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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Tonight’s Board of Trustees meeting will be the first official meeting for the village’s new engineering firm, Trotter & Associates.  We look forward to seeing their approach to municipal engineering and we hope that taxpayers will benefit from lowered costs and fresh ideas.

GHAWhile researching future content for the Observer, we stumbled across some interesting correspondence regarding Barrington Hills Farm (BHFW LLC) and our village’s former engineering firm, Gewalt Hamilton.  What we found is shocking, but it certainly makes the Village’s decision last year to change engineering companies very wise indeed.

According to documents found on McHenry County’s website, in December 2015, BHFW’s Chairman J. R. Davis was applying to McHenry County to convert part of an existing wetland on the property into a recreational pond.  As a result, some mitigation of the wetlands was necessary.  The specifics of the mitigation and request for credits from the Wetland Restoration Fund are not important.

What is important is the engineering firm that BHFW had hired to create their Wetland Mitigation Plan was Gewalt Hamilton.  And not just Gewalt Hamilton, but Dan Strahan himself , who was Barrington Hills’ Village Engineer at the time, was personally involved in the project.

Strahan is cc’ed on the Gewalt Hamilton letter to McHenry County on behalf of BHFW and Strahan’s signature even appears with Davis’ signature on the Wetland Restoration Fund application as the Design Engineer.

Davis_Strahan_1

Davis_Strahan_2

To be clear, this was a project undertaken by a private property owner in unincorporated McHenry County immediately adjacent to the Village, and Strahan and Gewalt Hamilton were hired by that individual.  All at the same time when Strahan and Gewalt Hamilton were also employed by the Village of Barrington Hills.

We find it shocking that Gewalt Hamilton and Dan Strahan did not decline employment by BHFW & Mr. Davis in 2015, seeing as the firm had been serving Barrington Hills for decades.  Gewalt Hamilton & Strahan were well aware of the history of the Davis property, and in all likelihood would be called up by the Village to consult on the property in the future. It would be bad enough for any engineer employed by Gewalt Hamilton to have taken this job, let alone Dan Strahan.

Not surprisingly, Strahan indeed did end up personally involved in discussions on behalf of the Village regarding new driveways and dedicated easements and right-of ways for the proposed HARPS facility on BHFW property in 2016 & 2017.  It certainly gives us pause to wonder about the quality of the service the village and taxpayers received on that assignment.

Did Strahan and Gewalt ever divulge to the Village of Barrington Hills that they had been previously employed by Davis?

How could Strahan and Gewalt maintain any impartiality when they had been paid by both the Village and Davis?

Are there other projects that Gewalt has worked on for Davis and BHFW?

Did Strahan and Gewalt ever divulge this conflict of interest while they were applying for retention as the Village’s engineering firm?

Right now, we have more questions than answers.  We’ll leave it to our readers to draw their own conclusions.  We think the documents speak for themselves.

Click on the following links to  view the complete PDFs of the documents BHFarm_Gewalt_Wetland_1 and BHFarm_Gewalt_Wetland_2.

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Four seats on the Barrington Hills Board of Trustees are up for election in the April 4, 2017 Consolidated Elections, and the Riding Club of Barrington Hills seems to be aiming for all four now that candidates have filed with the Village Clerk on Monday.

Running for the office of President are:

  • Martin J. McLaughlin* (Independent)
  • Louis Iacovelli (Riding Club)

Those running for three Trustee positions are:

  • Colleen Konicek Hannigan* (Independent)
  • Paula Jacobsen (Riding Club)
  • Elaine M. Ramesh (Riding Club)
  • Matthew P. Vondra (Independent)
  • Robert M. Zubak (Riding Club)
  • Ralph Sesso (Independent)
  • Linda H. Cools (Independent)

Incumbent Trustees Fritz Gohl and Mike Harrington are not running for re-election in April, however Gohl will be running unopposed for trustee to the Barrington Township Board of Directors.

*Incumbent

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Audio recordings from the November 17th meeting of the Board of Trustees are available on the Village website.  To access the menu of recordings, click here.

The meeting began with a public hearing regarding some minor adjustments to the 2016 Annual Appropriation Ordinance related to telephone equipment leases.  No one from the public spoke, and the board later approved the changes.

Three residents made remarks during public comment encouraging the board to continue their efforts in opposing the Longmeadow Parkway Project.

The preliminary budget for 2017 was discussed during the finance reports, and expenses are once again forecasted to be down for the third year in a row.  The recording of that discussion can be heard here.

The Building and Zoning report revealed that a run-down home on Steeplechase Road that has been the subject of board discussions dating back for many years has finally been demolished.

With regard to other ZBA matters, it was explained that the reason the board was not taking up the November 9th recommendation of the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding boarding codes was that the transcript and “finding of facts” report provided by counsel had not been prepared yet.  Since that time, a special meeting of the Village Board has been scheduled for December 7th for this purpose.

The discussion then turned to an agenda topic titled, “Unincorporated & Boundary Properties Discussion,” and the subject became clear once Trustee Konicek began to provide background on why it was included.

It seems “rumors and fear-mongering” are being spread through the community regarding a developer’s plans to build a facility for HARPS in unincorporated McHenry County adjacent to Barrington Hills.  Apparently, people are being told the Village Board had taken an opposing stance towards the facility being built or that permits have been denied.

None of this is true, of course, but apparently these rumors and more stemmed from, among other communications, a recent letter sent to the Village by the developer. Konicek asked Trustee Cecola, Dan Strahan and Bob Kosin, all of whom have met with the developer, to join in the discussion to set the record straight, as can be heard here.

We’ll see about obtaining a copy of the letter, but it’s senseless how this pettiness continues to obstruct the forward momentum for our community our Village officials have strived to generate.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Trustees is scheduled for December 19th.

 

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Friday FlashbackFollowing are some of the articles published by The Observer in November in the last few years. These articles, gathered from various publications and editorials, are noteworthy for residents in that they remind us of where we’ve been as a community.

Despite changes, horse boarding controversy continues – 2011

Embattled horse farm owners say they have been complying with the Village of Barrington Hills zoning code and its president agreed, though neighbors still insist the farm is operating illegally and should be shut down.

Benjamin and Cathleen LeCompte, owners of Oakwood Farms in Barrington Hills, and Village President Robert Abboud said the farm has changed a few operation standards, and has been in compliance with the village’s Home Occupation Zoning Ordinance since February.

Read the TribLocal article published five years ago here.

An economic proposal to control horse boarding businesses – 2011

This Monday evening, November 14, 2011, the Zoning Board of Appeals will again take up the controversial subject of large-scale commercial horse boarding in our Village.  Numerous proposals have been floated, rejected, and then floated again in recent memory.  Who knows what will come out of Village Hall after Monday’s meeting.  Here is an idea: If large horse boarding businesses are going to be allowed in our Village, at the expense of our quiet residential character, they should pay fees and taxes as businesses.

Read the original Observer editorial here.

Barrington Hills 2012 Resident Survey Results – 2012

On October 22, 2012, The Observer published the Barrington Hills 2012 Resident Survey.  Readers and subscribers participated, as did many of the more than eight hundred residents who received an invitation to take the survey via email.  By the time the survey period closed on Sunday October 28, two hundred twenty-six residents had completed the survey, and eighty-four of them chose to provide their own personal comments and insightful observations based on their years living in the Village.

Revisit the Village survey results from four years ago here.

Better safe than sorry – 2014

Last month during a special Village Board meeting, the Board of Trustees had the opportunity to ask questions of three law firms who were invited to present their qualifications to serve Barrington Hills.  Board members asked representatives of Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle their opinion on whether the Village should undertake legislation changing our Village Code related to horse boarding [Anderson II] when there is active litigation occurring between two private parties if such legislation might affect one party over the other.

David McArdle, a partner with the firm, responded, “We wouldn’t recommend that you pass a rule, pass a law, that favors one party over another.”  When asked again in a different way, he stated, “We wouldn’t recommend that.” (A link to the recording of that discussion can be accessed here).

Read more here.

Season’s first snow is Chicago’s largest November snowfall in 120 years – 2015

The season’s first snowfall dropped as much as 17 inches across Chicago’s northern suburbs, and the total of 11.2 inches at O’Hare International Airport made it the largest November snowfall in 120 years.

Read more from the Chicago Tribune here.

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On October 31st, the Board of Trustees held a special meeting to discuss a zoning enforcement matter.  The menu of recordings by agenda topic can be viewed here.

The sole agenda item for this board meeting was to discuss, and vote on, “Authorizing the Execution of a Settlement Agreement of a Zoning Enforcement Action Against Operation of a Business at 3 Saville Road.”

Records dating back as far as 2012 refer to resident complaints over a homeowner operating an HVAC business from the subject residence, ostensibly under the Home Occupation Ordinance (HOO).  The Code Enforcement Officer eventually issued a cease operation letter.  The homeowner filed an appeal with the Zoning Board of Appeals, which was denied, and eventually the Village had to file suit in court since the homeowner apparently refused to comply.

Despite the fact the business operations were eventually ceased or scaled back sufficiently to comply with Village code, a judge recommended the Village fine the resident for the period of time they were not in compliance of Village ordinances recommending a settlement fine of $25,000.

Prior to voting on this settlement, trustees bought up parallels to a similar situation that occurred with Oakwood Farms where no fines were assessed, even for the period of time Oakwood was not in compliance with Village Code.

The Village issued a cease and desist letter to Oakwood Farm after neighbor complaints, which the owner ignored, and a lawsuit was filed and won costing Barrington Hills taxpayers a purported $180,000. The law firm representing the Village at that time continues to provide their summary of the matter in a February 1, 2010 press release on their website, which can be viewed here.

Politics at that time seemed to supersede, however, and the home business operator made modifications to their operations, resulting in the issuance of a letter from the then Building Enforcement Officer, Don Shuman, on March 15th of 2011, declaring the Oakwood operation compliant with HOO (for more background, click here).

Back to the present, the five board members in attendance at the October 31st meeting voted 4-1 (Trustee Gohl voted no) to settle with the Saville Row homeowner for the amount of $25,000, which at least covered the legal expenses incurred to taxpayers.  It should be noted this appears to be the highest amount ever assessed to a homeowner in violation for a period of time of the HOO.

The question is, shall or should the owners of Oakwood Farm have been assessed fines for the period of time they were not in compliance with Village codes?  We think so.

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In the summer of 2014 when the then Zoning Board of Appeals was considering four proposals for amending commercial horse boarding codes, we pointed out how four members of the board at that time had potential conflicts of interest (see “Conflicted”), particularly since one of the proposals was from a private riding club to which the four belonged.

However, what we were unaware of at that time is that an attorney on the Zoning Board, for which the current commercial boarding code was named, has been preparing IRS tax filings for the Riding Club of Barrington Hills since at least 2004.  In fact, just a month before the Riding Club submitted their proposal in June of 2014, this Zoning Board member prepared the 2013 IRS form 990 for the Riding Club as seen below:

(Click on image above to enlarge)

(Click on image above to enlarge)

A complete copy of the 2013 Riding Club tax return can be viewed here,  and historic returns dating back to 2004, including the most recent one filed this year, can be accessed by clicking here (once you access the site, click on the “Tax Documents” tab to view all available filed returns).

Had we been aware of this professional business relationship at the time the Zoning Board was considering adopting new horse boarding code, we would have made residents aware.  This appointed official did not volunteer this information for consideration by the board or counsel before or during the proceedings.

We believe this may be one more reason for the Board of Trustees to concur with the current Zoning Board of Appeals recommendation and vote in favor of repealing the Anderson II codes.  At least then, the current Zoning Board members can begin with a clean slate.

-The Observer

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Audio recordings from the October 17th regular monthly meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals held at Countryside Elementary School have been posted to the Village website.  The link to the menu of recordings edited by agenda topic can be accessed here.

Six people made public comments, though three of them were allowed to speak twice, causing the public comment portion of the agenda to last about 45 minutes (and since the chair was very liberal when it came to the traditional 3 minute time limit per comment).

The developer of Barrington Hills Farm (BHF) was the first to ask to speak for a second time, but before he began his additional remarks, the chair asked him a question:

“In a letter you sent out to the entire village a month or two ago [seen here], in the letter there’s a statement that ‘some months ago a clique of area residents, a clique of area residents associated with high density housing development initiated a subtle but strategic campaign to defeat and dismantle the statutory defenses that preserve the character of the village of Barrington Hills.’  What were you talking about?”

The speaker replied, “There is a [sic] intentional direction at undermining and changing the village’s comprehensive plan.  To change the comprehensive plan will change the density allowances for construction going forward.”

When asked for further definition of specifically whom the speaker was referring to in his letter, after some obfuscation he stated, “I’m not one for circulating misinformation.  I will document it.”

We’re looking forward to it, as we’re confident our readers do as well.  In the meantime, we highly recommend readers listen to this candid exchange by clicking here.

The second resident to speak twice (and who also happens to be involved in the BHF development) offered to answer the chair’s question.  He stated:

“The question as I understood it, and I think it is a legitimate question, is basically is there a group that is trying to change the comprehensive plan, and are they meeting.  And I can tell you categorically yes they are meeting, and here’s the change that is contemplated.

The change, and this is documented in written communications that’s been sent out on The Observer, which I think you write [apparently referring to one of the ZBA members], and in other publications, that basically we want to alter the characterization of Barrington Hills from an equestrian community to a residential community.

Now, as Mr. Stieper knows, and as probably everyone on the board knows, changing that characterization from an equestrian community, which has been embedded in the comprehensive plan since the beginning of Barrington Hills, and as I said at a previous meeting, uh,  I was there at the start with the founder of Barrington Hills as an equestrian community.”

We recommend readers listen to this speaker’s full remarks as well as his dialog with board members by clicking here.

We also look forward to his commitment to follow up on his statements with documentation, particularly as they relate to Barrington Hills comprehensive plans.  A searchable copy of the 1978 Comprehensive Plan that was in place for 27 years can be viewed and downloaded here, however it is devoid of anything remotely substantiating his claims.

Prior to the chair closing public comment, a ZBA member questioned the clerk regarding the procedure for timely inclusion of written comments in document packets to board members prior to meetings, since one submitted the morning of the meeting was excluded, yet another from that afternoon from the BHF developer was.  The recording of that exchange can be heard here.

Recordings of all public comments made that night can be heard by clicking here, however, the first speaker is nearly inaudible.

When public comment concluded, the board began nearly two hours of discussion regarding the proposal to repeal Anderson II/LeCompte Anderson codes and revert back to Home Occupation Ordinance oversight of horse boarding facilities as an interim step before pursuing brand new codes addressing all scales of facilities in Barrington Hills.

The chair seemed to follow a rather “belt and suspenders” path throughout the discussion sometimes asking the same question of members two times.  Perhaps he considers this being thorough, but in no instance did he receive a different response to the second question than from the first.

Member Stieper provided his thoughts when asked about the deficiencies in the Anderson II language after which he asked Bob Kosin, Village Administrator, for his opinion regarding his account, particularly as it related to Floor Area Ratio codes for the primary residence on a property versus an accessory structure such as a boarding barn.

Kosin stated, “The floor area requirements are, ah, are established and they do reflect a residential basis and they’re cumulative.  So essentially what you are, um, saying is that the existing bulk regulations, the existing bulk regulations, do not give you sufficient guidelines to regulate what you’re attempting to address as large-scale commercial boarding. 

So you have a use before you and you have a series of tools in the tool box, in the zoning tool box, and the existing standards, whether it be setback, or the floor area ratio, is insufficient as a matter of right to curtail some type of jeopardy to the adjoining property owners or the community as a whole.”

Granted, we are not fully fluent in “Kosin-speak,” however we believe we understand what he is politically treading lightly on with his response as we illustrated in, “Why Anderson II must go.”  Mr. Kosin’s remarks can be heard here.

When the roll was called two of the five Zoning Board members present voted against advancing the proposal to repeal Anderson II and three voted in favor.  A public hearing on the matter when testimony will be under oath was then scheduled for November 9th at Countryside Elementary School beginning at 6:30 PM.

The agenda and documentation will be published here when available prior to the meeting.

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