Trustee Bob Streit (Dist. 3) upped the political ante of by calling for a forensic audit of last year’s Fall on the Green festival after allegations of questionable practices were made against another Oak Lawn trustee.
Streit was appointed the new chair of the special events committee that oversees the annual fall festival, replacing Trustee Tom Phelan (Dist. 6), who held the position for the past seven years.
At the May 22 village board meeting, Mayor Dave Heilmann said that complaints about Phelan influenced some of his decisions
Heilmann accused Phelan of “personally negotiating” vendor contracts and handing out passes to the VIP tent based on favoritism and excluding some elected officials.
“He apparently used the sponsor’s passes to reward political allies and to bully his opponents, including any trustees that questioned his actions,” Streit said in a press release. “I am shocked by the number of issues raised and questionable practices alleged and I believe the board has a duty to act to determine the validity of these actions.”
Phelan has maintained that his involvement in vendor contract negotiations at Fall on the Green were limited to streamlining costs of bands that performed at the fest. His signature never appeared on a vendor's contract.
According to Streit, Phelan allowed some liquor sales to “deviate from the normal purchase, sale and accounting procedures.” Tickets are typically required for beer and liquor purchases, but Phelan allowed some sales locations to take cash, Streit alleged.
Streit also alluded that Phelan ordered 2,000 free food vouchers to be printed by an outside printer, when village staff indicated that only 365 food vouchers were needed for adults and youths who volunteered at the fest. In the past four years, Streit said reimbursement of the vouchers has “quadrupled.”
“Trustee Phelan then personally handled the vouchers for free food,” Streit said, in his release. “More than 1,500 vouchers were turned in by food vents and had to be reimbursed with public funds.”
Streit calimed that village records indicated vendors were reimbursed $5,274, “yet at least 1,263 free food vouchers distributed by Trustee Phelan are unaccounted for at the village” he said. “You have to ask if someone was giving away vouchers paid for with public funds.”
Phelan is also said to have distributed 130 free lunch vouchers intended for volunteers and 780 beer vouchers to Trustee Alex Olejniczak (Dist. 2), according to reports provided to Streit.
“Tom Phelan has a history of accusing everyone else of wrongdoing but the truth is that he has micromanaged the fest for years,” Streit said in his release. “We need to review all contracts and all of the activities of that fest in order to make sure that the Village of Oak Lawn received everything it was supposed to receive and to make sure that all village funds are accounted for properly.”
Phelan characterized Streit’s call for a forensic audit a “pathetic political stunt” because Streit wanted more than 12 free passes he was granted to the VIP tent for each day of the three-day fest.
“I told him that it was way over-the-top,” Phelan said in an email. “Especially since he hadn't volunteered for any of the 100+ spots for the festival. He got very angry at that and apparently never forgot it, until today obviously.”
Phelan said that 2,000 food vouchers were printed because the special events committee was never sure how many would be needed for sponsor participation. According to Phelan,1,426 food vouchers were turned back to the village, “which is about 120 less than we doled out.”
The vouchers were also used to replenish food inside the VIP tent, an admitted political football, when food ran out, Phelan said.
He explained Streit’s beer allegation of cash being accepted instead of tickets at some locations due to an arrangement the village made with a long-time volunteer who had proposed selling Mai Tais at Fall on the Green.
Phelan said that the village business director thought it would be more cost effective to have the volunteer pay a fee to the village and assume responsibility for liquor and staffing. Volunteers were not permitted to sell drinks. The volunteer kept the proceeds from the Mai Tai sales.
Olejniczak never asked for food vouchers for his supporters, Phelan said. Instead, two vouchers were given to each home around the green and on 53rd Street where the July 4th parade is staged, as an expression of appreciation by the village to neighbors inconvenienced by village events.
An email dated Feb. 1, 2012 from a village staff member provided by Phelan explains that vendors were reimbursed $3.50 per each of the 1,423 turned into the village.
Phelan said that village staff members and records would clear him of Streit’s allegations.
“This is just another pathetic political stunt by a guy who is working with the mayor to cause distractions in advance of the Phelan said via email. “Plain and simple.”
Streit said that he plans to ask the village board to approve the initiation of a forensic audit at the June 12 meeting.
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