The Will County District Attorney’s Office has retracted its role as legal counsel to the Will County Veterans Assistance Committee, citing escalating legal problems at the agency.
VAC’s once-quiet activities are becoming increasingly turbulent as it comes under fire over a $495,000 no-bid contract awarded to a friend of its former manager, and some veterans backed by a watchdog group question the legitimacy of its board.
A special meeting of the Executive Board on Thursday was filled with hatred. There were threats that two members of the monitoring group would be taken out of the meeting, which ended with the board voting on an issue discussed behind closed doors, without revealing what it was.
The Board of Directors is no longer acting on the advice of the state’s attorney’s office, although Will County District Attorney James Glasgow has led efforts to change state law so that state attorneys can act as legal counsel to VAC organizations.
But a July 27 letter from the Glasgow office to the VAC essentially said the legal issues now facing the agency were more than the state’s attorneys could handle.
The letter from Mary Tatro, the head of the civil division, outlined developments at the agency before and after the state attorney had the authority to provide legal advice, saying that “the state attorney’s office does not have the time, staff, or resources to address the numerous cases now facing the VAC.”
Tatroe advised the VAC to hire a lawyer of its own.
Attorney Peter Murphy, who works with a law firm hired by VAC to investigate the no-bid contract, advised the Executive Board in a private meeting on Thursday. No one from the state attorney’s office attended the meeting.
The board met in an executive session for about an hour, first expelling two members of Plainfield American Legion Marne Post 13 who claimed they had the right to sit in the closed meeting as delegates from the VAC.
As the council emerged from closed session and prepared to vote, Edgar County Watchdogs’ John Kraft shouted in protest, “You can’t vote on something that’s not on the agenda.”
The deputy sheriff of Will County was called in to remove Kraft, who in turn called on the deputy to help him arrest a citizen board member for illegal conduct. With that confrontation continuing loudly in the back of the room, the House proceeded to vote under instructions from Murphy to make a motion “to approve the matter discussed in closed session.”
The Council did so and approved the proposal without clarifying what it was. Veterans who attended the meeting suspected that a new supervisor might have been hired.
VAC Executive Board Member Wayne Horn said after the meeting that the board’s vote will become clear at its next regular meeting on Tuesday.
Horn said the challenges to the council’s legitimacy are unfounded.
“We’ve been working this way for 28 years,” he said. “I am a founding member of this organization.”
The VAC includes delegates appointed by veterans service organizations, such as veterans of foreign wars and American Legion positions.
The Executive Board was created from among these delegates, but critics question whether the appointments of current board members have lapsed or were made at all.