NIU Closes Somebody’s Coffee Fund

**Update 9/1: DC has significantly re-worked the story, so the quote below no longer appears there.**

I very much appreciate the Daily Chronicle‘s continued persistence and endurance with the NIU “coffee fund” story, especially as things get curioser.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University has located the “coffee fund” and shut it down.

University officials said the private, non-university bank account, which contained about $2,100, has been closed, with the money deposited into the university’s general fund.

Four employees in NIU’s Materials Management Department have been placed on paid leave for a maximum of 30 days, but NIU spokesman Paul Palian did not know the names of those employees.

If the account was a private, non-university account, how is it that NIU was able to determine it was NIU money, and how did NIU close it? And if NIU knows the money from the account is NIU money, why are people being put on vacations instead of being charged with crimes?

And speaking of crimes, where is our able State’s Attorney and his much-ballyhooed (well, self-ballyhooed) anti-corruption unit?

Daily Chronicle Still on Top of NIU Resignation Story

In “NIU hired outside firm to investigate employees” we learn that NIU paid about $25,000 for investigations into what have previously been described as serious allegations of misconduct.

A contract between the university and Sycamore law firm Foster & Buick Law Group shows that attorney John Countryman was hired June 4 to investigate “named individuals within the organization.” The contract was obtained by the Daily Chronicle through a Freedom of Information Act request.

NIU hired Countryman at an hourly rate of $300. Palian said he didn’t know the exact amount NIU paid for the full investigation, but said it cost about $25,000.

University officials refused to provide findings and reports compiled by Countryman because they said they are exempt from disclosure.

The Daily Chronicle obtained the employee agreements through a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request, and I hope the paper also requests a review by the attorney general’s office of NIU’s above-claimed exemption.

Meanwhile, between the costs of the “investigation” and the severance for the employees in question, we’re up to $106,000 paid out by a public university that, in effect, keeps the facts from being known.

This is unacceptable, NIU.

Lots of Good FOIA and OMA Action in Winnebago Forest Preserve District

*Update 10:45 p.m.: Olson is out as district president! The story is here. But that’s not all! Find bonus Chuck Sweeney here with free shipping!*

The Rockford Register Star used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain e-mails to and from Winnebago Forest Preserve district president Randy Olson that trace the process of creating a job for a person he evidently likes very much.

Randy Olson plotted for months to give Roscoe cop Theresa Rawaillot a well-paid forest preserve police job, a trail of emails shows.

And when his plans hit roadblocks along the way, he ultimately decided to change the way forest preserves are policed.

The job creation efforts involved bulldozing the district’s executive director as well as ignoring the majority of its board of commissioners.

It may even have violated the Open Meetings Act, and thanks to a complaint made by an concerned citizen, the Attorney General is planning to investigate the allegation.

President Olson remains unrepentant.

Olson has said that commissioners have focused too much on the process to bring Rawaillot on board, which distracts from the goal: to save the district money and improve police presence in the preserves.

At least four of the commissioners do not agree that the ends justify the means, and I’ll bet they hate getting stuck with a police officer who thinks this is OK, too.

NIU “Coffee Fund” Quote of the Day

In reading “NIU: ‘We Welcome’ State’s Attorney Involvement” we get this:

“The integrity of this great university is not at issue,” the statement continued.

When your PR people claim that the resignations of two of your top employees at the same time were for personal reasons and a coincidence, but later it’s found they actually resigned in the midst of investigations into “serious and substantial allegations of misconduct,” I’d say integrity is exactly the issue.

Good day.

The “Coffee Fund” and NIU’s Curious Behavior

Thank you, Daily Chronicle, for revealing that there indeed is more to the Northern Illinois University Finance & Facilities/Convo shakeup than just a couple of dudes simultaneously deciding they were ready to move on.

DeKALB – Separation agreements for two former Northern Illinois University administrators show they were paid tens of thousands of dollars and were under investigation for misconduct when they quit.

Robert Albanese, former associate vice president of the Division of Finance, Facilities and Operations, and John Gordon, former director of the Convocation Center, submitted signed letters of resignation July 19 and July 20, respectively. The two were on paid leave status from the time they submitted the letters until July 31.

In the agreements, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the university agrees to stop the administrative process of “prospective dismissal from service for cause” against both men “for reasons directly associated with serious and substantial allegations of misconduct.”

As usual the news raises more questions than it answers, such as why NIU would finalize separation/nondisclosure agreements before determining the validity of the allegations of misconduct — you know, to prevent inadvertent rewarding of bad behavior — and whether NIU spokespersons (who initially claimed that the two resignations were personal and unrelated) should feel ill-used if nobody ever believes another word they say.

Then there’s this:

In response to a FOIA request, university officials said they had no documents from the NIU Department of Police and Public Safety that showed Gordon or Albanese were involved in any reports in 2012.

Does this mean for sure that the “coffee fund,” which according to the Chronicle IS being investigated, is a separate matter from the allegations against Albanese and Gordon? And is anybody investigating the possible “serious and substantial” misconduct or not?

More “Coffee Fund” Stuff

AP has picked up the “NIU Coffee Fund” story from the Daily Chronicle, so it’s all over the state now. Choose your favorite search engine to see for yourself.

Glad as I am to see something hit daylight, though, there’s the feeling we’re being thrown a bone. I’ve pointed out previously that chasing it has taken attention off the NIU Finance-Convo shakeup. Also, who says DIMCO is the only scrap metal recycler and “coffee” the only fund? Here’s the comment I left at the Chronicle website yesterday:

Maybe Crundwell and her brazenness with the passing of time is sticking in my mind, but the “scrap” operation strikes me as somewhat small-time for the number of years involved — not to mention all the construction that has been going on at NIU. And all that iron and steel brought in but not an ounce
of copper?! I hope the DC is on the lookout for more “coffee” accounts and is checking with all recyclers within, say, a 50-mile radius of DeKalb.

Makes sense, doesn’t it, to widen the investigation — and maybe to have somebody besides NIU investigating NIU.

NIU Employees’ $13,000 “Coffee Fund”

Congratulations to the Daily Chronicle for digging up this story.

Bill Kunkel, head of transportation for DeKalb Iron and Metal Company in DeKalb, said that for years he’s been writing checks to what’s called the “coffee fund,” an account NIU spokesman Paul Palian said university officials weren’t aware existed.

Kunkel said several employees, mainly from NIU’s Physical Plant, have sold scrap metal from the university to DIMCO on and off for at least the past 25 years. The company’s electronic records date back to February 2005, and checks from DIMCO since that time have totaled more than $13,000.

These aren’t proceeds from aluminum cans we’re talking about, but from scrap iron and steel — and they evidently are not going back to NIU as they should.

The DC reports that NIU officials became aware of the “coffee fund” only Friday, so even as potentially explosive as this discovery is on its own, it doesn’t explain last week’s big shake-up at Finance & Facilities and the Convocation Center.

Still, it’s a rare feat to find people willing to go on the record when what they know has the flavor of whistle-blowing. Way to go, DC!

Reaction to the New Planters

[Update 6/21: Here’s another reaction to the new planters.

toppled planter

The person who took this photo says at least four of the planters had been toppled as of Wednesday.]

There’s already been a lot of discussion about the new City of DeKalb/NIU ashtrays urinals planters at the City Barbs Facebook Page. I don’t want to duplicate those comments, but I do want to respond to the Chronicle’s take, which is as follows:

Thumbs up: To more collaboration between the city of DeKalb and Northern Illinois University. Forty planters were placed throughout DeKalb and campus Tuesday morning as part of an initiative spearheaded by the Citizens’ Community Enhancement Commission to beautify the area. The planters feature a shrub surrounded by colorful flowers. Logos from NIU, the city and Proven Winners, which provided the plants and soil, are displayed on each container. While they may seem small, they brighten up our area.

Instead of the ugliness or the possible blocked wheelchair access or anything else that has been covered elsewhere, let’s go in a completely different direction, and by that I mean amateur psychology. Putting one’s new baby logos on 40 planters is an act that exemplifies perfectly the type of desperate insecurity that prevails in the running of this town. It’s a form of “shopping therapy” for massaging fragile egos, which is not only the worst possible motivation for public spending but almost guarantees the result will be objectionable, if not downright grotesque.

It’s not just the planters, either. The Art Deco stuff on the east side, the purple banners, and the new street signs all inhabit this category. The “planners” keep throwing up kitsch with no guiding sense of design. The Plan itself has lost whatever coherence it might have had.

OK, yeah, I’m a little extra cranky because I’ve been looking at the city’s budgeted vs. actual revenues and the latest projections again, and they don’t look so hot. I hope to have updated year-over-year charts for you soon in an effort to show DeKalb’s expenditures should stick strictly to the things we need.

Meantime, let’s think about how many square feet of concrete sidewalks could have been replaced in one of our neglected neighborhoods for the cost of the planter “collaboration.”

Farmers & Traders State Bank in Shabbona Has Closed

[Updated with Deposit Insurance Fund info @ 1:40 p.m.]

…and one of its former officers is a DeKalb County official.

From an FDIC release yesterday:

Farmers and Traders State Bank, Shabbona, Illinois, was closed today by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with First State Bank, Mendota, Illinois, to assume all of the deposits of Farmers and Traders State Bank.

The two branches of Farmers and Traders State Bank will reopen on Saturday as branches of First State Bank. Depositors of Farmers and Traders State Bank will automatically become depositors of First State Bank. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage up to applicable limits.

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $8.9 million. Compared to other alternatives, First State Bank’s acquisition was the least costly resolution for the FDIC’s DIF.

You heard it here (and perhaps only here) that FTSB accepted a consent order from FDIC last summer in response to charges of “unsafe or unsound banking practices and violations of law, rule, or regulation related to its Compliance Management System alleged to have been committed by the Bank.”

Yes, the Chronicle published from the same release this morning, but what they missed — and what I missed before — was Mark Todd. The Mark Todd who was appointed last year and has been serving as DeKalb County treasurer is the same Mark Todd who left his position as vice-president of Farmers and Traders State Bank just a few months before the bank got into trouble with regulators.

And the same Mark Todd is now running for a term as county treasurer, and so far is running unopposed. Terrific.

DeKalb’s Pension Rebound & Tax Games

This is a belated response to a November 12 story in the Daily Chronicle, “Police, fire pensions reportedly on rebound”. Instead of posting here at the time, I sent a letter to the editor. Three days later I still haven’t heard back.

The article makes it clear the City of DeKalb Finance Division knew all along that the pension investment returns would rebound after the recession. How is it they never told us we could have waited out the shortfalls since they were temporary? Indeed, there was an incredible sense of urgency during the budget crisis years to the point where DeKalb decided it had to raise the property tax rate by five cents for FY2009, on top of all the other emergency rate and fee hikes.

Secondly, I want to know what our rate for tax year 2011 (payable in 2012) will be. According to the DC, the City of DeKalb says it will ask for the same levy as last year. Well, they said the same thing last year, and the tax rate went up four cents. Even if the exact rate isn’t yet calculable, we should not allow council to vote on the levy without discussing at least a ballpark figure.

Here’s where my missive probably became “unfit” for publication: I laid out the game. Continue reading DeKalb’s Pension Rebound & Tax Games