Township board discusses bills and financial questions

552
Following Thornton Township's annual public meeting on April 12, Township trustees, Clerk Loretta Wells, and Supervisor Tiffany Henyard made their way to the second level of Thornton Township headquarters to conduct their twice-monthly board meeting. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (April 18, 2022) – Following Thornton Township’s annual public meeting on April 12, Township trustees, Clerk Loretta Wells, and Supervisor Tiffany Henyard made their way to the second level of Thornton Township headquarters to conduct their twice-monthly board meeting. The meeting highlighted a handful of financial questions, including the payment of bills from last fall.

The 51-minute meeting was Henyard’s third since becoming appointed Supervisor of Thornton Township in early March.

After unanimously voting to approve the 2022-23 budgets for the Township’s funds, trustees turned their attention to approving bills. Trustee Christopher Gonzalez was absent from the meeting.

Eaglewood Resort & Spa

Before voting to approve the Township’s bills, trustees and Supervisor Henyard — who is also the mayor of Dolton — voted to combine approval of bills from the township’s three funds: General, General Assistance, and Road and Bridge. After doing so, Attorney James Vasselli explained that any questions or concerns on the bills could be raised by the trustees before voting to approve them.

Trustee Darlene Gray-Everett moved to exclude a bill from Eaglewood Resort & Spa. Trustees voted to approve the rest of the bills and then returned to discuss Eaglewood, with Trustee Gray-Everett starting by saying she had a “problem” with paying the bill.

Henyard provided some background to the expense, explaining that Thornton Township set up a “manager’s retreat” last fall to “hash out their differences.” Frank Zuccarelli was Supervisor at the time of the retreat.

bill
Supervisor Henyard provided some background about the bill from Eaglewood Resort & Spa. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

“I’m totally for a retreat, but I am not for using taxpayer dollars to do personal things such as spas. Some members here used the money to do spas for their employees,” Henyard said. “We did not know anything about anyone using taxpayer dollars for spas. That’s a big no-no, big red flag, and that will not be condoned under my watch as your Supervisor.”

“The board has to make the harsh decision on paying this retreat, which equate to $20,000 — just so you know how much money was spent — you can FOIA this and get the information, but we wanted to put it on record … We had nothing to do with any of this,” she continued.

Trustee Jerry Jones said, “This winds up being something the board is aware of after the fact. … Shouldn’t have happened. We all know that. Shouldn’t have happened. But [Township employees] were given that authority and they did it, so at this point, if we as a township don’t pay, then what happens to our name?”

Township Finance Director Robert Hunt weighed in saying the full bill for the retreat was actually $14,000, not $20,000. Hunt also recommended the board vote to approve the bill but exclude the spa portion of it.

In a vote to approve the full bill, Trustees Washington and Jones voted yes, Gray-Everett voted no, and Supervisor Henyard abstained — the motion failed.

In a subsequent motion which excluded the spa payment, Trustees Gray-Everett and Jones voted yes, Washington voted no, and Supervisor Henyard voted yes — the motion passed. The board agreed to discuss how to address the spa expenses at a later date.

“When we encounter things like this, we will put it out to the public so that you guys understand that we are being transparent,” Henyard said, adding that the individual who authorized the trip “no longer works for us.”

Former employee weighs in

Stephanie Wiedeman started working for Thornton Township in 2002 and held various positions, as a full-time township employee and as a contractor for the township. In June of 2021, Wiedeman was promoted by Frank Zuccarelli, the late Thornton Township Supervisor, to be his executive assistant. Wiedeman was fired at the March 22 Township Board meeting.

Wiedeman was present at the retreat discussed by the trustees, which took place last fall at Eaglewood Resort & Spa in Itasca, and included about 26 managers. Wiedeman said the idea for a team-building exercise came from then-Supervisor Zuccarelli.

“The Supervisor was trying to make sure that the management team had a clear idea of what his transition looked like,” Wiedeman said. “He wanted to get all management on the same page. We had some managers that may have had some issues in the past, he wanted everybody to be able to work through these things so when he retired in 2025 and a new supervisor ran, the structure itself was secure.”

Wiedeman said some Township staff created ideas for such a team-building event, and offered those ideas to Zuccarelli. “He picked from there,” she said.

The retreat was part of a larger package at Eaglewood, Wiedeman said, adding, “Part of that package was a $150 credit toward either a spa service or a golf package. Anything over that [Township managers] would be required to pay [themselves].”

“I would say less than half of the people utilized [the spa],” Wiedeman said, adding that she did not utilize the service herself.

Wiedeman said the entirety of the trip was approved by Supervisor Zuccarelli, and the Board of Trustees also knew about the retreat.

“The bill is getting approved now, but Frank had had conversations with the board members,” Wiedeman said. “I was with him when he spoke to [Trustees Jones, Washington, and Gonzalez]. It wasn’t a surprise to them.”

“That’s what threw me off the most, the fact that [the trustees] acted as if it was something they didn’t know about,” Wiedeman said. “Jerry Jones’ wife got the spa services, so clearly you knew. And it wasn’t an issue for you then.”

Jones’ wife Mary Jones is a manager of Special Services at Thornton Township.

“We had to put a deposit down, but Frank did that with Frank’s credit card. Nobody paid for anything without permission,” Wiedeman said. “Frank was at the retreat … Nothing happened that the Supervisor wasn’t a part of.”

Account signatory, spending limits

The board then voted to approve new meeting times for board meetings starting in May. Meetings in May will call to order at 6 p.m., rather than 7 p.m.

Trustees then moved on to approve signatories for Thornton Township.

Attorney James Vasselli described the resolution as a “perfunctory one, a clerical one in nature,” adding that Supervisor Zuccarelli’s name was on the Township’s banking accounts.

“Supervisor Henyard needs to be on those accounts to be able to sign those checks,” Vasselli said. “We’re looking for your support to take this step, as requested by our banking institutions.”

Trustee Jones asked if there would be more than one signatory, and Vasselli said Henyard would be the only one. Zuccarelli was also the only signatory on the accounts during his tenure.

Trustee Gray-Everett asked how much the Supervisor can spend before needing to come before the board for approval. Henyard consulted Vasselli, who consulted Finance Director Hunt.

Supervisor Tiffany Henyard (left) consulted with Township Attorney James Vasselli during the Board meeting. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

“Right now, all the bills are presented to the board before we release them, unless it’s insurance or payroll,” Hunt said. “I would actually say the spending limit is basically zero, unless it’s healthcare or payroll. Every single bill that comes to the Township is presented to you the trustees first. You vote on it, and literally our staff, we spend all day cutting what you approved tonight.”

Closed session and final comments

After an executive session, Henyard called the meeting back to order, saying, “It’s ok, guys. We have only one item to discuss this evening. I’m going to turn it over the attorney so he can explain it. No one’s getting fired.”

Two employees were fired out of closed session during the March 22 Township Board meeting.

Vasselli explained that the Board discussed authorizing Henyard to become an authorized agent for the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. “Traditionally, the Supervisor has been the authorized agent,” he said. The board voted to approve Henyard as the IMRF agent.

The meeting ended with a recognition of birthdays of Township employees.

Thornton Township is located at 333 E. 162nd Street in South Holland, Illinois. Township Board meetings typically take place on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.

Related

(GOOGLE-SUPPLIED ADVERTISEMENT)