UPDATE: Chaotic meeting puts troubles at Will County veterans commission on display

Even adjourning the meeting became a challenge as board members just walk out

Things got so bad at this week’s meeting of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Will County that routine matters like the approval of minutes and adjournment were riddled with disagreement.

A vote on a new superintendent to run the organization was bogged down when delegates to the VAC argued they should not be called to vote with no information about the woman who was to be appointed.

Raj Pillai questions the minutes from the July 12th meeting at the Veterans Assistance Commission Committee meeting at the Will County Office Building. Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Joliet.

The meeting ended Tuesday night, when members of the VAC executive board began walking out during a confusing discussion over whether a voice vote or roll call was required before the meeting could be adjourned.

“We are waiting for a voice vote, and everyone’s talking. No one’s listening,” Executive Board Secretary Denise Williams said loudly in order to be heard amid a ruckus after she made the motion to adjourn. “That’s why I’m frustrated.”

“Am I giving you a headache?” someone called mockingly from the audience. “I’m sorry.”

It was the kind of heckling and chatter that ran through the meeting of a VAC governing body that could be said to have become dysfunctional.

Williams suggested as much during a discussion of whether to extend the time allowed for public discussion at meetings.

“I’m looking just at a matter of time and getting functionality back to the board,” she said.

The VAC is a tax-funded agency that provides help to veterans for a variety of needs including finances, employment and counseling.

The Will County agency has come under growing scrutiny by local veterans, a government watchdog group named Edgar County Watchdogs, and some say even the FBI since questions were raised earlier this year about a no-bid $495,000 marketing contract given to a friend of the former superintendent. The contract was funded with federal COVID-19 relief money allocated by Will County.

Issues facing the VAC now include:

• Hiring a new superintendent to replace Kristina McNichol, who left in May for a job as housing finance specialist with the city of Joliet as questions were surfacing about the $495,000 marketing contract

• An investigation into the propriety of the contract being done by a law firm hired by the VAC as the agency continues to face criticism from veterans and others over the matter

• And a challenge to the legitimacy of executive board that oversees the VAC being led by two members of Plainfield American Legion Marne Post 13 who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against board members that they say are illegitimate

The legal issues surrounding the VAC have become so intense that the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office in July refused to serve as the commission’s attorney anymore and advised that they hire a private lawyer.

“You guys have a lot of attention on you right now,” Raj Pillai, the alternate delegate from Plainfield, told the executive board on Wednesday.

Pillai and William Sutton, who was appointed the Plainfield delegate but is not recognized by the executive board, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against nine members they argue do not met the legal requirements to be on the executive board.

The executive board meets monthly and oversees regular business of the VAC. But the VAC includes delegates and alternate delegates from 24 American Legion posts and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, not all of whom currently have delegates.

Hours before the full commission met Wednesday, a Will County judge denied an emergency order sought by Pillai and Sutton that would have disbanded the current executive board.

But the ruling from Judge John Anderson allows the lawsuit to continue and notes that executive board actions “may be declared void (among other things)” if he ultimately rules against them.

Pillai pointed to the judge’s words while urging the executive board to table matters that involved money, including the hiring of a superintendent.

“You guys are getting yourself into hot water,” he told the board.

The superintendent vote was never taken and never tabled. Executive board members just walked away and out of a noisy room before any decision was made.