DeKALB – DeKalb Township's supervisor said she was surprised to see recent concerns about whether the use of general assistance funds to become a nonprofit cleaning products distributor in 2015 is appropriate.
Supervisor Jennifer Jeep Johnson said the cleaning products program, which won an award from the Township Officials of Illinois, has been inactive since April 2017, when she became supervisor, and that it was active for only two years. She said the township acted as a nonprofit distributor and would buy cleaning products directly from Shaklee, have the company ship the products to residents directly, and the residents would not be charged for them.
“It was never intended as a money-making venture for the township,” Jeep Johnson said.
The comments come after Illinois Leaks, a blog run by Edgar County Watchdogs, asked whether an Illinois township can start its own business through a multilevel marketing business and spend general assistance funds on that business.
Eric Johnson, the former supervisor for the township and Jeep Johnson's husband, said in an April 2015 memo that the program was meant to supply residents with basic cleaning products they might not be able to afford otherwise through the township's general assistance. He said in the memo that, in the interest of full disclosure, his wife was a sales representative for Shaklee.
“The township will not purchase products from her, but rather will become a distributor,” Johnson said in the memo.
Danny Hanning, president of the Township Officials of Illinois, said he thinks there shouldn’t be an issue with townships directly providing products such as those to residents for free through the program, but it would be a problem and a possible violation of state law if residents had to buy the products from the township.
“That’s clear, that public funds should only be used for government purposes,” Hanning said.
Jeep Johnson said the township never charged residents for the cleaning products, and the township never placed orders through her while she was a seller for Shaklee. She said she still would receive points from the company; her basic understanding of the company’s reward system for sellers is that she only would receive monetary benefits, such a higher percentage of commission from other sales, if she reached a certain points threshold with the company.
“I can assure you those benefits would’ve been nominal, because I was not a prolific salesperson,” Jeep Johnson said.
Jeep Johnson said she still is affiliated with Shaklee as a consumer of its products and still receives discounts from being a distributor for the company, which is why the program was discontinued during her tenure as supervisor.
“I felt it was something that was a little too close, and I didn’t want there to be any impropriety of any sort,” she said.
When Jeep Johnson first started the job as township supervisor and started to familiarize herself with social service agencies in the area, she said, the agencies started to fill that cleaning supplies needs gap. She said her understanding was that wasn’t the case in 2015.
“There was really no place for people to get cleaning supplies,” JeepJohnson said. “In fact, we’ve come a long way.”