Chicago Heights Park District Meeting Shenanigans

Chicago Heights Park District Meeting Shenanigans
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Chicago Heights Park District Meeting Shenanigans (Chicago Heights, IL) – This evening’s Chicago Heights Park District board meeting kicked off with shenanigans and finished with a slew of angry citizens.

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The Southland Journal joined the meeting around 7 minutes late. By this time, public comments had just finished. Immediately after the conclusion of public comments, the call seemingly cut out, leaving listeners in the dark (or silence). All that could be heard in the background, beyond the voices of angry citizens, was banging and muffled voices.

Finally, about 17 minutes into the meeting, someone identified as Wanda Rodgers Spurell, Park District Program Director, came back onto the call and stated that the meeting was adjourned.

(DISCLAIMER: Contains some inappropriate language). The last 3 minutes of the Chicago Heights Park District Board meeting on 1/21/21

This round of mistrust within the government of Chicago Heights comes about a month after the Chicago Heights Library Board came under scrutiny due to approximately $440,000 in misappropriated funds under former library director Kelley Nichols-Brown. Nicholas-Brown allegedly made thousands of dollars worth of personal transactions and made payments that violated library board and state procurement policies under the oversight of former Chicago Heights Library Board President Lori Wilcox.

Recently, Chicago Heights Park District Commissioners Mangiaracina and Straczek submitted a motion to the board asking for a forensic audit of Chicago Heights Park District. They also called for the Cook County State’s Attorney to include the park district in any investigations against the Chicago Heights Library, Kelley Nichols-Brown, and Lori Wilcox.

One week ago, the board voted in favor (6-2) of a forensic audit, however the resolution was halted by the park district’s attorney. According to an anonymous source, the vote for a forensic audit tonight did not pass:

  • Ward 1 Jimmy Kyles: No
  • Ward 2 Ricardo Leon: No
  • Ward 3 Kelley Nichols-Brown: No
  • Ward 4 Robert Benavides: No
  • Ward 5 Jessica Mangiaracina: Yes
  • Ward 6: Curtis Straczek: Yes
  • Ward 7 Rudolfo Zuniga: No

According to a news release sent last week by the park district, janitorial company Clay Custodial, LLC, was hired by Park District Superintendent Frank Perez and Lori Wilcox, who is also the golf course manager, to clean two golf course buildings in January 2020. Clay Custodial is owned by Dondrell M. Brown, husband of Park District Commissioner and former library director Nichols-Brown. The company is currently a part of the library investigation and reportedly received over $22,000 in payments from the library without board approval. Due to COVID restrictions, the buildings that Clay Custodial has been cleaning have been largely closed.

The Southland Journal was able to get in touch with former Chicago Heights Park District President Joe Stanfa, who was apparently dismayed at the incredulous behavior of the board at the meeting tonight. Stanfa served about 12 years as President of the Chicago Heights Park District Board and is currently President of the Cook County Highway Commissioners Association. He stated, “It’s a big concern for me that public officials, whether they are elected or appointed, or they serve in a capacity such as the superintendent, would willfully disregard the open meetings act, and not allow for public information to reach the public that has taken the time to attend the event by Zoom because of COVID restrictions.” Stanfa also said that instead of wasting more public dollars, the board should go directly to the FBI.

Current Ward 5 Alderman George Brassea posted on his Friends of George Brassea Facebook page, “Shame on the Chicago Heights Park District Board of Commissioners for muting the dialogue during the special meeting that was called for tonight!”

Chicago Heights Park District Meeting Shenanigans

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Monica Gordon for Cook County Commissioner

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