Outrageous Spending at Chicago Heights Park District, Nonsense Continues

Chicago Heights Park District Meeting Shenanigans
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Outrageous Spending at Chicago Heights Park District, Nonsense Continues (Chicago Heights, IL) – The Chicago Heights Park District has come under plenty of scrutiny in the past several months for questionable spending practices under current Superintendent Frank Perez and Board Vice President Kelly Nichols-Brown, who has come under fire for mishandling over $400,000 in her past-role as Chicago Heights Public Library Director. Tonight, the other shoe dropped when the board voted to pay out Perez over $200,000 in tax-payer dollars to step down.

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The recent election left the current Board of Commissioners hanging in the balance, with three positions beings taken by newly-elected commissioners come May. It seems that in order to continue with their all-too-common shenanigans at least one more time, Perez orchestrated a coerced board resignation to secure his $212,313.85 payout.

In a conversation with The Southland Journal, 5th Ward Park District Commissioner Jessica Mancina ironed out some of the details and expressed dismay at the actions of the board and Superintendent tonight. “I am in tears. I can’t believe this is happening,” said Mancina. “This is like a nightmare.”

Apparently, the board packets that were provided to the board members on Friday were incomplete. According to Mancina, the packets did not contain several important pieces of information, including Ward 1 Commissioner Jimmy Kyles’ resignation letter, the severance package details for 2 employees (including Perez), and the findings of a forensic audit.

During the board meeting, Commissioner Kyles’ resignation letter was handed out to board members for review. Questions by Mancina and Ward 6 Commissioner Curtis Straczek regarding the validity of the letter, such as when Mancina asked if Kyles even wrote the letter (he did not), were shot down or brushed off.

Mancina also questioned why, on the date that Kyles resigned, he also submitted a requisition for the purchase of $500 worth of gift cards through his expense account. The request was approved and the check for cash was provided to him 3 days later. “It doesn’t add up,” stated Mancina. “Why would he make the request on the day he resigns?” According to Perez, the gift cards were never distributed or used and are in his office.

Ultimately, the board voted (4-2) to accept the resignation and immediately swore in LaShawn Ridley as Ward 1 Commissioner. Mancina maintains that the resignation was coerced, saying that President Benavides lied to Kyles, telling his that he had to resign due to a missed meeting. When asked how many meetings Kyles missed, Mancina said, “Just one. I believe he missed one.”

In executive session, the board voted on two severance packages. The cash payout of these packages total nearly $240,000. In addition, the two employees are also receiving healthcare benefits, one for 18 months, the other for 3 months. Another interesting fact is that one of the employees does not have an employment agreement with the Park District and is an at-will employee. Furthermore, these individuals are quitting. “We’re not even terminating these people,” said Mancina, “They’re quitting!” Mancina also expressed dismay at the severance package details being provided last-minute. “We had three minutes to review eight pages, each, of the severance agreement, and make a decision. When I asked our President of the total dollar amount the severance packages came out to, he told me to figure it out myself.” Unsurprisingly, the severance package agreements were approved.

The meeting ended in an uproar, with members of the public upset that the board would act in such a reckless and brazen manner.

The Southland Journal has submitted FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests to the Chicago Heights Park District for copies of the documents mentioned here. This story is developing.

Outrageous Spending at Chicago Heights Park District, Nonsense Continues

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Monica Gordon for Cook County Commissioner

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