The news finally made the hard copy of the Journal-Standard, Freeport's almost daily newspaper, regarding the joint purchase of the building at 206 East Stephenson Street in downtown Freeport by the Veterans' Assistance Commission of Stephenson County and Freeport Township.
As usual, Journal-Standard reporter Travis Morse, did no independent investigation. The reporter went to the leadership of both units of local government for the news story as well as the party that sold the real estate, a less than objective crowd at best.
Here is a link to the Journal-Standard's purported news article.
What Tutty found strange about the new Journal-Standard article was that the title "Veterans' Assistance Commission of Stephenson County (VACSC)" seems to have been replaced by simply "Veteran's Assistance Commission" or "VAC". What is the legal name of this Commission? Does anyone know? Has Travis Morse or anyone else at the Journal-Standard bothered to ask who makes up the board of this Commission? Are they conducting their meetings in the sunlight? What authority does this commission actually have in regards to the tax dollars they collect?
The Journal-Standard first broke the news of the sale on the newspaper's website at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on November 1, 2012. This article has the appearance of a simple press release and was likely simply copy and pasted by newspaper staff. You can find a copy of this article in Tutty's post from December 3rd just passed.
When writing a followup news story Travis Morse would better serve the public if he would read official documents instead of just talking to those that have irons in the fire. For instance, if Travis Morse would get a copy of Township Resolution 2012-12 and its attachments he could have told the public that in order to spur this purchase along the seller, Dave Fonda, who Travis Morse did talk to, gave the VACSC a $5,000 kick-back after the sale closed. Look it up, it's a matter of record.
Fonda was quoted as saying that he was "happy" that veterans were going to be in that building. Tutty would be overjoyed too if he could sell a building for at least $100,000 more than anyone but taxpayers would pay him for it--and then get a $5000 write down on his taxes to boot--all in one transaction. That's a sweet deal folks, Dave Fonda has got more to be smiling about then all the "help" he's given local veterans.
Anyone in Freeport, please look Tutty in the eye and with a straight face tell Tutty that Dave Fonda had any hope of getting a quarter-million-dollars out that building from anyone else other than taxpayers. What is down there to make that property worth it's assessed fair cash value of just less than $300,000 Tutty does not know. But along comes Freeport Township, presently paying $144 a month in rent, and working out of the Stephenson County Courthouse joined at the hip with the VACSC and agree to purchase Dave Fonda's building for much more than it was worth.
Travis Morse also wrote, "Freeport Township and Veterans Assistance Commission are local taxing bodies." This is not true. Freeport Township is a "taxing body" the veterans' assistance commission has no power to tax, the power to tax is vested with Stephenson County. Whether the VACSC, or any other Illinois county veterans assistance commission can sue and be sue in their own name is a probably a question an Illinois' Court will have to decide.
Warning: reading this post any further may give you more knowledge than 90% of Illinois lawyers when it comes to local government in the Land of Lincoln. Let Tutty attempt a simple explanation.
The VACSC, in Tutty's opinion, can not be considered a "unit of local government" under Illinois Statute. It may very well be a "public body" but Tutty does not believe any veteran's assistance commission created under current Illinois statute meets the case law which establishes the definition of an Illinois "unit of government". And even if it did, that would probably make little difference as under Illinois statutes all "units of local government" and "public bodies" operate under Dillon's Rule unless they are home rule. And home rule is only available to municipalities and counties. Dillon's rule, simply put, means that units of local government have no authority to act beyond what is expressly given to them through a grant of power from the Illinois General Assembly, usually through statutes. Unless the authority to do such is written into Illinois Statutes a unit of local government has no authority to take an action.
If you don't think Tutty's advice is accurate, here is page from a text book for Illinois municipal lawyers regarding Dillon's Rule and what it means to Illinois' units of local government that are not home rule. (fair use copyright is claimed here for the purpose of public education)
Tutty wonders if the VACSC even has the authority to own and control real property being it is not spelled out in the Statute that authorized the creation of county veterans assistance commissions in Illinois. Please note that in the second paragraph from the bottom in the photograph above, the sentence reads, "Non-home rule units in Illinois, as Connelly indicates, still operate under the restrictions of Dillon's Rule."
So where does the VACSC get the authority to own real property? Any local attorneys want to explain that one? Tutty doesn't believe that the VACSC can even be sued in its own name. The County Board collects the tax and does have equal oversight under the law when it comes to the expenditure of money collected for the purpose of veterans' assistance.
Here is what the law actually says under 330 ILCS 45/9, paragraph two, "The Commission superintendent and the president or chairman of the county board, or some other county officer appointed by him, shall have general oversight of the distribution of all moneys and supplies appropriated by the county for the benefit of military veterans and their families, subject to such rules, regulations, administrative procedures or audit reviews as are necessary as approved by the county board to carry out the spirit and intent of this Act"
Tutty also believes that 330 ILCS 45/10 requires Illinois veterans' assistance commissions to maintain and office "in the county building" and for that office to be used only by the veterans assistance commission. Here is what the pertinent portion of this statute says, "The superintendent, designated Superintendent of Veterans Assistance of the county, shall, under the direction of the commission, have charge of and maintain an office in the county building or other central location, to be used solely by the commission for carrying on its assistance work.
Here is a link the complete Statute, the Military Veterans Assistance Act 30 ILCS 45/
Tutty probably doesn't have to remind local lawyers that the word "shall" when used in statutes means obligatory while the word "may" means discretionary as determined by Illinois Courts. And how about that word "solely"? Where does the VACSC get the authority to share an office with Freeport Township? Where, in the law, is the VACSC granted the authority to enter an intergovernmental agreement with any unit of local government other than Stephenson County?
Does anyone else besides Tutty expect that this real estate closing took place right in the middle of a new Stephenson County Board being seated on purpose? Surely Township Supervisor Sheila Hooper, who is also a member of the Stephenson County Board, has read these Statutes...hasn't she? What about the Township's lawyer that took part in the real estate closing? Did he read these laws prior to giving the transaction the thumbs up.
In Tutty's opinion, it wouldn't take much of an attorney to get the deed to this property reformed or completely vacated. It's important to remember the intent of the legislative Act which authorized the creation of county veterans assistance commissions is to "assist military veterans" not to supply the superintendent with a plush office on expensive real estate.
As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker firstname.lastname@example.org