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ethics

Last Winter, the Village of Lake Barrington published the following in their seasonal newsletter:

Lake Barrington’s Ethics Commission

Did you know that the Village has an Ethics Commission? The independent commission adds to the overall transparency of our government and serves to investigate complaints alleging violations of the Ethics Chapter of the Village Code. We are proud to report that this 3-member Commission has never once had to meet regarding a violation!”

Their Municipal Code actually devotes a chapter to ethics, and the main page of their website contains a link to, “Report a Concern.”

As previously chronicled in this publication, if one searches our Village Code, keying in the word “ethics,” the result reads, “No Matches Found.”

Our Village needs an Ethics Commission.  How else could parties involved in complaints present their respective cases to determine if ethics violations did, or did not, occur? Listed below are typical practices that might arise in our Village, and in our opinion, may warrant investigation, understanding that there are no implications as to guilt or innocence of any on the list:

  • Should expensive legal battles, possibly precipitated by actions of elected and appointed Village officials, be investigated?
  • Should the hiring and retention of Village paid staff positions by elected family members be investigated?
  • Should contracts with vendors who maintain personal and professional relationships with elected Village officials and their families be investigated?
  • Should the solicitations of funds and hand selection of vendors by family members or close friends of elected Village officials, absent oversight by appointed Village committees, be investigated?

For these and other reasons, our Village needs to appoint an Ethics Commission to act as ombudsmen, when any question of potential maladministration or ethics violations is considered or occurs.

Candidates for this proposed commission could come from existing appointed Village bodies, ones whose objectivity would be unquestioned.

The perfect candidates for this roll are the incumbent members of the Board of Heath.  They are highly qualified, underutilized, and would prove to be an effective force in maintaining ethical governance of the Village of Barrington Hills.

Related:Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 1),” “Our predominantly pusillanimous Village Board (Part 2),” “Better Government Association Commends Passage of Chicago Ethics Ordinance–Sees More to Do,” “What happened to ethics reform in Illinois government? Why watchdogs have some hope,” “Meanwhile, One Barrington Hills makes amends, extinguishes website and turns the volume down,” “Learn from your (big) mistake, Laura, Bryan, Dave and Tom,” “Agreed

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BACT Officers

Barrington Area Conservation Trust officers

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

  • [Vote] Appointment: Matthew Vondra, Plan Commission Chairman Term as Chair expires 04/2023
  • [Vote] A Resolution of Proclamation Appreciating Doctor Pamela Cools for Years of Dedicated Service Resolution 22 –
  • The Land We Love Run Summary

A brief statement of Matthew Vondra’s qualifications for consideration can be viewed here. Without too much detail, we’ll expound on his experience a bit.

Matt is currently Vice President of the Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT).  Their President is Brian Croll, who is also a Trustee of the Village of Barrington Hills. The BACT Treasurer is Loren Ekstrom, the husband of Village of Barrington Hills Trustee Laura Ekstrom.

The BACT is responsible for, “…creating the largest permanent land preservation easement in the state of Illinois,” known as Horizon Farm, which is now owned and managed under that easement by the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

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

Note: For the third month in a row, it’s unknown if the telephony issues that have plagued recent meetings have been remedied yet, so callers might encounter issues again.

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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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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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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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The Barrington Hills Park District Board will hold their, “Annual Budget and Appropriation Hearing,” via video conferencing this evening at 6:45 PM. A copy of the agenda can be viewed herebut don’t expect to see any more than that.

You will not find a, “budget and appropriation,” because clearly, the District doesn’t feel it important for taxpayers to review such trivial information prior to the public meeting. If you MUST review them, it is assumed one can obtain a copy from the District office (but there are no guarantees).

At 7:00 PM, the District will be conducting their regular monthly meeting. A copy of their typically boilerplate agenda can be viewed here.

Once again, minutes from the prior District meeting are not available for public review. If they were, residents might have questions, and the last thing commissioners want are questions.

The person responsible for this blatant lack of transparency is Dennis Kelly, President of the Barrington Hills Park Board. Word has it he is now running for President of Barrington Hills.

Given the way Kelly treats his responsibilities at the Park District, in the unlikely event he were elected Village President, the Village would likely return to what most residents remember as “The Dark Ages” we experienced prior to 2013.

Information on how to join the Zoom meetings tonight can be found here.

Related:Barrington Hills Park Board meeting tonight

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The recordings from October 26th Board of Trustees meeting have been released. Click here to access the link from the Village website.

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The Board of Trustees will hold their regular monthly meeting this evening at 6:30 PM.  A copy of the agenda can be viewed here.

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Audio recordings from the September 26th Village Board of Trustees regular monthly meeting are available for review on the Village website.  To access the menu of edited recordings by agenda topic, click here.

One resident made remarks during public comment regarding the condition of a property at the corner of Braeburn and Spring Creek Roads, which can be heard here.

The board then spent roughly twenty minutes reviewing the minutes from their prior meeting.  Most of the discussion related to how detailed the minutes should be, since audio recordings are kept in perpetuity as backup for details of what transpired in any given meeting, but it seems some (or one board member) prefers their statements be as detailed as possible in the minutes as can be heard here.

Moving on to Finance and approval of the monthly bills, discussion revealed legal and managerial expenses related to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were high again.  Oakwood Farm, LLC and Barrington Hills Farm contributed to the increased expenditures again last month coming in well over $9,000.

Additionally, a former member of the board also added to the legal financial burden with his requests for Open Meetings Act (OMA) investigations filed with the Illinois Attorney General’s office.  When the response to his first request did not meet with his satisfaction, he apparently filed an appeal, further adding to our legal expenses.

Citing this and other instances, attorney Patrick Bond was then asked by Trustee Konicek at what point the requestor might be required to pay for the expense rather than the taxpayer being saddled with the outlay.  Konicek’s questions and Bond’s responses can be heard here.

Later in the meeting the board took up a recommendation for amended codes from the Heritage & Environs Committee (HEC) pertaining to how trash must be contained in their “Refuse Lid Ordinance (RLO).”  Their recommendation would require all refuse to be placed in containers with hinged lids. Failure to comply will result in a fine of $50.

The intention of the HEC proposal was to alleviate trash being strewn along Village roads when plastic garbage bags either fail or animals tear into them before pickup.  A copy of their proposal can be viewed here.

Trustee Gohl motioned to approve the proposed HEC ordinance.  When asked how it would be enforced, Gohl stated, “Well, you have obviously the trash Nazi running up and down the road,” as can be heard here.

After some discussion, board members decided to survey residents prior to moving forward, and they tabled the proposal to a later meeting.  The recording of the full discussion of the HEC proposal can be heard here.

The next regular meeting of the Board of Trustees is scheduled for October 24th.

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