Chicago is infamous for its corrupt politics, but is it confined to city limits?
If the allegations are true, DuPage County's Forest Preserve District is an embarrassing mess. The State's Attorney's office has been investigating for months, and now the FBI has joined in. When asked about the scandal by a citizen during a public meeting last month, the district president went off on an insult-filled temper tantrum (see the video below).
DuPage County lies just west of Chicago's Cook County, encompassing Naperville and the natural treasures of Fullersburg Woods and Waterfall Glen. Between November 2009 and October 2011, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County paid at least $488,000 to Alamach Technologies, Inc., a Chicago-based company that has since dissolved.
The problem? Two former administrators at the FPDDC may have steered that money towards Alamach because of their own financial ties to the company, making the deal an illegal use of taxpayer money for personal profit.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't stop there.
This July, FPDDC Director Brent Manning, who was in charge of the district during the period under investigation, resigned because of "personal health and family concerns." Brent's boss, President Dewey Pierotti, admitted that "Brent deserves part of the blame" for the grafting scandal.
So it may shock you to learn that Brent Manning, who was already making $165,000 a year, was awarded a $51,000 bonus by the district when he resigned, plus $23,204 in unused sick and vacation days.
Maybe Brent Manning had no knowledge of the alleged scandal, even though he supervised the employees responsible for it. Hopefully the FBI will clear him. But both the Better Government Association and the Huffington Post have noted the apparent hypocrisy of a taxpayer-funded office awarding the official who "deserves part of the blame" for a taxpayer-fund scandal with...wait for it...more taxpayer funds.
And then on August 14, it got even uglier. At a public Planning Meeting of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Brent Manning's former boss, still-acting President Dewey Pierotti (who both admitted Manning's partial fault for the scandal and approved his sizeable severance package) made quite a scene.
I've posted the video below, filmed by a member of the community who attended the meeting. The FPDDC doesn't make official video of their meetings available, and perhaps this is why.
Pierotti begins with a tersely-worded lecture to the public about "proper behavior" and not making "factless accusations," citing, as an example, the district being investigated by the FBI. He then opens the meeting up for public comment, and a man named Don Kirchenberg, who is currently running to be a commissioner for the district, steps forward.
Don brings up former director Brent Manning's giant bonus, as well as his questioning by the FBI in the scandal. He also asks about a closed-door meeting that Pierotti had with DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin last month, where the two discussed closing the Forest Preserve District and merging its responsibilities back into the County Board (the entities were split back in 2002 to protect against "conflicts of interest").
And then, despite his own admonitions about "proper behavior," President Pierotti completely ignores the rules of conduct at public meetings and interrupts Don long before his 3-minute window is up.
"Before you go any further, that's news to me. I don't have any recollection--I'm not that senile--I don't care what's in the paper. I'm telling you that I never had any closed-door meeting with anyone." Instead, he insists that he had a "normal meeting" with Cronin. "They wanna write what they wanna write," he says of the Daily Herald, which published an article detailing his meeting with Cronin.
President Pierotti then ridicules Don for what he said at a meeting last week, "that Mr. [Brent] Manning and this board was [sic] being investigated by the FBI, which is nothing further from the truth. So why don't you check your facts."
Don then politely asks if he can finish. President Pierotti says "you can do anything you damn well please."
So Don asks why the President and Commissioners of the Forest Preserve won't publicly discuss Manning's bonus or the idea of closing the district.
"Are you idiotic?" Pierotti replies. "You're like the locusts, you come around every 17 years," he says, then repeats that Brent Mannings was never questioned by the FBI, and boasts that he's never had an accusation regarding the Forest Preserve substantiated by the State's Attorney's office or the FBI.
Before Don can continue, President Pierotti waves him off, saying "that's enough, I don't wanna talk anymore. I got a root canal I have to do today, I shouldn't even be here and put up with this."
He must have had quite the toothache.
Regardless of the investigation, and Brent Manning or President Pierotti's role in it (and President Pierotti's thin grasp on English grammar), this is no way to conduct oneself as an elected civil servant. Especially not towards a member of the community during a public forum. And judging from videos of other public meetings, Don isn't the only "locust" in DuPage County who's concerned.
Speaking of, locusts do not appear once every 17 years. Some cicadas do, but they belong to a completely different taxonomic order.