Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this editorial are the author's and do not reflect the views of Patch.
The silence is deafening.
Oak Lawn just quietly gave contracts to a company owned by a village employee. Thousands of dollars without a word to the public of what they were doing.
On October 25, 2013, the Village made a $3400 payment to a company called Bring It, Inc.
November 27, 2013 another check was cut to that company, this one for $4706.
Bring It, Inc. is a company owned by village employee Steve Radice. The checks were mailed to his home address.
Apparently no one checked the laws applicable to giving business to a company owned by a village employee.
(720 ILCS 5/33E-17)
Unlawful participation. Whoever, being an officer, director, agent, or employee of, or affiliated in any capacity with any unit of local government or school district participates, shares in, or receiving directly or indirectly any money, profit, property, or benefit through any contract with the unit of local government or school district, with the intent to defraud the unit of local government or school district is guilty of a Class 3 felony.
Steve Radice, an employee of Oak Lawn, profited through a contract Oak Lawn gave to his business.
Larry Deetjen and Sandra Bury knew it was a company owned by an employee and when the invoices came before the Board in November, they did not disclose to board members -or more importantly to residents - that Bring It, Inc. was owned by a village inspector. No request for proposal, no bid, no disclosure to the public.
Do the elected officials not have the courage to follow the law when it comes to one of their own?
The payments were for “economic development/outreach services for the Village Manager’s office”, according to the Bring It, Inc. invoice.
Bring It, Inc. is not an economic development/outreach consultant. Public information reveals that it is a one person company with a location at the inspector’s home address. It was formed to sell a sports game where circles are placed on the ground as markers to take basketball shots. Given the importance of economic development to the future of our community, did anyone bother to ask about background of this new consultant?
A little history. Steve Radice was a member of the planning and development commission in Oak Lawn. He was not reappointed to the P & DC in the end of 2012 due to numerous complaints that instead of acting as an independent member of that commission he was serving as the mouthpiece for Deetjen.
After Radice was not appointed, Deetjen decided hire him as an inspector for the village. Many saw this as Radice being rewarded for his loyalty to Deetjen.
Then, last May, an Oak Lawn business complained that Larry Deetjen improperly interfered with a $1 million contract they had. They lost the deal. The business sent their attorney to a May 2013 board meeting and when that attorney stood up to speak under public comments and state his disagreement with the manager, who was there waiting for him? Village inspector Steve Radice.
Radice attacked that business on a matter completely unrelated to the interference issue and unrelated to any inspection. A village inspector goes to the defense of Larry Deetjen and publicly attacks an Oak Lawn business and what does our government do? They reward him. Deetjen sets up payments of nearly $50,000/year to that inspector’s sports company.
They actually put the person who researched and attacked an Oak Lawn business in charge of attracting new business. You can be the judge of what kind of a message that sends to companies who are deciding whether to open a business in Oak Lawn.
What about the new conflict of interest policy? The Board is now saying that the village manager can give no bid contracts to companies owned by village employees and allow employees to profit off these contracts, and that is not a conflict of interest. Incredible.
What about tax laws? The factors for determining whether Radice is an employee verses independent contractor would certainly suggest he is an employee under the control of Larry Deetjen. Larry Deetjen wants to classify him as an independendent contractor, yet Radice is listed on the Village Website as the top contact under the Office of Economic Development with a Village of Oak Lawn email address. There are federal and state payroll tax withholding obligations on employers. Are we now ignoring tax laws too?
Regardless of whether the board majority and Sandra Bury support Larry Deetjen, there still is the obligation to follow the law. What’s alarming to me as a resident and former official is to see this happen and not hear officials say, “wait, we need to look into this, it may be wrong or even illegal.”
It’s very simple. You don’t give contracts to companies owned by Village employees. Period.
Sandra Bury had absolutely no reservations about making repeated attacks and accusations that village officials were engaged in ‘secret deals”. It wasn’t true but that didn’t seem to matter. She vowed to follow a “10 point transparency checklist of the Illinois Policy Institute.”
One of those points deals with contracts and states: “Contracts with third parties are often an area where local taxpayers fall victim to corruption and malfeasance. Third-party contracts should be available to public watchdogs to discourage and expose insider dealings.” Could it be any more of an insider deal than to give a current employee’s company a contract for $50,000/year? Could it be any less transparent when the bills come before the Board than Sandra Bury and Larry Deetjen saying not one word about this being an employee’s company when they both knew this?
Take a look at what has been said publicly and what was then done very quietly.
In August the manager and board voted to “eliminate” the business development department allegedly because of financial concerns. Never mind the fact that this only meant the loss of one job, Chad Weiler, who Deetjen told after the election that he would be fired for having a lawn sign against Jane Quinlan. Never mind the fact that Weiler blew the whistle on Deetjen’s racial comments and his interference with a $1 million contract of a business. The Village acts as if none of that happened. Instead they took the public position that Oak Lawn, one of the largest municipalities in Illinois, needed to eliminate its business development department to save money.
Within 30 days Deetjen had village inspector Radice hired at $4000/month.
Next the Village decides to “outsource” senior services and the 911 operators for financial concerns. We are told there is a spending freeze. But at the exact same time the manager is quietly approving contract just under $20,000 for new bushes by I-294 so he can get the landscaping company to in turn “donate” time to the 911 memorial that the manager and Sandra Bury chaired as Rotary club members. How can you possibly spend $20,000 for new bushes on the west side of the 294 bridge at the same time you’re outsourcing the entire 911 department? Not one word of explanation from the mayor or board majority.
The Village manager then drives a village owned vehicle into a ditch and leaves the scene of the accident. Despite a 911 tape with a witness saying the vehicle was ditched and that the driver (the village manager) may have been drunk, we hear nothing from the mayor. The manager does not have to provide any explanation to the board or the residents of Oak Lawn. The top village employee leaves the scene of an accident in a village owned vehicle and we hear nothing from the mayor?
There are many legitimate questions. Is the Village now allowing the manager to enter into contracts with companies owned by village employees? Is the manager allowed to enter into new contracts during a spending freeze? Are tax laws being broken? Is there any investigation about the manager leaving the scene of an accident involving a taxpayer owned vehicle? Are we allowed to ask who is benefiting from insider contracts? We’ve heard nothing.
Silence sometimes screams the truth.