Better Government Association
223 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 900
Chicago, IL 60606
Nov. 1, 2012
Village of Maywood
Attn: Village Manager Bill Barlow
40 Madison St.
Maywood, IL 60153
Dear Mr. Barlow,
As you know, the Better Government Association has taken a deep interest in the municipal government in Maywood over the past year or more, and has uncovered a series of troubling issues involving public officials and employees.
But as a nonprofit watchdog with a mission of improving government throughout Illinois, the BGA does more than simply “expose” problems within public agencies. We also “propose” solutions when appropriate.
As such, the BGA’s policy unit has crafted a series of proposed reforms that we strongly urge village leaders to consider as soon as possible. The recommendations accompany this letter.
We believe these changes would help the village better serve residents, refocusing priorities, protecting tax dollars and establishing badly needed ethical protocols.
Too much is at stake, and Maywood residents deserve more from their leaders.
We appreciate your willingness to consider these reforms, and are happy to talk with you, the mayor and other members of the village board as needed to flesh them out, or weigh other proposals.
The Better Government Association
Maywood Recommendations, Ethics Ordinance and HR Policy
BGA investigations have revealed myriad of ethical shortcomings and poor governmental practices within Maywood. In order to prevent future misconduct as well as create an environment conducive to good government, Maywood should create an ethics ordinance and enhance personnel and human resources policies.
In order to provide a comprehensive code, the ethics ordinance should incorporate the issues that Maywood has previously addressed piecemeal – the State gift ban and whistleblower protection policy.
In addition to these areas, the ethics ordinance should address other topics, including, but not limited to, the ones detailed below.
Code of Ethical Conduct
- Fiduciary duty: Indicates that, at all times, officials and employees owe a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers.
- Improper influences: Requires that no official, employee or appointee shall use or attempt to use their public position to influence an action he has an economic interest in.
- Dual employment: Prohibits an official or employee from accepting other employment that would inhibit independence of judgment or ability to perform public duties.
- Publically owned property: Prohibits unauthorized use of public property and codifies that this property shall only be used for official public business.
- Use or disclosure of confidential information: Prohibits disclosure of confidential information unless it is required to perform official duties or is required by the law.
- Conflicts of interest: Prohibits officials, employees or appointees from making or participating in making governmental decisions in which they or their spouse or partner has a financial interest. If such interest occurs, requires individual to assign matter to another employee or requires individual to eliminate the economic interest.
- Maywood must adopt a clear conflict-of-interest prohibition for its elected officials. Specifically, in addition to above provisions, Maywood should adopt recusal standards at the municipal level that call for a voting elected official to abstain from a vote if he or a family member stands to benefit financially from a matter.
- Representation of other persons: Prohibits officials, employees or appointees from representing any person other than the Village in any proceeding before any Village agency.
- Post-employment restrictions: Prohibits former officials and employees from representing individuals before the Village or representing an individual in a business transaction with the Village in matters that the former employee or official participated in. Prohibits former employees and officials from lobbying the Village or receiving fees or compensation from a new employer if that employer does business with the Village that the individual participated in when with the Village.
- Interest in municipal business or board or commission business: Prohibits employees and officials from having a financial interest in municipal business in which they participate.
Specifically, in order to maintain public trust, Maywood officials must act in the best interests of the taxpayer. It cannot appear that their decisions, including contract decisions, are based in part on their personal or political affiliations.
- Employment of relatives: Bans officials, appointees and employees from employing relatives or doing Village business with relatives. Requires all vendors to disclose all familial relationships with individuals who hold public office or are employed by the Village.
- Political activity: Prohibits banned political activity during compensated time. Prohibits taking prohibited political activity into account for hiring, promotional or compensation decisions. Prohibits employees, officials or appointees from requiring their peers to participate in prohibited political activity.
- Whistleblower protection: Provides protection for those who report wrongdoing. In this section, the existing whistleblower protection code can be incorporated.
- Receiving and soliciting gift and favors: Bans the solicitation or acceptance of gifts and details exceptions. In this section, the existing code on gift bans can be incorporated.
- Limitations of contributions to candidates and elected officials: Specifically, Maywood officials should refuse campaign contributions from employees and vendors when the appearance of a conflict of interest would arise.
- Newsletters, brochures, public service announcements and promotional materials: Prohibits use of Village funds to create and print newsletters or brochures during election season.
- Ethics Education Seminar: Requires elected officials and their staff to participate in ethics training every four years.
- Additionally, the Village of Maywood should ensure that its FOIA officers are trained in how to properly identify material that is subject to FOIA, and a culture of openness should be promoted. Further, the Village should place more of its records online and keep its website up to date.
- Financial disclosure: Requires officials and employees to submit statements of economic interest. Additionally, requires business entities seeking Village contracts to disclose percentage ownership of each entity or individual with a legal or beneficial interest of more than 5% in the business entity.
- Board of Ethics: Establishes a board of ethics to enforce ethics ordinance.
- Sanctions for violation: Specifies sanctions and penalties for those who violate the ethics ordinance. Sanctions include fines and sanctions related to employment and validity of a contract.
In addition to the above ethics ordinance, Maywood should enhance its personnel/HR policy and financial practices to include:
A comprehensive written credit card policy:
- This policy will outline what is and is not allowed and should also indicate who is allowed to hold a credit card. That list of employees should be limited to those who need to make purchases in the course of their daily job.
- The policy should detail oversight plan that outlines both oversight and disciplinary actions necessary to rectify any misuse.
- The policy should limit credit card use to necessary government expenses under a certain dollar amount, though each public body should develop its own specific lists of permissible expenses based on its public duty.
- The policy should require employees to undergo interactive training on credit card procedures; an interactive training program that goes beyond just reading and signing the credit card policy.
- The policy should include a mandatory and documented review by a supervisor or approving official (someone other than the cardholder) for all purchases. Using a checklist, the supervisor or reviewing official should:
- Review an itemized invoice showing everything that was purchased and what was paid for each item.
- Ensure the purchase serves a legitimate government need specifically permitted in the credit card policy, not a personal or otherwise impermissible one.
- Ensure a transaction has not been split into segments to avoid maximum purchase amounts, or to get around the competitive- bidding process.
- Monitor the items purchased to ensure no excessive or “gold plated” expenses were incurred.
- Verify that the items ordered were actually received by the public body.
- Promptly report and attempt to reconcile all financial discrepancies within a set timetable, and help to enforce disciplinary action where appropriate.
Submission of Maywood’s Annual Financial Reports to the Illinois Comptroller as required by law in order to maintain open and accountable record keeping.
While the Village does discuss misuse of public funds in its municipal code, the section lacks detail. The proper use of public funds should be made more clear by:
- Specifically defining what “public purpose” means.
- Providing examples of unacceptable purchases.
BGA research has uncovered numerous problems with the Maywood Police Department, which in recent years has faced allegations of officers stealing from members of the public, acting abusively toward suspects, loafing on the job and maintaining ties to reputed gang members. Politics may also have seeped into the ranks. And the agency’s handling of investigations raises questions about training, competency and oversight.
The agency has options to professionalize the force and better serve residents, among them:
- Maywood officials should hire an independent law enforcement/management consultant to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the police force, analyzing, among other things, crime reporting, staffing levels, promotions, resource allocation and training, with a special emphasis on the level and quality of supervision, as well as the pervasiveness of gang ties among officers.
- In respect to the Tom Wood murder case, Maywood leaders should ask for significant additional help from federal, state or regional law enforcement leaders to bring the investigation closer to conclusion. Maywood should make a concerted effort to grow and publicize the reward, seeking assistance from high-profile Maywood natives as necessary.
- Maywood officials should consider raising the educational requirements for police recruits, who now are only required to have a high school degree.
Final note: The Better Government Association is committed to helping public agencies better serve residents. As such, the BGA is willing to meet with Maywood officials to provide more detailed input on reforms. Policy Coordinator Emily Miller can be reached at (312) 821-9034 or firstname.lastname@example.org.