Kankakee aldermen kept in dark

December 28, 2018

KANKAKEE — Three Kankakee aldermen said Wednesday they have not seen the city’s correspondence with its former utility superintendent — records the city is keeping secret from the public.

Last week, the city refused the Daily Journal’s request to see its correspondence with Richard Simms, who served as the superintendent through his Kankakee-based firm, Simms Engineering.

He is in a dispute regarding software spending with both the city and the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency, which runs the regional sewage treatment plant.

Alderman David Crawford said he has yet to see the correspondence, but would like to.

“None of that should be kept in the dark,” Crawford, R-3, said in an interview. “The taxpayers of the city of Kankakee and surrounding communities should know what’s going on. Thank God you are starting to report on this,” referring to the Daily Journal.

Alderman Tyler Tall, D-5, said aldermen are getting little information about the city’s dispute with Simms over software spending. He said Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong apparently is handling the dispute with Simms through the city’s law firm.

“I don’t know what they are doing,” Tall said. “We should see the records. Any information that comes across, we should be able to read it. We’re the body that makes decisions. When I don’t get enough information, I vote no.”

Members likely will ask for more documentation regarding the dispute with Simms next month, Tall said.

Alderman Larry Osenga, R-3, said he hasn’t seen the documents in question either, but he’s not sure any of the aldermen have asked for them.

“I have learned more reading the paper than what has been discussed in meetings,” Osenga said.

Osenga and Tall are among the members of the council’s environmental services utility committee, which oversees city utilities and is chaired by the mayor.

In Simms’ last two years, his payments increased every few months. The city has not explained who approved the hikes or the reasoning behind them.

“I know the bills came to the environmental services utility committee. We’ve gone over them. No one has ever questioned them,” Osenga said.

As for reading the letters, Osenga said it would be more important for the city attorney to see them.

“That’s what we hire those guys for. I would like to see them, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t,” Osenga said.

He said the KRMA board, which contracted with Simms for executive director services, should take the lead on investigating the dispute.

“The KRMA board should question this. A lot of smart people are sitting on that board. An attorney and a CPA attend every meeting,” Osenga said.

Throughout four years, KRMA paid Simms’ firm $768,000 for software, which the agency says is incomplete and unusable. The agency has released its correspondence with Simms, who apparently left on good terms with the city and the agency in April.

In September, KRMA sent a letter demanding that Simms explain how he spent the $768,000. Through an attorney, he refused.

It’s unclear whether the city sent a similar demand letter for an accounting on how Simms spent $187,000 on software.

In the city’s records denial last week, it cited exceptions under the state’s open records law pertaining to attorney-client communications and preliminary drafts and notes.

The newspaper was seeking neither attorney-client communications nor preliminary drafts, just recent communications between Simms and the city.

The Daily Journal has asked the city to reconsider its denial. It can appeal the matter to the attorney general.

Mayor Wells-Armstrong has not returned messages for comment.

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