The current Board believes the previous board engaged in possible “fraud, conspiracy and official misconduct,” according to papers Patch obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The papers allege that previous board members had a “scheme” to hide a tax increase so that the library could fund a new building.
The allegations are laid out in a letter that Board President Mark Albers wrote to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office in July asking prosecutors to examine the board’s behavior, which included violations of the Open Meeting Act. Treasurer Catherine Peters added a five-page summary of the misconduct she believes the board and former director Ben Schapiro engaged in. (Click on the PDF icon on the right to read the full documents.)
Albers said Wednesday that the board’s self-reporting of alleged misconduct by the previous library administration was “not politically motivated” and isn’t intended to smear anyone’s reputation.
“This is a new group that came in and we are cleaning house,” Albers said. “This is not a case of old board versus new board; this is new board members who are going to adhere to the rules established by the state of Illinois.”
Former board president David Levin did not return calls seeking comment. Former trustee Laura Frisch said in an email that she was too busy to respond, and former trustee Renee Miller was not able to respond in time for publication.
Accusations of wrongdoing
In its Aug. 2 response to Albers’ and Peters’ written communications, the State’s Attorney’s office said Act during 11 of 19 executive sessions. The letter says the board failed to keep detailed written minutes of the sessions.
The letter does not address the larger accusations except to say that it referred the matter to the public integrity unit to see if the violations were intentional, and thus criminal.
However, Albers’ and Peters’ accusations go well beyond poor note taking.
Albers wrote, citing executive sessions tapes, that: “there are statements by the director as to how the tax levy can be inflated and the over levy amounts hidden in various budget items for the purpose of creating a ‘contingency fund”, (slush fund). The scheme was to ‘hide’ the amount of $400,000 per year over a period of 3-4 years to avoid having to have a referendum regarding the building.”
The recording in question, which the new board released to the public, contains a discussion of the board obtaining a debt certificate to fund the building of a new library—a legal measure that would allow the board to avoid seeking the village’s help in issuing bonds to pay for the project. A public referendum would have to precede issuance of bonds.
“I think that’s a horrible disservice to the people of Morton Grove that a board would do something like that,” Albers said in his interview with Patch.
Former board member Dan Hoffman said in a previous interview with Patch that it’s a “perfectly legit and legal option.” However, the board ultimately discarded the idea because it looked like a “shady” maneuver, Hoffman said. Nevertheless, he added, “that’s what facilitated the removal of our director.”
In Peters’ summary of the current board’s allegations of Open Meeting Act violations, she implicates Schapiro in the discovery of missing and erased executive session tapes.
While she does not explicatively accuse him of wrongdoing, the summary contains statements like this: “Mr. Schapiro returned to the box a tape that was originally purported to be from the Jan. 13 Executive Session. … Upon listening to the tape, I heard that it had been electronically erased.”
Schapiro, reached by phone Wednesday, declined to comment on the accusations. .
Peters also writes that Kevin Justie, then the assistant director and now interim co-director, was asked to configure the library’s email system in such a way that deleted emails would be completely purged and unrecoverable after four months. Justie said he was uncomfortable with this directive, according to Peters.
Justie declined to comment for this article via email, writing, “I'm sorry, but because these matters are, or likely may be, the subject of an investigation, I trust you will understand that I cannot comment on them.”
Lobbying for a new building
The released executive tapes also indicate that board members were seeking ways to align with caucus party members running for the Village Board and help them get into office for the purpose of furthering goals of building a new library. Trustee Dan DiMaria’s name came up as being a current trustee who was behind their cause.
DiMaria said he doesn’t know where they got that idea.
“I don’t know where they got that I was for a new library. I didn’t have an opinion one way or another,” he said, adding that Schapiro “tried to chew everyone’s ear about a new library,” and that he met with him once for a tour of the current facility.
DiMaria said his one complaint was that the building wasn’t very accessible for people with handicaps and disabilities.
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