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Archive for the ‘FOIA’ Category

OBH

Readers may recall we twice bumped the One Barrington Hills (OBH) committee (Brian Cecola, David Riff, Laura Ekstrom and Tom Strauss) pretty hard when they were delinquent in two consecutive filings required be the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE):

We decided to check in on the committee’s 2022 first quarter reporting (or lack thereof in recent history), and we discovered some very hurried fillings by OBH occurred after our second delinquency post.  The last of those ISBE postings was a long overdue final report submitted and filed by OBH on January 26th, thereby closing their account.

From the time OBH filed their Statement of Organization on February 9th, 2021, to when they submitted their Final Report on January 26th, 2022, they had posted:

  • Two A-1 reports of contributions of $1,000 or more
  • Two D-2 Quarterly reports submitted on time
  • Two D-2 Quarterly reports submitted after the deadline
  • Eight (8) D-2 Quarterly reports submitted with corrections

To view and print a copy of these reports, click here.

Having closed that error fraught chapter in their 2021 campaign, the One Barrington Hills committee expunged all records on their campaign website.  When visiting the former OBH website (click here to attempt), a message appears, either “Warning: Potential Security Risk Ahead” or “This connection is untrusted”.  To view the report, the user must tap, “Accept the Risk and Continue” or “Proceed to (unsafe) site.” Is stonewalling now their new norm?

And just last month, residents reported they couldn’t hear April’s Board of Trustees meeting due to low or no volume when they phoned in, so what are they to make of this?

If the OBH party is sending a less than subtle message to residents, consider it received, Brian, David, Laura, and Tom.  But you’re in for a LONG three (3) more years in office.

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App Cap

Earlier today we published the agenda (seen here) for tonight’s Board of Trustees meeting.  We included links to both the approved 2021 Appropriations, and the proposed 2022 Appropriations, and a longtime subscriber shared the following:

“Of the total decrease in Legal Expense ($948,937), decrease in Litigation, Planning/Zoning and FOIA expense ($446,000) represents 56.3 % of the total decrease.

Unless one examines the budget items in detail, one might conclude that the current administration is doing a pretty good job of managing the finances of the Village.  That would be an incorrect assumption.  It hides other areas of the budget (such as Permit Administration) where improper management may be concluded.

It should also be noted that much of the huge legal expense incurred in recent years revolves around the desires of one resident to impose a huge commercial horse boarding operation on residents, in effect having residents subsidizing equestrian amenities and lifestyle to non-residents by giving access to the Equestrian Trail System.”

Related: “Village Board of Trustees meets tonight

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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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6.21 BOT

The Village Board of Trustees will be conducting their monthly meeting this evening at 6:30 PM.  Some of the topics on their agenda include:

  • [Vote] Accept the Audit Report for FY2020 — Mr. Andrew Mace, Partner, Wipfli, LLC
  • [Vote] A Resolution Approving the Execution of an Intergovernmental Agreement with Cuba Township Road District Resolution 21 –
  • Introduction to Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) – Kimberly Saunders, Executive Director
  • [Vote] Appointment of BACOG Representative(s)
  • 5K Fun Run Through the Hills – Saturday, July 3, 2021 ~ 7:30 AMStart/Finish at Cuba Township Office: 28000 Cuba Road, Barrington, Illinois
  • 9th Annual The Hills Are Alive Fall Festival – Sunday, September 19, 2021-Noon to 4 PM Behind Village Hall.

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

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“I’m not sure what the address is … ,” one person said. “I’m scared. … Can you see my location? Please come. Please, please, please.”

A review of 911 calls made on the night of a fatal Barrington Hills rental home shooting in early March offers a glimpse into the chaos of the night as party-goers called for help as they reported hiding in closets, bathrooms and other areas in and outside the sprawling house.

The 20 minutes of audio, which Pioneer Press received through a Freedom of Information Act request from Barrington Hills police, features 911 dispatchers fielding about two dozen calls. They were mostly from panicked party-goers, following early-morning gunfire March 7 in the 300 block of Old Sutton Road.

The emergency calls began with dispatchers asking for the address of the incident. Most who had dialed 911 didn’t immediately know where they were and said they had to check. A number of callers were hoping dispatchers could get the location using information from the callers’ cell phone.

Read more from the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press here.

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VBH__LogoThe Village Board will meet on Monday June 26th at 6:30 PM. The agenda can be viewed here. The e-Packet was not posted as of Saturday evening, but we presume when it is posted, it will be found here.

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No BikesA new website was announced in a mailer that arrived in residents’ mailboxes recently that sheds light on the true origin of planned bike lanes, and the widened roads to accommodate them, on Barrington Hills roads.

This “Bombshell” mailer (aptly named as it turns out) states, “A recent FOIA Request unearthed documents showing the truth behind the Bike Lane Scandal in Barrington Hills.” The website documents a timeline of the actual events leading up to the proposed bike lanes beginning in 2011 as a result of actions by the former Village President, and then newly elected Trustee, Patty Meroni, that led concerned residents to protest last year.

To visit this highly revealing website, click here.

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The Village has released recordings from last Monday evening’s Village Board meeting.  We understand an overflow crowd of residents witnessed what ultimately deteriorated to an “R-Rated” display of political theater near the conclusion of the three-hour meeting.

Twelve residents spoke during public comment.  Eleven of them were given due respect from the board beginning with the first speaker who called for an investigation of President McLaughlin’s actions in office.  The speaker was met with no interruption, and in fact, was acknowledged with a respectful “thank you” from President McLaughlin at the end.

To listen to the comments of the speaker, who just happens to be the Campaign Chair for Trustees Meroni and Selman’s SOS Party, click here.

However, the third speaker was interrupted so loudly and frequently by Trustee Messer that the chair was forced to suggest he would need to leave the room if he could not maintain decorum.  Even Trustee Meroni stated “Let him go on continuing to make a fool of himself” when Messer continued on even after the speaker was done.  A direct link to that exchange can be found here.

As always, we recommend readers listen to all comments from residents who took the time to attend and contribute to the discussion.

After public comment, three representatives from ComEd provided an update on the planned installations of Smart Meters in Barrington Hills beginning in May.  Their presentation can be heard here.

During the finance discussion, Trustee Harrington once again objected to payments to Patrick Bond, temporary Village counsel, despite the fact that neither he, nor any other Trustee, has recommended a replacement for Bond who continues to gladly answer legal questions from every board member.  Bond’s billing was denied by five trustees, and according to recorded minutes, he has not been paid since August or September of last year, yet he continues to serve the board dutifully and without hesitation.

The vote on the 911 consolidation ordinance was tabled by Trustee Gohl due to public comment that evening and because of pending insurance information from QuadCom.  His motion passed with only one nay vote from Trustee Meroni.

During her Roads & Bridges report, Trustee Meroni stated that she was unprepared to present a mid-range plan beyond the current year to catch up on the 4.5 mile backlog of road resurfacing, but committed to present one at the February board meeting.

Trustee Messer presented an ordinance he had drafted repealing the code allowing the Village President to appoint special counsel.  Many, including The Observer, viewed Messer’s draft as ambiguous in scope and could have also been used to take the power to appoint the Village Attorney away from the office of the Village President.  After much wrangling, Messer finally agreed to change the dubious language, and it passed by a 5-2 vote.

During the Board of Health report and discussion, Trustee Harrington and Bob Kosin gained support from the board to allow for more extensive periodic testing of well water from public locations required to do so by law, such as churches, the Riding Center and the Village Hall well.  We commend the members of the Board of Health for taking on this initiative, since nearly every resident has no alternative to well water.

Finally, after nearly two and half hours the much-anticipated report on Administration that had attracted most of the crowd was presented.

President McLaughlin stated that he had vetoed the Anderson-LeCompte commercial horse boarding amendment on January 6th, and then proceeded to provide a very reasonable explanation regarding why he exercised his right, as can be heard here.  Despite this veto, the same five Trustees who voted to approve the amendment can override the veto at the next Board meeting.

McLaughlin then spoke to his initiation of a special counsel review into the manner in which the Anderson-LeCompte boarding amendment was handled and allegations of impropriety brought forward by residents.  That recording can be found here.

No sooner than the President finished, Trustee Harrington interrupted the agenda with his own call for an investigation in a lengthy prepared statement mirroring the comments of the SOS Party chair earlier in the evening.

Harrington, who recently donated $10,000 to Trustees Meroni and Selman’s SOS Party, accused McLaughlin of political motivation in his call for a special investigation regarding the horse boarding amendment and cited a laundry list of anything he could name, from appointments made by McLaughlin that adhered to Village Code and the Open Meetings Act, to allegations of impropriety in conducting the annual Village “party” known as the “Hills are Alive Heritage Fest.”

shocked_womanDespite the disrespectful interruptions by fellow Trustees throughout the meeting, particularly from Messer, McLaughlin kept his composure and continued to maintain order in the crowded MacArthur room as best he could.  He never objected any investigation Harrington proposed, but his assuredness clearly got to Messer who finally burst out with something we will not reprint in this publication, though it can be heard here, but readers are advised it is NSFW (not suitable for work).

Earlier in the evening, Trustee Messer had expressed disappointment when he reported that only five permits had been issued in 2014 for new home construction.  Frankly, given the frequent negative publicity Barrington Hills has endured for nearly a decade over cell towers, lighting ordinances and multiple failed attempts to address horse boarding in our “equestrian” branded community, conflicts of interest on two boards and his precedent-setting drop of the “F-Bomb” in a public meeting, we’re pleased anyone is building here at all.

The link to the full menu of edited recordings from the meeting can be accessed here.

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The Village has released recordings from the November 20 Village Board meeting.   To access the menu of the meeting’s topical audio recording segments, click here.

Five residents made public comments before the board.  While they are all worthy of listening to, we recommend readers listen to the third public speaker. A direct link to that recording can be found here.

The entire meeting lasted over four hours, with half of that time consumed with Trustee Selman’s Finance report, including the discussion of the 2015 Village budget and levy.

When the monthly bills for approval were presented, Trustee Messer objected to a portion of the bill from Bond Dickson, the temporary Village law firm, stating the bills were not detailed enough for him to approve.  After some questioning of his complaint ensued, he finally admitted his true objection was due to his displeasure with the resignation of the Burke Warren law firm, and unwillingness to pay for attorney attendance at Board of Trustees meetings.

Trustee Harrington stated he did not want to approve the bills either until the board discussed the three candidate law firms that had presented their qualifications for consideration to become the new Village Counsel at a previous board meeting.  In the end, Trustees Harrington, Gohl, Meroni, Messer and Selman voted to withhold payment to Bond Dickson, with a partner of the firm sitting at the table providing legal guidance for the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, when the three law firms (primarily selected by these same five trustees) were discussed, it was like a page taken from “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”  They were either “too big” or “too small” but none was just right, so the search continues with an unpaid Special Counsel continuing to serve.

One of the highlights, or perhaps lowlights, of the meeting came when Trustee Patty Meroni presented her request for nearly a half million dollar increase in her Roads and Bridges budget for 2015, which would result in an increase in the tax levy.  When she began to attempt to explain the significant increase, an audience member began to video record her, and she objected by obscuring her face with a file folder for over five minutes.  A direct link to that discussion can be accessed here.

While Meroni’s proposed increase will not increase the levy for 2015, it will negate any cost savings realized from decreased expenses, particularly legal ones due in great part to the efforts of Village President McLaughlin to finally settle the decade long Sears litigation in 2014.  In fact, we may have actually enjoyed a decrease in the levy next year based on cost containment efforts were it not for years of mismanagement of our roads maintenance (seeOf Bikes and Blame, Part Two – Peter, Paul and Patty”).

More folly came from Trustee Gohl’s and Meroni’s objection to including a Barrington bank (where a former trustee is or was a board member) among the list of possible banks in which the village could consider depositing funds.  That trustee no longer lives in Illinois, and it’s doubtful he’s still actively on the board, but these two felt the need to grouse about something, so they picked at this nit.

It’s time for the minutiae-driven bickering such as this to stop at Village Board meetings.

In the scheme of things, running the Village of Barrington Hills doesn’t need to be complicated unless some choose to make it so on purpose, or if some continue to follow the disruptive political agenda of a phantom outside of Village Hall.

Either way, this behavior in the board room needs to stop because residents are growing weary of it.

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The Village has released edited audio recordings from the October 20, 2014, Zoning Board of Appeals  meeting  which was held at Countryside  School to discuss three remaining horse boarding text amendment proposals carried over from the September 11th ZBA special meeting.  To access the menu of the meeting’s topical audio recording segments, click here.

Unlike the  unexpected surprise Anderson/LeCompte horse boarding text amendment discussion that consumed over two and a half hours at the September 11th meeting, the discussion of the Drury, Elder and Hammond amendments took just over thirty-five minutes combined.

Member Kurt Anderson led the charge with motions discarding each of the three citizen alternatives to his proposal, stating the three amendments were, “not in the best interest of the public.” Of course not—these proposals were not his own.  Then, each amendment was voted down by the board, falling in line, 4-3, with the conflicted makeup of the board as we have previously chronicled (See “Conflicted”).

Later in the meeting, a resident questioned what exactly was the “public” interest supposedly being advanced by these conflicted board members.  It’s a  valid  question which  was never answered.

The board’s rejection of the Hammond amendment is particularly perplexing, since it followed the horse boarding code guidelines presented to the Village Board in 2011 by ZBA chair Judith Freeman herself.  But, then again, this process (or lack thereof), makes little sense to many.

The meeting continued with a yet another “improved” amendment proposed by Anderson, which would establish a line of demarcation between Home Occupation and Agriculture at 10 acres as it relates to horse boarding.  When the Village decides to publish the “Anderson 2.0” amendment prior to a public hearing on November 10, we’ll share it with readers.

When discussion turned to the questions from the Village Board requesting detail and clarification from the Zoning Board, members Anderson, Benkendorf, Rosene and Chairman Freeman often demonstrated lack of interest in obtaining expert testimony regarding such topics as horse density and possible detrimental effects to groundwater as a result of higher density.  Many in the audience expressed their vocal displeasure when Anderson stated the Zoning Board had heard no testimony when it came to density, but that was not the most disturbing part of the meeting.

Throughout the discussions, references were made to some Zoning Board members collaborating, secretly behind the scenes, on drafting the original Anderson amendment prior to the September 11th meeting at Barrington High School.  During that meeting Anderson acted as though he was revealing his new amendment draft to all members at that meeting for the very first time, but records obtained via FOIA prove otherwise.

Email and fax records obtained  from the Village show ZBA members Anderson, Benkendorf, Freeman and Trustee Joe Messer, liaison to the ZBA, began crafting the amendment using their personal or business email addresses well before the September 11th ZBA meeting.    A copy of those records can be downloaded here.

Is using personal email addresses do discuss government business a violation of the Open Meetings act?  No.  Does the Attorney General’s office discourage such communications outside of Village assigned email addresses?  Yes.

Were residents made aware of Anderson’s revised LeCompte amendment prior to the September 11th Zoning Board meeting?  No.  More importantly, were ZBA members Chambers, Stieper and Wolfgram extended the courtesy of review of the amendment before the meeting?  No.

Some residents who made public comment at the end of the most recent Zoning Board meeting referred to how this protracted issue of horse boarding regulations in the Village is causing residents to become very emotional, and they’re correct.

Doing what’s right for the entire Village should be preeminent in the minds and actions of our Zoning Board, particularly the chair.  But, since she clearly has no regard for the minority members of her board, why should she care about the majority of residents?

Not only do we have a conflicted Zoning Board, we now appear to have some members who push the edge of the envelope of the Open Meetings laws, with no discernible care for transparent behavior.  That should be a concern to everyone since in the end we’ll all pay one way or another.

–     The Observer

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