Friends of the Children pulls funding request

Trustee calls request improper because of village manager's seat on board

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

A nonprofit organization that works with at-risk youth in the Chicago neighborhoods of Austin and North Lawndale has withdrawn its request for $15,000 from the village of Oak Park.

The decision by Friends of the Children to pull the request comes after the item was removed from the consent agenda of the Oak Park Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 10 and placed on the regular agenda by trustees Simone Boutet and Dan Moroney.

Boutet said in a telephone interview that she believes it is improper to provide funds to the nonprofit because Village Manager Cara Pavlicek serves on the board of the organization.

"I think it's an improper use of public funds to fund your private interest with public funds," she said.

The item originally appeared on the consent agenda, meaning that it would have been approved by trustees with a number of other consent-agenda items and without discussion.

The funding was first included a year ago in the 2018 budget but was removed by trustees.

Pavlicek said in a telephone interview that the $15,000 request "falls below the manager's spending authority," meaning the funds could have been committed to the organization without board approval, but she brought it to the board for consideration.

She believes the request is appropriate because the new organization is working in Austin.

Taal Hasak-Lowy, executive director of Friends of the Children, said the request was pulled, in part, over concern that the request would anger Oak Park taxpayers. She and Friends of the Children Board Chairman Tom Abrahamson decided to pull it from the regular agenda.

"I think Tom's general feeling was [that] a lot is happening in Oak Park, so let's pull this out if this is an issue at all," she said.

Some on social media argued that the request constitutes a conflict of interest because of Pavlicek's position on the board.

Oak Parker Kitty Conklin, who regularly attends board meetings and has been an advocate for lowering property taxes in Oak Park, argued at the Dec. 10 meeting that Friends of the Children is not Oak Park-based and does not serve local students.

"Therefore, to me, there is a very obvious conflict of interest with the funding request," she told trustees on Dec. 10.

Hasak-Lowy said several Oak Park residents are involved with Friends of the Children, and the Austin neighborhood of Chicago "is of special interest to Oak Park."

The nonprofit works to pair caseworkers with at-risk students in economically depressed parts of the city. The mentors follow the students for the entirety of their education to help them achieve their educational goals, she said.

Friends of the Children has been active for 25 years but just launched a Chicago chapter in 2018.

They started in January with 24 first graders — 16 of which attend Ella Flagg Young Elementary School, 1434 N. Parkside Ave., and the remainder from schools in North Lawndale, Hasak-Lowy said.

Boutet told Wednesday Journal she believes it is "a wonderful charity" but added that it is "not within the realm of the village."

She added that she thinks Pavlicek "deep-sixed" the funding request.

"I'm glad it got removed, but I still think [Pavlicek] should be held accountable," she said. "If this was a board that was more accountable and where there was more accountability, there would have been a discussion right away."

Trustee Deno Andrews said in a telephone interview that he agrees the village should not fund a program that does not serve Oak Park children but had no ill will toward Pavlicek or the organization for making the request.

"I don't love how it was presented, but I don't hold it against the village manager for asking because I believe she believes it would be a benefit to the village," he said.

tim@oakpark.com

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 8:31 PM

Marty: I was more concerned how Trustee Andrews viewed this matter: "... I don't hold it against the village manger for asking because I believe she believes it would be a benefit to the village." The fact that Trustee Andrews does not see this episode for what it is - an obvious violation of the public trust - is I think of a much graver concern on my part. If Trustee Andrews had any sense of history here he would see where the Village Manger's behavior ultimately can lead: as Ms. Melara points out, (former Village Manager) Tom Barwin's infamous road map.

Marty Bernstein  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 1:39 PM

The Executive Director and Chairman of Friends of the Children "decided to pull the the item from the regular agenda". Who are these people to decide what goes on a Village of Oak Park board agenda? How does a board agenda get determined in the first place? Why is the village manager thinking it is is appropriate to spend Oak Park taxpayer funds on the Austin neighborhood of Chicago when the taxes Oak Parkers pay are already so high that residents move from Oak Park because they can't afford the taxes? The Oak Park village board needs to determine if the current village manager, having that attitude about Oak Park taxes should be retained as the village manager.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 1st, 2019 8:21 PM

I don't know and now we will never know if the board would have authorized this expenditure. I am pretty sure Pavlicek thought this might be a slam dunk. So, in honor of the slam dunk, I propose a John Havelchek/Cara Pavlicek Slam Dunk contest. Pavlicek should at Day in Our Village be obliged to work the dunk tank, and instead of baseballs we use basketballs. The tank should be filled with tax money instead of water. If the target is hit,she falls in,she gets to scoop up as much tax money for charity as she can scoop up..The citizens should pay a fee to throw the basketball, in an attempt to not hit the release bar and to keep her on the bench and away from the tax money, which is painful for an upper management public servant. Donations raised, upper management public servants denied access to spending tax money and a good time had for all.Plus we would get to see which one of the citizens would hit the target, which would mean they would want to give her access to the tax money. Come to think of it, we could use a real water filled dunk for The Imagine Committee, The Board of Ed, who support pool the supporters of the pool to raise funds form the new pool.or if no new pool spend the money on the kids who need help with their studies. Maybe Dunkin Donuts could get involved. Or Duncan Kieth of the Blackhawks could be asked to Master of Ceremonies. Beats raising taxes.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: January 1st, 2019 6:10 PM

@BS: I'll take this matter one step further: why don't we set up the Cara Pavlicek Charity Choice perk? She obviously believed that this request would be approved by a majority of village board members (why would she have otherwise submitted it?) and so we should state that all future village board members should be allowed to name charities outside of OP as beneficiaries of $15,000 of the taxes that we pay. Right? It's sort of how The Collaboration already works (isn't any child enrolled in OP daycare eligible? Regardless of their legal residence?).

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 1st, 2019 12:53 PM

@ MN: I disagree with your position. The real position is why anyone who makes 6figures and associates with 6figure people cant come up with 30 6 figure people to chip in $500,00 to get to 15K. I also think there should be an interview or investigation with Friends of the Children upper management to find who said what to bring this issue to The Board. Also, I am of the opinion that any resident of OP should have the exact same access to place their favorite charity up for consideration. The Frank Lloyd Wright Home was given, I think 25K in tax payer money by the Village, to move a utility pole. The same story revealed that there are 18,000 visitors to FLW Home. If the entry fee was one timed raise one dollar the complete funding would have taken 18 months without tax payer expense. How was access gained to the Village, and why cant that same access be given to the lowly resident. Many thanxs to Kitty Conklin And Simone Boutet for their keen eye and actions.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: January 1st, 2019 12:21 PM

I know that many readers will find what I'm about to say as evil, deplorable, etc., but if Ms. Pavlicek believes so much in this organization - why couldn't she make the $15K contribution from personal funds? I think her salary is high enough for this. How about some of the kindred board members chipping in? And drip, drip, drip, you know why our taxes keep going up. Don't the schools need to hire a few more administrators? Build some more new buildings or additions?

Elizabeth Melara from Oak Park  

Posted: December 30th, 2018 10:27 PM

My Spell check changed Barwin (previous village manager) to "Hate on" and for those who didn't know Lessner was finance director)

Elizabeth Melara from Oak Park  

Posted: December 30th, 2018 10:08 PM

Not the first time financial shenanigans pulled to escape board oversight. Hate on and Lessner snuck through your payments just under the amount needed for approval adding up to about 200 thousand for software problems the board did not want to spend more money on.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 19th, 2018 11:42 AM

nice enough charity, but why would the local government ever ever be funding any charity. It would never end. Does the Village Manager think she got handed a bag of money to play with? We need a new Village Manager.

David Montgomery from Oak Park  

Posted: December 18th, 2018 2:35 PM

"Pavlicek said in a telephone interview that the $15,000 request "falls below the manager's spending authority," meaning the funds could have been committed to the organization without board approval, but she brought it to the board for consideration." Does this mean Pavlicek can just write a check, from Village funds, to this organization without the knowledge or consent of the board, or the public ? What prevents that from happening ? Any trustees want to explain what controls are in place to prevent this ?

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