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Agency reverses self on secrecy

David GiulianiMay 21, 2019

BRADLEY — The taxpayer-financed local tourism agency says it now is planning to release financial records that it previously wanted to keep from the public.

Officials from the village of Bradley, where most of the agency’s local tax dollars come from, have been seeking information on how the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau is spending its money.

Previously, the agency had declined to release its detailed financial records to the village, saying officials could visit the bureau’s office to review the information.

The bureau said releasing its general ledger to a government entity would make it a public record under state law. Such a disclosure could put the bureau at a “competitive disadvantage” and would affect the privacy of employees and vendors, according to the bureau.

On Friday, however, Staci Wilken, the agency’s executive director, informed village administrator Catherine Wojnarowski that she would release the general ledger to her. She said this would happen as soon as as the agency had an opportunity to do so, noting a part-time employee would work on it.

In an email to the Daily Journal on Monday, Wilken said Wojnarowski requested the financial information as the new appointee to the visitor bureau’s board.

“We hope that the information will not be used in a manner that would be detrimental to the promotion of Kankakee County as a tourism destination,” Wilken said.

She did not say in her email about how the information could be used to the agency’s detriment.

Once Wojnarowski receives the financial information in her role as village administrator, it becomes available as a public record under state law. While the state Freedom of Information Act includes a number of exceptions, it is clear on financial records: All are open to the public.

In April, the Bradley village board approved a five-year agreement with the visitors bureau, as did other area entities, including Kankakee County, Bourbonnais, Kankakee, Momence and Manteno. A week later, though, the board, with a new majority, rescinded the contract. Now, the status of the agreement is in dispute.

Former Mayor Bruce Adams, who resigned late last month, was a defender of the visitors bureau. The new mayor, Mike Watson, says he wants more accountability, noting that hotels in Bradley provide most of the money for the agency.

Of the $685,885 total last year, $408,534 originated from Bradley. All of that goes to the tourism agency, which gets an additional $144,000 in the form of a state grant.

Wojnarowski didn’t return messages for comment.

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