By: Diane Benjamin
This meeting was rescheduled from last Thursday when the Agenda had not been posted as required under the Open Meetings Act.
No one who spoke during Public Comment was excited about the “Donation of Union Hall” agenda item. The best comment was made by a gentleman who ended his remarks with a claim the new joke in town is: If you want to be arrested, come to a Library Board meeting. At least 2 officers were present last night.
If you haven’t been following the small town shenanigans, Union Hall is the reason a $25,000 State grant must be repaid – thanks to the Edgar County Watchdogs. The building’s owner, Bill Thomas, pretended to sell the building to the library to qualify for the grant. A contract was written, but no payments were ever made thus voiding the contract. When the Watchdogs proved it, the Secretary of State demanded repayment. They determined Bill violated the Public Officer Prohibited Activities Act. Bill thought by recusing himself from votes he was legal. He wasn’t. See one of the Watchdog stories HERE
Thomas is probably thinking he eliminated the problem by just donating the building. He was in the process of really selling the building to the library for $200,000, far more than the taxable value. That would have been another violation of the Prohibited Activities Act. What donating the building doesn’t do is get Bill off legally for the $1,000 a month the library was paying him in rent. The Board never signed a lease contract that authorized payments. Of course, paying a Board member rent is yet another violation.
Bill Thomas is also not off the hook for filing a false Statement of Economic Interest either. Board Chairman Randy Brooks has the same problem.
Many investigations are taking place. The Library may have 9 different bank accounts, all handled by the Board Treasurer Bill Thomas. Employees of the Palms Grill, next to Union Hall and owned by the library, had payroll from one of Bill’s companies. See that story: HERE
Why would library employees be paid by a Thomas company when the library had plenty of money to pay them? Use your imagination!
The Treasurers report offered by Thomas last night did not have information on all the accounts. Limited information was offered on Palms Grill operations. The checking account balance was reported, so were the balances of a reserve account, a tax payments account, and a payroll account. That is 4 accounts for a tiny restaurant the Library chose not to include in their budget.
Besides Bill presenting the Board with a “Gift Deed” to Union Hall, the rest of the meeting was uneventful. They did vote to hire a formal Town of Normal lawyer Steve Mahrt. The last lawyer supposedly resigned. If he told Bill Thomas his action were legal, he should have been fired.
Many questions were asked about the building during Public Comment, like are the taxes paid, who is paying the costs of transferring the title, does Bill Thomas get to keep his free office, and does his wife get to use the building for free to hold Zumba classes. The only question that was answered was the building does not have a mortgage.
One more note: Local prosecutors have all this information and they chose to do nothing. If the Watchdogs hadn’t gone over the States Attorney’s head to the Secretary of State, the sale of Union Hall to the library might have happened costing taxpayers $200,000. Not having prosecutors willing to prosecute is part of the reason Illinois is so corrupt. The good ‘ole boys club is preventing justice.