The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office has pulled back from its role as legal adviser to the Veterans Assistance Commission of Will County, citing mounting legal issues at the agency.
The once-quiet activities of the VAC have become increasingly tumultuous as it comes under criticism for a $495,000 no-bid contract awarded to a friend of its former superintendent, and as some veterans bolstered by a watchdog group question the legitimacy of its executive board.
A special meeting of the executive board Thursday was filled with rancor. There were threats to remove two members of the watchdog group from the meeting that ended with the board voting on a matter discussed in closed session without revealing what it was.
The board no longer is acting with advice from the state’s attorney’s office, even though Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow led the effort to change state law so state’s attorneys could serve as legal advisers to VAC organizations.
But a July 27 letter from Glasgow’s office to the VAC basically said the legal issues facing the agency now are more than the state’s attorney can handle.
The letter from Mary Tatroe, civil division chief, outlined developments at the agency before and since the state’s attorney had authority to provide legal advice, saying that “the state’s attorney’s office does not have the time, staff or resources to address the myriad issues now facing the VAC.”
Tatroe advised the VAC to get its own attorney.
Attorney Peter Murphy, who is with a law firm that the VAC has hired to investigate the no-bid contract, advised the executive board at a special meetingThursday. No one from the state’s attorney’s office attended the meeting.
The board met in executive session for about an hour, first kicking out two members of the Plainfield American Legion Marne Post 13 who claimed to have a right to sit in on the closed-door meeting as VAC delegates.
When the board came out of closed session and prepared to vote, John Kraft with Edgar County Watchdogs shouted protests, saying, “You can’t vote on something that’s not on the agenda.”
A Will County sheriff’s deputy was called on to remove Kraft, who in turn called on the deputy to help him make a citizen’s arrest of board members for illegal conduct. As that confrontation proceeded loudly in the back of the room, the board went on with its vote under instructions from Murphy to make a motion “to approve the matter discussed in closed session.”
The board did so and approved the motion without clarifying what it was. Veterans attending the meeting suspected a new superintendent may have been hired.
VAC executive board member Wayne Horne said after the meeting that the vote taken by the board would become evident at its next regular meeting Tuesday.
Horne said the challenges to the board’s legitimacy were unfounded.
“We’ve been operating this way for 28 years,” he said. “I’m a founding member of this organization.”
The VAC includes delegates appointed by authorized veterans service organizations, such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts.
The executive board is created from among those delegates, but critics are questioning whether appointments of current board members have lapsed or ever were made.