Mayor Jennings Gives Backlash, Receives Opposition on Job Description Controversy

By Benjamin Cox on July 31, 2019 at 9:58am

A recent Village of South Jacksonville report has been met with heavy criticism from the mayor’s office this last week. Mayor Harry Jennings has said that the report about a debate over a job description at last Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting was factually inaccurate and has called it a slanted report.

In an email sent to WLDS/WEAI News, Jennings said that the question and response that happened between Trustee Jason Hill and Treasurer Tiffanee Peters was grossly misconstrued and that harassment of an official occurred.

WLDS/WEAI News believes that Mayor Jennings has not told the truth in the matter. Three trustees at the meeting have validated the facts of the story as they happened. Dick Samples provided information last week during the original run of the story. Trustee Jason Hill and Trustee Paula Belobradjic-Stewart recently spoke to the news department to corroborate and provide more details on the story.

Trustee Stewart offers background information on the hiring of Alice Hancock as a contractual employee in the village. “From my understanding, we were told last Thursday at our committee-of-the-whole meeting that there is a notebook full of job descriptions. I specifically at that meeting had asked for a different job description for a streets & sewers department employee that we are looking to hire. I know our office manager was able to go and get that to me right away and actually made copies so all the trustees could have one. The job description that Trustee Hill is asking for are specifically for the department heads. We have been asking for those for quite awhile. His asking was kind of two-fold. It kind of spilled over into a contractual employee that we also have in the administrative offices. I was the only trustee that was actually on the board at the time this contractual agreement was entered into with this particular employee. It would have been back in 2015 when the Illinois State Police was investigating the Village of South Jacksonville. My understanding of an appointed trustee at that time was that we were hiring this contractual employee to straighten out our water & sewer deposit accounts. That’s why this person was specifically hired. I was also told as a trustee at that time that this employment was going to be short term once the water & sewer accounts were straightened out. What that exactly means, I cannot tell you because we are in 2019 and this person is still employed by the village.”

Trustee Hill says that he still has received no answers to his questions from Peters or Jennings on the job duties of Hancock in the village. “We received an email of the office manager duties on the 24th, but I think those are from 2007. Now as far as the Treasure position or Alice Hancock’s position, no, I have not received those answers.”

Hill says the answers he’s received aren’t really answers. “My simple question was the job duties and details of Mrs. Peters and Alice’s positions at the meeting. I say I’ve probably asked the question five times. I know I have asked it more in close session. The answer that I got was Mrs. Hancock does accounting duties, that’s it. Obviously, there should be job duties and descriptions on paper that should be supplied. Even in the last meeting we had, Mayor Jennings told me that I could come to Village Hall and physically see the description myself. Then, he rebutted with that she wasn’t given a job description when she was hired. So, I asked him what I would be doing or what would I be looking at then if she didn’t have any job duties or descriptions when she was hired, what are you telling me to come look at?”

Hill says the motives of his questions are purely to serve the budget of the village and the citizens. “It’s just a run-around deal. I just simply asked a question. I’m not out for anyone’s job. My questions in the budget meeting when things were left out of the budget as far as someone’s salary even being there – I kind of started asking some questions to raise some awareness on what does that person do for the village. They have just went out around their way to give me that information or even answer my questions. All they’ve had to say is that Mrs. Hancock is worth her weight in gold or ‘She’s so great for this department.'”

Hill says he has no vendetta for anyone in the village despite his wife applying for the job in the recent past and turning it down. “I’m on the record saying that Tiffanee is great. She is very prepared. She always can answer questions. She’s very polite. She’s a very nice woman. Even though I’ve never met Alice, I’m sure she is, too. Again, I’m not after anybody’s job. It was simply a couple of questions. They’ve led this into that I’m after everybody because I’m mad that my wife didn’t get a position that she declined to even take. There’s people out there that can testify that my wife did decline the job.”

Stewart says that Trustee Hill wasn’t out of line asking for documentation. “He was simply asking to see what that employee does – what our office manager does. We also have Zumbhalen as our CPA firm that does our audits for us. I thought he had an awesome question. Those are three different possibilities of jobs that could overlap in some way. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. We as trustees don’t know that until we can see it on paper. In my estimation, that was all trustee hill was asking. I have no idea how this has gotten so blown out of proportion. When a trustee asks for documentation, I don’t think it should be a big deal. Bring it to the next board meeting. No one is hard to deal with on our board. The trustees are always very willing to work with someone who needs to find documentation. As far as job descriptions go, that should be something that should be readily available. Much like last Thursday when I asked for the water/sewer employee we’re hiring – their job description, and it was given to me within minutes. I’m not quite sure where the difference is with department head job descriptions.”

Stewart said she saw no evidence of harassment at the meeting before or since. “I’ve seen reports or comments online that there may have been some kind of harassment. I can tell you this, that as a trustee and I can only speak for myself, if I felt someone was harassing an employee in the village – I myself have been harassed – but I’m an elected official. I’ve been harassed by my own board in some instances. Harassment is something I’m not going to take if it’s against one of our employees.”

Stewart says answers may be found to the question yet, even if the trustees have to go the legal route to get it. “Well, I suppose as trustees, we can always FOIA the information. I would hate for something to come to that. Like I’ve said, it appears some documentation is readily available for other employees. I would think our employees would have job descriptions. I do want to note though that I was made aware along with the rest of the board for the first time last Thursday by our mayor – he said the office manager’s job description that was on file with the village would not be the actual job description for the office manager because she was hired in with a different job description. This was in a different administration, but that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that. I have no idea what job description we will find. Further, we’re going to have to look at what this office manager actually does compared to what is on file. By the way, we did get those emailed to us by our mayor within a day or so after that meeting, so we do have those. My understanding again is what we received does not reflect specifically for the office manager what her current job duties are.”

Mayor Jennings has not returned a request for a taped interview on the issue at this time. WLDS/WEAI News has FOIA requested documents concerning the job descriptions of Mrs. Hancock, a previous job description that the village used when requesting temporary employees through the hiring service Adecco, as well as an itemized list of duties of accounting firm Zumbhalen, Eyth, Surratt, Foote and Flynn for the village. In a reply via email on Tuesday afternoon, Jennings said that he doesn’t think it’s out of line for a trustee or elected official to ask for a job description. Jennings also said that the question has been answered repeatedly in meetings over the last several months. He also said that Trustee Hill had stormed out of a previous meeting. Jennings said that Treasurer Peters requested to leave the meeting last Thursday and that it was left out of the report. Jennings also noted that the accounting firm cannot do accounting for the village because it is an auditor, which he says Trustee Hill has requested to eliminate the extra cost of the accountant at Village Hall and replacing with the accounting firm. Jennings once again accused WLDS/WEAI News for not fact checking with him on the story.

Municipalities must disclose job duties under Illinois Municipal Code where a certificate of appointments must be issued and be affixed with the seal of the municipality by the mayor for disclosure purposes. The interested member in a job must publicly disclose the nature and extent of the interest in the job before or during deliberations concerning the proposed award of the contract. Which in turn, requires a disclosure form by the interested party in any contractual agreement with the city to prevent conflict of interest by board members and/or a family member of a board member wishing to be hired by the city.

Under other statutes in the municipal code, municipalities also have the right to investigate the municipal ordinances, rules and regulations, and the action, conduct and efficiency of all officers, agents, and employees of the municipality. In the investigation of those offices, the village has the right to conduct those investigation hearings publicly. The clerk would be in charge of issuing subpoenas to secure the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of books and papers relevant to such investigations.

Municipalities under certain circumstances may also be asked to comply with the Department of Central Management Services Law of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois concerning the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal.

This story will continue to develop. The Village of South Jacksonville will hold their first meeting of the month of August on Thursday evening at 7PM.