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Dolton Trustees vote to sue Mayor Tiffany Henyard

Conflict of interest, hiring and firing without approval, and using Dolton’s checkbook “like an open credit card” among complaints to be filed in court

By Josh Bootsma

DOLTON, Ill. (April 4, 2022) – The Dolton Village Board of Trustees voted on Monday to file lawsuits against Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard in an effort to “bring democracy back to the Village of Dolton.”

The board meeting

The vote occurred during the board’s meeting on Monday night, which was held at 7 p.m. without Mayor Henyard, a practice that has started to become the norm in Dolton. Henyard had originally scheduled a virtual board meeting for 6:30 p.m. Monday, but then cancelled the meeting. For their last three meetings, a quorum of Dolton trustees have met virtually with only the Village Clerk, and without the Mayor, Trustee Andrew Holmes, or department heads.

The split meetings came out of trustees’ concerns about public comments being deleted and trustees being muted while criticizing Henyard during Zoom meetings, said Dolton Trustee Jason House. Trustees were also locked out of Village Hall while trying to conduct a meeting last year, forcing them to hold their meeting in the parking lot outside.

“The last straw was in our first meeting in February. Trustee [Edward] Steave was attempting to express some of his frustration and [Henyard] took the step of muting Trustee Steave during his statement,” House told The Lansing Journal. “Upon the trustees being muted and other concerns, we decided we would host our own meeting through our own YouTube link that will stop the muting and the censoring. And we invite the mayor to every meeting.”

During Monday’s meeting, House said notice of the Trustees’ meeting was posted at Village Hall more than 48 hours prior to the start of the meeting, which followed the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

Trustees present at Monday’s meeting were Jason House — who was appointed Mayor Pro Tempore (the acting mayor for the meeting, in absence of Henyard), Brittney Norwood, Kiana Belcher, Edward Steave, and Tammie Brown. Village Clerk Alison Key and legal counsel were also present.

Henyard did not reply to The Lansing Journal’s request for comment on this story.

Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard — shown above just moments after being sworn in as Thornton Township Supervisor in March — will face multiple lawsuits approved by the Dolton Board of Trustees. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

The lawsuits

Nearing the end of a board meeting where the shadow of Henyard’s absence loomed large, trustees arrived at “New Business,” which brought the first-term mayor into the spotlight through a series of lawsuits aimed at her.

“It’s sad that we have to get to this point, that we have to go through court proceedings, as it’s costing the Village money because of the negligence that leadership has [shown],” Trustee Belcher said, adding that Henyard “constantly violate[s] ordinances that have been put in place.”

“If you’re not getting truthful information when you’re having dialogue to resolve it, ultimately it will end up in court and the courts have to step in,” House said.

The Trustees approved a series of lawsuit filings against Henyard, as detailed below. To watch the video of the discussion regarding the lawsuits, click below:

Complaint 1 – Quo Warranto

A Latin term meaning “by what authority,” a Quo Warranto is a legal action taken to resolve questions surrounding a person’s authority to hold a public office. In the case of Henyard, the question is whether or not she has a legal right to be both Thornton Township Supervisor and the Mayor of Dolton, a municipality that is within the bounds of Thornton Township.

“I believe that’s a conflict of interest,” said Trustee House during Monday’s meeting.

Henyard was appointed as Supervisor of Illinois’ largest township at a late-night meeting in March following the January death of longtime Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli.

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Complaint 2 – Lack of approval for hiring and firing

“This complaint is stating that [Henyard’s administration] is hiring and firing people without board approval, and that’s improper,” House said Monday.

After the meeting, House told The Lansing Journal that the Board passed an ordinance in 2021 that stated any staff hirings or terminations were subject to the “advice and consent” of Trustees. A link on Dolton’s website to view the Village’s ordinances was not active as of this writing.

“At this time, the Mayor has hired at least eight people, and terminated one person that we know of, without the advice and consent of the Board,” House said.

Complaint 3 – Violation of Freedom of Information Act policy

The Dolton Clerk’s Office is responsible for responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, but Clerk Alison Key explained that the office needs cooperation with department heads and Village administration to fulfill their duties.

“The Clerk’s Office is under attack,” Key said on Monday. “The FOIAs are not being taken seriously. Staff are being told not to comply with any FOIAs requested of them by the Clerk’s Office. … This ignorance of following guidelines can cost the Village thousands of dollars in lawsuits simply because someone refused to follow the FOIA Act.”

Complaint 4 – Spending without board approval

“The warrant list — or the bills — have not been submitted to the board for the month of March, what we estimate to be $2 million of spending. That information and those bills have been paid without proper approval of the board,” House said, adding that April’s bills had not yet been submitted either.

All Village bills and expenditures must be approved by the Dolton Board of Trustees, and such authorization has not taken place, the Board indicated Monday night.

“We don’t know what’s being spent right now with Village and taxpayer money,” said Trustee Steave.

Previous complaint – personal security funding

The Dolton Board has expressed concerns in recent months regarding Henyard’s “security detail,” House said, adding the board had asked multiple times for the Mayor to justify her need for such security. The lack of adequate explanation for the security that is likely funded by Dolton taxpayers is the reason for the lawsuit, House said, adding the complaint was filed in January.

During a discussion about the security topic in October, Mayor Henyard said at a Board meeting, “I’m a single mom with a two-year-old daughter, for you to even think about removing something like that from myself that’s given to everyone in the nation — as it relates to when you’re in politics — it comes with the title. It ain’t nothing I just made up.”

Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard (top left) passionately explains her desire to protect herself and her daughter using Dolton Police resources in a virtual board meeting on October 4, 2021.

“Unfortunately the court costs will be a better benefit vs. letting this administration use our checkbook like an open credit card,” House said in support of legal action.

The future

The matter of Henyard’s mayorship will come before the Dolton public on June 28 of this year as she faces a potential ouster in the form of a recall election.

Henyard was elected Mayor of Dolton during the April 6, 2021, elections. Though she narrowly won her primary election over Andrew Holmes and then-incumbent Riley Rogers, Henyard won 82% of the 2,482 votes cast for the mayoral race in the general election. There were 18,603 registered voters in Dolton at the time of the general election, according to the Cook County Clerk.

“Ultimately, it comes down to a vote, which I feel is appropriate. The residents get the opportunity to make a vote on June 28 whether or not they are comfortable with the leadership and the direction. There will be a vote and the residents’ voice should, can, and will be heard,” House said.

Agendas for future public meetings in Dolton are posted at Dolton Village Hall. To view past public meetings, visit the “Village of Dolton” YouTube page. To view recent meetings held by the Dolton Trustees, visit the “Dolton Trustees” YouTube page.

Dolton Village Hall is located at 14122 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Dolton.

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Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.