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Will Audit ‘Fall on Green’ Fest

Streit and Phelan Have Heated Debate at Oak Lawn Meeting

The Oak Lawn Village Board agreed at their meeting Tuesday night to approve a request made by Trustee Robert Streit (3rd) last month for a forensic audit of the Fall on the Green festival, but not without some heated exchanges between some of the trustees.

The vote for the audit passed 5-1, with Trustee Cynthia Trausch (1st) the only dissenting vote. She said afterward that the audit would be costly. {{more}}

ÒI fully support the motion but I fully reject the basis for it,” said Trustee Tom Phelan (6th).

The controversy began last month, when Mayor David Heilmann removed Phelan as chairman of the Special Events Committee and appointed Streit to replace him.

The committee oversees all local events, everything from movies on the village green to the 4th of July parade, and the Fall on the Green festival held each September.

Heilmann said at the time that he was supporting the audit because there were allegations that Phelan mismanaged Fall on the Green, an annual fest held every September. The village shares profits with Park Lawn, a non-profit agency that assists people with developmental disabilities.

Heilmann said he had been given reports that Phelan Òpersonally negotiated” contracts, handed out passes to the VIP tent to certain people and not others, and had given away free meal vouchers, drink tickets and passes to friends and allies.

Following the allegations made against Phelan and Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), who was accused of asking for and getting more than his share of vouchers and tickets, the two trustees filed suit against Heilmann and Streit for alleged slander. Both claim that the request for the audit was done for political motives.

Streit said in a statement requesting the audit that Phelan Òapparently used the sponsor’s passes to reward political allies and to bully his opponents, including any trustees who questioned his actions.”

Since then, Streit stated that he has received information from other sources about several other questionable practices.

ÒI am shocked by the number of issues raised and questionable practices alleged, and I believe the board has a duty to act to determine the validity of these actions,” said Streit.

He maintained in his original press release that the forensic audit is necessary Òto review and correct operations directed by Phelan that allowed some liquor sales to deviate from the normal purchase, sale and accounting procedures.”

Streit said Tuesday the series of documents that Phelan provided to board members and the media to refute the claims of mismanagement Òraised more questions than answers.”

He said, for instance, that the list of sponsors and others who received complimentary drink tickets and meal vouchers does not exist in village records.

He also claimed that Phelan had tickets printed up separately, and the cost of the vouchers went up to $4,990 last year, as opposed to $1,440 in 2003. Streit claimed the vouchers and tickets were paid for out of public funds, which Phelan and Olejniczak pointed out was not the case. The funds came from sponsors, they said.

ÒI’d like three hours to address this garbage,” said Olejniczak. ÒThe practice of giving complimentary passes has been in place for four years, and not one taxpayer dollar has been used.

ÒIn the seven years I have sat here, I have seen a lot of things happen, but this is the worst,” he told Streit, who was sitting beside him.

Regarding claims made by Heilmann that Phelan negotiated contracts with bands performing at the festival, Phelan said at the meeting Tuesday that any negotiating he did consisted of asking the band what they charged, and then saying what the village could afford to pay.

ÒMy negotiation consisted of, ‘Mr. Band, how much do you charge? $3,000? Well, we can only afford to pay $1,500.'”

ÒI never signed any contracts. I passed everything on to the village manager or his predecessor.”

Also, he pointed out to Heilmann that his role as trustee does not preclude him from being involved in negotiations anyway.

The documentation Phelan provided includes a paper trail of e-mails showing how discussions went on between himself, Olejniczak and the Special Events staff as decisions were made about how many neighboring residents to offer the free tickets to.

He said the program expanded in scope to include residents of Oak Street, Raymond, and nearby streets who would be most affected by the noise, traffic and other effects of the festival.

But Phelan asserted that in the six years he has been involved, Fall on the Green has become a profitable venture for the village, and has raised more than $100,000 for Park Lawn.

ÒAll the allegations made against me have been proven false,” said Phelan, who suggested that the audit should be wide-ranging, and look at the management of all the community events.

ÒI think any audit should be narrowly focusedÉ I am not saying that what was done was illegal, or that it makes you a bad person,” Heilmann told Phelan at the meeting. ÒThe audit is needed in order to clear the matter up and move on.”

Also at the meeting, the board narrowly approved an agreement with Beverly Bank & Trust to sell a piece of village property in the TIF district on 95th Street, adjacent to the Village Hall, for $1.8 million.

A bank will be built there, and approximately 3,000 sq. ft. of the property will be leased back to the village for a new senior center.

Because all the details have not been ironed out yet, Olejniczak, Phelan and Trustee Thomas Duhig (5th) said they would vote against it, and Heilmann voted in favor of it to break the tie.

Proponents said there will be time to decide the lease agreement and other issues but the project had to be given the go-ahead to get the process moving.

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