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Facts, falsehoods, and everything in-between discussed during 3+ hour meeting Monday
By Josh Bootsma
DOLTON, Ill. (April 21, 2022) – Those hoping that the Dolton Board of Trustees, Clerk, and Mayor would set aside their past differences and achieve a mutual understanding during the board’s first in-person board meeting in months on Monday were disappointed.
Dolton Trustees Edward Steave, Jason House, Kiana Belcher, Tammie Brown, and Brittney Norwood, along with Village Clerk Alison Key have been meeting separately from Mayor Tiffany Henyard and Trustee Andrew Holmes, with both parties holding virtual meetings on YouTube. The split meetings came out of Trustees’ concerns regarding public comments being restricted and Trustees’ microphones being muted during virtual meetings.
Trustees have initiated multiple lawsuits against Henyard, and they have added a recall referendum to the June 28 election in Dolton. Those actions cast a long shadow over Monday’s proceedings.
In a setting where some suspected occupancy limits to be severely limited by Mayor Henyard, where Trustee Steave had originally planned a press conference to speak against those occupancy limits, and where attendees were subjected to a security check from a Dolton Police officer on their way in, the 6:30 p.m. gathering was tense even before it started.
Henyard began the meeting by clarifying that the occupancy limit would take effect for the next board meeting, scheduled for May 2. She did not specify what the number of allowed public viewers would be and did not provide a reason for the limitation. She did encourage the public to view future meetings on the Village of Dolton’s YouTube page.
Lawsuits loom large
In the Trustee’s Board meeting on April 4 — which Henyard alleged was an illegal meeting — Trustees Steave, House, Belcher, Brown, and Norwood voted unanimously to file four lawsuits against Henyard for the following:
- Lack of legal right to be both Dolton Mayor and Thornton Township Supervisor
- Lack of approval for hiring and firing
- Violation of Freedom of Information Act policy
- Spending without board approval
While all four were touched on during Monday’s meeting, either by trustees and Henyard or by public commenters, the latter pair were focal points.
In their lawsuit, Dolton Trustees are contending that Mayor Henyard’s administration is inhibiting the legal process in place for Freedom of Information Act requests. The Freedom of Information Act allows citizens to request public information and documents, requests that must be responded to by a designated “FOIA Officer” in the public body. In Dolton, that officer is Village Clerk Alison Key.
An agenda item for Monday’s meeting read “Appointment of new FOIA officer.”
“I’m going to appoint a FOIA officer because right now there are a ton of FOIAs coming in to the Village of Dolton, and we need everybody to keep up with the FOIA process,” Henyard said. “The Clerk isn’t doing her job. The Clerk barely comes to work. You come to Village Hall, you won’t see her. … The Clerk has been absent, so I want the facts on the record — this is all for the record, Clerk — that we do our part as it relates to our department heads.”
Clerk Key responded by explaining the FOIA process in Dolton. The Clerk’s office receives a FOIA request, and often needs information from department heads or the administration to respond to those requests. According to Key, she is not receiving the necessary information to respond to the requests.
“When I send FOIA requests to departments, they are not returning them. They’re telling me that they’re being told not to reply to them. I’m doing my job, but I’m not receiving the information I’m requesting,” said Key, adding that 63 FOIA requests remained unfulfilled as of Monday night.
Key also said her position is part-time and she has established an infrastructure where she can often work from home, and she has a full-time Deputy Clerk who is also certified to respond to FOIA requests.
The motion to appoint a new FOIA officer failed, with only Trustee Holmes voting in favor.
Spending, bills, and lack of approval
Trustees have levied accusations against Henyard regarding a lack of board approval for the list of bills — what they refer to as a “warrant list” — an issue that was discussed on Monday night.
“In March, the board did not receive a warrant list,” said Trustee House. “That warrant list was $2.1 million worth of spending. In order to the board to approve it, we should have got that, reviewed it, been able to make the proper approvals, and that information was not presented for the board to even make that decision.”
“There should be two signatures on every check. The authorized signers on our bank account are the Mayor and the Clerk. So the month of February and March, the Clerk’s stamp was used without her authorization to sign $2 million worth of bills that were not presented to the board,” House said.
Henyard contested House’s allegation, saying, “Because of the discord amongst the board, the board decided to have their own board meeting, which we never, ever do. … They did not come to do their duties as trustees, which is to pay bills. I still was present for every single board meeting, and I, as your leader, decided to make sure that all bills got paid.”
Henyard also contested the amounts of unapproved bills cited by trustees and insisted she did not use Clerk Key’s stamp for any approvals.
Trustee Brown said the board received a list of bills to approve — which had already been paid — on Saturday night.
“I can speak for myself. It’s going to take me time. Before I approve anything, I need to review it. That’s just how I work. Checks and balances,” Brown said. “I will not pay for anything I have not reviewed.”
Henyard critiqued reporters and media who have covered Dolton politics in recent months.
“Please, all reporters or journalists, ask both parties. Do not just write one side. Get the facts before you write, because no one ever reaches out to the mayor and asks me my opinion on what you’re writing. I do have Keith Freeman, Village Administrator, you can reach him too,” Henyard said.
Neither Henyard nor Freeman replied to The Lansing Journal’s requests for comment for an April 5 article regarding Dolton Trustees’ lawsuits, as well as a March 23 article about two firings at Thornton Township. Henyard and Freeman were contacted at both their Dolton and Thornton Township email addresses.
Speaking against the recall referendum planned for the June 28 ballot, Henyard said, “I did not get elected by five individuals. I got elected by 82% of the community. The people put me here. And how dare you guys sit here and make a resolution and recall my seat because you don’t like or don’t agree with what I have to say. It’s not fair.”
According to 2020 Census data and verified results of the April 6, 2021, general election, Henyard was elected by 9.5% of the Dolton community. She did win 82% of registered voters who came out to vote on April 6.
- Dolton population: 21,426
- Dolton registered voters: 18,603
- Dolton voters in 2021 general election: 2,482
- Dolton voters for Henyard in 2021 election: 2,036
The entirety of Monday’s meeting, including the 21 public comments that were made, can be viewed on the Village of Dolton’s YouTube page. Dolton Village Board meetings typically occur on the first and third Mondays of the month, either online or at Dolton Village Hall, located at 14122 Doctor M.L.K. Jr Drive, Dolton.