After being misled by a local parish and a former colleague, River Forest trustees recently voted to crack down on those who lie to them, fining scofflaws up to $750 over proven falsehoods.

“We’re talking about the St. Vincent’s zoning application, obviously,” said Greg Smith, village attorney, at a village board meeting, Jan. 8.

A few months ago, Village Administrator Eric Palm and Assistant Administrator Lisa Scheiner toured St. Vincent Ferrer’s facility. The village’s Development Review Board had recently approved St. Vincent’s planned development application to update its multi-purpose hall, and one of the updates included a repaint of the window trim. Palm and Scheiner were strolling through the campus, admiring the stained glass and wood-beamed ceiling when Scheiner noticed something was off: According to the approved application, the color of window trim was supposed to be putty. Instead it was brown, the original color St. Vincent proposed, which the Development Review Board had rejected.

Somewhere along the way, the parish changed the specifications and applied the wrong trim. St. Vincent officials apologized and told River Forest officials it was the architect, Nevin Hedlund Architects of River Forest, who accidentally put in the wrong color. However, Nevin Hedlund, owner of the firm, told trustees the church misled them, and that St. Vincent intentionally violated the board’s guidance because they preferred brown. Trustees argued that because Hedlund once served on the Development Review Board, he knew the rules and should have followed the ordinance’s direction even if the church indicated otherwise.

After the meeting, church officials reached out to the village, apologized and applied for an alteration to their planned development application. Rather than forcing the church to repaint its window trim — which would have been costly and time consuming — trustees approved St. Vincent’s amended application, forgiving but not forgetting and vowing later to put in a policy to convince developers that honesty is the best policy.

“If we, as a village, issue a business license to someone, there’s a level of trust [that] the village is giving them our blessing to do business in town,” said Trustee Michael Gibbs. “With the St. Vincent thing, it is our belief that the architect was untruthful in what he presented.”

Trustees voted Jan. 8 to amend village code regarding false statements to governmental agencies. If and when people lie to the village, River Forest officials can either pursue criminal prosecution or an ordinance violation. If officials pursue an ordinance violation, their case — along with the defendants’ — must be heard by an administrative judge at village hall or Maybrook Courthouse. Those found guilty can be fined up to $750 by River Forest. Village Attorney Smith drafted the amendment, basing it on a similar policy in northeastern Carpentersville, as well as the federal and state false claims act.

“If someone wants to lie, they’re going to lie to everybody about it,” Smith said. “But if you later learn there was a falsification, and they lied to everybody, now we have a remedy.”

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