Will County veterans commission ‘must’ get $275,000 back, county auditor says

VAC meets Tuesday to consider its options

The Veterans Assistance Commission of Will County will consider what steps to take to try to recover $275,000 spent on marketing services it apparently never received.

Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn this past week issued a memo advising the VAC “to seek legal counsel to recoup as much as $275,000 for breach of contract and nonperformance of services.”

VAC Superintendent Jen Solum said Friday that the amount ultimately sought may be even more.

“I think that number needs to be addressed because I think that number is pretty low,” Solum said.

The VAC board meets Tuesday when it will consider its options for pursuing the money, she said.

Both Blackburn and lawyers hired by the VAC to investigated a $495,000 contract for a 2021 marketing campaign have advised that the agency recoup $275,000 they determined was never used for marketing services.

Blackburn’s memo goes so far as to say the VAC “must recover all unspent funds from Hey G! Consulting.”

Blackburn said Friday the wording should not be taken as a mandate.

“The guidance in the memo is not intended to take the place of the commission’s judgment or dictate how they pursue their responsibilities,” he said.

Blackburn said he sent the same memo in July after an audit requested by the VAC in early 2022. Because of a change in VAC board membership, he sent it again on Wednesday, Blackburn said.

The VAC executive board that operated when the marketing contract was issued, no longer exists, and the governing structure of the organization has been changed. An election of new officers will be held Tuesday.

At that same meeting, the VAC will consider whether it needs to hire its own attorney or should continue to seek help from the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, Solum said.

“I don’t know if the state’s attorney’s office is going to pursue it or if we have to get our own counsel,” Solum said.

Will County State’s Attorney Spokesperson Carol Cheney said in an email Friday that representing the VAC on the matter would be “outside the scope” of state’s attorney authority provided under state law.

The state’s attorney’s office stopped sending a lawyer to advise the VAC at its meetings in August as controversy over the marketing contract escalated.

Former Superintendent Kristina McNichol left the VAC and got a job with the city of Joliet in May as as questions were raised about the no-bid marketing contract. The investigation into the matter by the law firm hired by the VAC determined that McNichol gave the contract to Hey G! Consulting with no oversight from the former executive board.

The contract was funded with federal CARES Act money distributed by Will County for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.