Potential wrongdoing? Mayor says decision will be made on investigation

RANTOUL — Village officials are studying whether to approve the start of an independent investigation into the handling of a storm sewer line case in which the line was diverted around property owned by a village trustee.

Mayor Chuck Smith said he has been speaking with village trustees about the matter.

“I think we’ll have (a decision) within a week to 10 days,” Smith said Monday.

“We need time to think about it and need some time to contact some other legal agencies and see if there are any implications.”

Three residents asked for the investigation into the matter at last week’s village board study session, and said the village needs to be more transparent to residents.

Jack Anderson, who has spoken out on the issue several times, said there were still unanswered questions into why the sewer line was rerouted around the property of village trustee Chad Smith “at a cost of $39,000 when cheaper alternatives were available that didn’t require public funds.”

He asked for the investigation into the matter “engaging either the county sheriff or the state’s attorney’s office.”

Anderson asked that the investigation center “on the behavior of those involved and authorizing the rerouting of the storm sewer line around Smith’s property and subsequent actions and inactions of village staff and officials — to investigate whether laws were violated, the amount of public funds used for private benefit and the extent of any malfeasance.”

Anderson said Rantoul residents “deserve answers from their elected representatives, not excuses from the (village administrator) that ring hollow.”

“The public trust is reliant upon the transparency of its government,” Anderson said. “The residents of Rantoul deserve the truth behind this boondoggle.”

The issue involves Smith’s 2016 purchase of two lots for $25,000 in west Rantoul, after which he realized a storm sewer easement ran through them. Smith said he asked village personnel if the planned storm sewer line improvement could be rerouted around his property so he could build a house there.

The village rerouted the line, at a cost of about $39,000. But Smith was billed only $17,079 for the rerouting. Anderson said he was told Smith wasn’t billed the additional amount because it benefitted the village as a whole by increasing hydraulic flow capacity.

Anderson questioned why the village board was not made aware of the matter until Anderson brought it up and why Village Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh signed a change order, approving the moving of the sanitary sewer line without first getting village board approval. Fiegenschuh said he mistakenly believed he had the authority to sign the change order and has since apologized. Anderson said the village board was required to vote on the approval/disapproval to move the line because of the dollar amount.

Resident Debbra Sweat agrees an independent investigation needs to be conducted and an audit “of the entire project including questionable involvement of Chad Smith and Jeff Fiegenschuh.”

Sweat told the board that the village needs to better communicate with the public and cited the search for a new police chief following the January resignation of Erman Blevins.

Sweat said she attempted to contact the mayor by phone but received no return phone call. Sweat then spoke with village executive assistant Janet Gray, who said she spoke with Smith, and he indicated the search “was behind progress” and that it could be mid-July before a hire was made.

Sweat said she then read a June 5 online Rantoul Press story that indicated two finalists had been identified for the position. The finalists were to meet Tuesday with village staff and officials and then be present at a reception to meet the public at the municipal building. It is expected the position will be filled later this month. (One of the candidates, Daniel Dempsey, dropped out of consideration on Monday.)

Sweat said she brought that issue to the board because, as with the storm sewer issue “and the blatant mistruth told by Ms. Gray, there is a definite disconnect with communication, trustworthiness and transparency with the citizens of Rantoul and our elected officials.”

“An article in the Rantoul Press offering a mea culpa (by Fiegenschuh) as a lesson in transparency is not sufficient,” Sweat said. There is no transparency or trust in our village government by omitting segments of the demographics represented in the citizens of Rantoul.”

Sweat said the village board has largely contributed to the disconnect.

“It needs to be addressed or repaired. Or is the agenda to make Rantoul great again, or its reality of making the initiative of making Rantoul Tomorrow, which I deem” as being exclusive, not inclusive.

Trustee Sam Hall, noting he is new to the village board, asked questions of Sweat, saying he is “getting up to speed” regarding the concerns brought forth.

“I will say that from the information I’ve gotten from citizens and the administrator, I feel that mistakes were made and progress and steps are being made to rectify (the situation),” Hall said. “In terms of whether the request for a third-party (investigation will be approved), I feel I’m learning. I’m listening to you all, so contact me.

“I want Rantoul Tomorrow. I want an inclusive community.”

Resident Wendell Golston spoke about the transparency of the village board and making the community more inclusive, “whether it be the storm drainage or whether it be with the police search or things in general going on in this community.”

Golston said people keep talking about the bad publicity Rantoul receives from the press.

“Some of it is self-inflicted,” Golston said. “This could be one of those issues that is self-inflicted.

“The board needs to act immediately. If it’s the mayor, then I would ask the mayor, ‘You were re-elected. Be the mayor.’ We cannot allow an employee to run this village.

I repeat (adamantly), we will not allow an employee to run this village. ... We elected (you), and we do not want you all to run for election and then hide from us. Right now it’s not looking good.”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com
 

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