicek Hannigan, sent the following memo to the BOT before they met for their November regular meeting:

“To:    Brian Cecola
Cc:      Anna Paul, Nikki Panos
From: Colleen Konicek
Date:   Thu, Nov 18, 2021 at 8:29 AM
Re:      Trustee Buettner
 

#####

Brian – As Jim stated in his letter (seen here), Deb and I had many conversations over the last several months regarding her need to step down from the BOT and her desire to play a role in finding/vetting a person who she felt exemplified her efforts and dedication to the Village. We discussed several people and the reasons she felt each would or would not best be able to carry on her mission to provide government services in a fair, courteous, and fiscally responsible manner, to be a steward of the land and open spaces, and to protect our zoning laws. Each time, one person rose to the top.

Deb asked that I keep her health condition confidential, which I, of course, honored. Her intent was to meet with you the week before our last meeting to discuss her need to step down and to request that you nominate, and the BOT accept her recommendation of Robin VanCastle to fill her remaining term. Unfortunately, Deb was hospitalized and unable to follow through with that intent prior to passing.

Deb felt Robin would exemplify her position on the Board and would provide a high level of commitment to the Village, which she has already demonstrated. Deb was impressed by Robin’s background in finance as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Itasca Bank & Trust Co. She also valued Robin’s volunteer experience and can-do attitude. Deb, as liaison to the Plan Commission, saw Robin’s work firsthand, and was impressed by her dedication to redrafting of the Village’s Comprehensive Plan, and believed Robin had a solid understanding of what makes Barrington Hills so special and how to keep it that way. Deb also thought it important to have a capable female fill the seat.

As you know, Robin has been involved in Village government since 2015, serving on the Heritage & Environs Committee and Plan Commission, as well as being our long-standing Deputy Clerk. She is a CPA with a strong background in finance and is currently on the Board of Directors for Itasca Bank, so she also has a background in working collaboratively at the board level. These were all considerations of Deb’s in determining Robin was the ideal candidate for the seat.

I wanted to go on record with my many conversations with Deb, my endorsement of her recommendation, and my hope that we honor her by seriously considering this appointment. I will very much miss Deb’s presence on our Board. She provided considered guidance and a unique perspective. She felt that Robin would do the same.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions about my discussions with Deb.

I would appreciate this email being disseminated to the rest of the Board members.

Thank you,

#####

Colleen Konicek Hannigan
Trustee, Village of Barrington Hills”

A copy of her memo can be viewed here.

Trustee Buettner served on the Zoning Board of Appeals for four years before being elected to the BOT in 2019.  Considering she had more experience than most on the BOT, she had every right to share her succession preferences.

However, the current Village President, Brian Cecola, decides who to nominate to the BOT (once he obtains the now obligatory approval of the former Village Permit Coordinator, of course).

The question is, who on the BOT considered Trustee Buettner’s recommendation?  It turns out, with the exception of Pro-Tem Konicek, none we can find. Not a single one, and we’ll attempt to determine why in our upcoming installments.

Related: “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 1),” “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 2)

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Berwyn Brian & Big Red

Monday we posted a letter written by former Village President Martin McLaughlin to members of our Board of Trustees (BOT) advising them of a conflict of interest at Village Hall (a copy can be found here).  Less than two months later, a resident sent a similar letter to the BOT, which she also read in public at the June 28th, 2021, BOT meeting.

Robin VanCastle, who is Deputy Village Clerk of our Village and Vice Chair of the Plan Commission, wrote the following:

“Board of Trustees of Barrington Hills###

I am concerned with the conflict of interest in the building permit coordinator, Stephanie Cecola, being the wife of the Village President, Brian Cecola. It is completely inappropriate for an elected official to supervise and sign the paycheck of a family member. This is a question of ethics, not legality. It is not just about impropriety; it is about the appearance of impropriety.

I volunteer as the Deputy Village Clerk and serve as a member of the Plan Commission. I do this because I love the Village and I do this for free. I am surprised that the building permit coordinator did not step down from her position after her husband was elected as Village President. If the residents of the Village knew about this conflict, I believe they would not approve. I support the hiring of a new building permit coordinator that is not related to any of the Trustees.

I have filed a FOIA request for any documentation pertaining to questions of conflicts of interest between elected officials and their spouses.

I plan to attend the Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, June 28th to emphasize my commitment to this issue.

Sincerely,

#####

Robin VanCastle”

A copy of her letter can be seen here.  Her comments to the BOT can be heard at the at the 00:40 minute mark of the recording here.

Once again, no comments were made in public by our BOT in any record we’ve found.  None! Months would pass before corrective measures were taken.

It should be noted that Ms. VanCastle wasn’t backstopping McLaughlin’s private position with the BOT. His letter was only made public this past Monday, eight months after it was written. She chose to convey her feelings shared by most in our Village at the time in a very public way, and she has our utmost respect for that.

If readers are sensing déjà vu about now, it’s due to the fact that we posted her comments in July (seeAgreed”). We chose to remind readers now since it’s critical to reaching the conclusions we have when our series continues next week.

Related:Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 1)

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MM BC

Brian Cecola and Martin McLaughlin – May 3rd, 2021

Prior to leaving office as Village President on May 3rd, 2021, Martin McLaughlin penned a heartfelt letter to incumbent and newly elected Village Board of Trustee members which read as follows:

Dear President-Elect Cecola and Newly-Elected Trustees:

I congratulate  you on your  election and wish you all the  best of luck in your new endeavor. I know that you will perform your duties to the highest standards  of  public service.  I  wanted  to  advise you that with a change In leadership comes the necessity to acknowledge that there Is a significant issue related to the employment of the Village President-Elect’s wife, Stephanie Cecola.   Stephanie Cecola has been employed on a part-time, hourly basis in  the  Building Department, having reported directly to  the Village  Administrator, who reports to the Village President. This position was not an issue when Brian was a Trustee but now with Brian signing his wife’s paychecks, and with Stephanie directly reporting to her husband through our Village Administrator, this is an issue which needs to  be addressed promptly and publicly.  Whether  or not· this  line of oversight is determined  to  be technically  illegal, I believe it causes a significant  perception of nepotism and self-dealing that can have an impact on how our Village is seen by Its residents, and, just as importantly, can cause Internal issues between departments. I have the greatest respect for Brian and Stephanie and call them personal friends, however, I believe that not addressing this Issue head-on would be problematic.

The perception of any possible impropriety is extremely significant, and in in my opinion, may become a problem for this administration. Further, our community does not need this employment matter  as  a distraction to the important issues the Board will be facing over the next few years regarding legal decisions with commercial horse boarding and group home issues, in addition to other major community questions.

I have personally made my concerns known to our new President, Brian Cecola. In addition, I have made my concerns known to your Village Administrator, Anna Paul.  It  is up  to  them, and you, as a body to address this in a direct and timely fashion. In my opinion, not addressing this important issue will not only create distrust, concern and questions, whether they are valid or not, and will potentially taint the great works that many of us have accomplished as a group over the past eight years. Along with this letter to you, I have attached a job posting that I believe should be made, but I will leave this decision to you, President-Elect Cecola and Board members.

I know that you as a group will do great things and continue the stewardship of this Village. I am proud to caH each of you friends, and more importantly, Trustees and President.

With sincere appreciation, humility and best regards,

###

Martin J. McLaughlin
Village President of Barrington Hills”

His letter was never read publicly. The contents have never been discussed in open board meetings according to available audio recordings.

Yet despite what many believed was a conflict of interest(s) present at Village Hall at that time, no changes whatsoever were made to remedy the situation McLaughlin cautioned Trustees of until nearly six months later.  None.

We obtained our first copy of McLaughlin’s letter in the Spring of last year. However, we chose not to publish it believing (naively as it turns out) our Village President and Board would take appropriate action. We were wrong.

Though the situation was eventually corrected, it’s the actions, inaction and decisions of most of our board members since May that have lead to publishing the letter today. A copy can be viewed here.

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Wasted Contributions

Brian Cecola, David Riff, Laura Ekstrom and Tom Strauss

For the second quarter in a row, the One Barrington Hills (OBH) Committee comprised of Brian Cecola, David Riff, Laura Ekstrom and Tom Strauss, failed to meet the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE) deadline for filing quarterly financial reports due this week. The committee’s 4th quarterly report was due on Tuesday, January 18th, but instead was filed just yesterday afternoon.

Their 3rd quarter report was filed a week late on October 22nd, 2021, and that was likely due only to The Observer bumping them with our friendly reminder post that day.

In their latest filing, OBH reported it had $4,432.86 in donor cash available.  A copy of that report can be viewed here, however this is before the ISBE assesses any civil penalties as they no doubt will now.

We spoke with a representative of the ISBE earlier this week, and they indicated sometimes first committee violations are stayed.  However, if a second violation occurs, they will assess the fees for both violations. Noteworthy is the ISBE has increasing penalties for multiple committee violations, which will now be in play. A copy of, “Section 125.425 Civil Penalty Assessments,” may be viewed and downloaded here.

Current Village President, Brian D. Cecola, is listed as chair of the OBH committee, and David Riff is listed as treasurer according to the ISBE website. It’s likely both will have some penalty paperwork to fill out, some checks to write, and they’ll likely have to appear at a ISBE hearing to account for their negligence.

However, we submit all four members of the OBH committee bear some responsibility, and we believe their missteps go deeper than that we’ve just reported.  Starting next week, we’ll begin revealing why based on FOIA files we’ve obtained in the last year and audio recordings.

Meantime, any concerned donors to the OBH 2021 campaign can always seek refunds by contacting them at Team@barrington-hills.com. While it may seem premature to some now, perhaps what’s reported next week may change that thinking.

Related:(Most) Village candidate committees report Q-3 financials

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Scoop

“After being crowned Mrs. Illinois America in 2021, local resident, Darby Hills, is moving into local government after being sworn in as a new Village of Barrington Hills – Government Trustee on January 13th.

Hills will fill the unexpired term of Trustee Debra Buettner, whose death created a vacancy, with a term expiring April 2023. Hills was appointed by President Brian D. Cecola at a special Board Meeting in early January.

Hills brings her legal knowledge to the Village Board from her experiences as an arbitrator, mediator, and a Cook County State’s attorney concentrating on child welfare, and from her days as a labor and employment attorney with Jackson Lewis, LLP, working on behalf of corporations. ‘I am humbled and honored to accept this responsibility and excited to represent such an exceptional group of people, our residents, in the governance of the Village of Barrington Hills,’ said Hills.”

View the full Barrington Scoop Facebook post here.

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Hills

Darby Hills

At a special meeting Friday, the Barrington Hills village board approved President Brian D. Cecola’s appointment of Darby Hills to fill the unexpired term of Trustee Debra Buettner, which ends in 2023.

Buettner died unexpectedly in November at age 60.

The motion passed with a 5-1 vote.

Hills’ background includes experience as an arbitrator, mediator and Cook County assistant state’s attorney. With the state’s attorney’s office, she focused on child welfare.

She also worked as a labor and employment attorney at Jackson Lewis LLP working on behalf of corporations.

In 2010, Hills and her husband. Thomas, co-founded Barrington Children’s Charities to help local children living in food-insecure homes.

Read more here.

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