University Park residents protest the Mayor and trustees for transparency (University Park, IL) – Some University Park residents protested near the homes of Mayor Joseph Roudez and the University Park Board of Trustees, calling for more transparency on a host of issues.
As they stood at the corner of Blackhawk and Hickok Streets, the group held signs that read “Stop rogue government practices” and “The residents have no open dialogue.” Those messages and others referenced concerns the residents have related to alleged violations of the open meetings act, a lack of accountability for village finances and ignored FOIA requests.
Anne Griffin said the board hasn’t had an in-person meeting since before the pandemic, with the meetings only being held online. Though residents can access them, they aren’t able to give their input regarding agenda items or other village business, she said. According to the village, public comments may be submitted before meetings to Village Clerk Dee Jones via email or by text the day before the meeting. But according to the residents, that process and others aimed at government accountability and transparency aren’t working.
“If you ask questions you don’t get answers,” Griffin said. “If I put in a (Freedom of Information Act Request), I should get an answer.”
Mildred Morgan said she has five FOIA requests she placed two months ago that haven’t been responded to. Per the FOIA Act, requestors must receive a guaranteed response within five business days, but those responses never came, she said.
“Since this mayor got in office we can’t get (our FOIA requests),” Morgan said, noting trustees and the mayor also don’t return residents’ calls. “You can’t learn anything about how your village functions, how your tax dollars are being used. That’s a very uncomfortable feeling.”
Morgan and other protestors also expressed concerns about the Village Manager Ernestine Beck-Fulgham. When asked to produce financial reports and management letters from municipal audits, she hasn’t complied, residents alleged.
Trustee Theo Brooks filed a lawsuit in Aug. 2020 over that concern, citing Beck-Fulgham’s failure to respond to requests over billing statements and other financial information. He was given incomplete copies of village credit card statements, which showed charges for marijuana products, red-light tickets and HD-televisions, according to the suit. Brooks did not respond to requests for comment by press time and the village has said it wouldn’t comment on his suit.
David Sevier, resident and former village manager, said the biggest legal problem the village faces is tied to its TIF districts.
“We’re allowing companies to come into our TIF districts without having an annual TIF meeting with the taxing bodies nor are we getting approval to have these companies come into the districts, which is a violation of the TIF Act,” he said.
Amid these issues, Morgan hopes the protest will serve as a wake up call.
“We have to see about what’s going on in our village and correct the problems,” she added.
As the protestors gathered and discussed their concerns, a man some referred to as the son of Roudez stood a few feet away, saying “sounds like yall got all the answers,”
“Yall should run for trustees,” said the man, who declined to comment and didn’t answer questions like whether he was the mayor’s son. Mayor Roudez did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
University Park residents protest the Mayor and trustees for transparency