* For the last few years, Megan Fox and I have been studying corruption and illegal activity in the Village of Orland Park, Illinois (in Chicago’s southwestern suburbs).
* We became interested in Orland Park after discovering that the Orland Park Public Library had a long and disgraceful history of covering up child pornography and sex crimes happening in the building (as well as harassment of female employees who complained about the sexual activity ongoing in the Library). Orland Park also happens to be the site of a large Muslim colony in Chicagoland, which creates its own share of problems in the community. Village of Orland Park public employees have been caught violating the Freedom of Information Act, Open Meetings Act, and other “good government” laws to cover up whatever they don’t want the public to see. This includes extravagant wasteful spending, usually centered on trips, parties, or gluttonous meals that public employees buy for themselves with public funds.
* Orland Park is an interesting case study for government watchdogs because of how aggressively the Village and public employees lash out and push back against efforts at transparency. In many ways, dealing with Orland Park is like going up against the mob. They fight by “Chicago Rules” to defend their racket in this Village You’ve Never Heard Of.
* Orland Park is like the “Twin Peaks” of Chicagoland: something strange and terrible is always happening there and the people who run the Village don’t want you to know about any of it!
* The Edgar County Watchdogs have been reporting on Orland Park for some time and have a solid archive available for perusal.
The Village of Orland Park once again has some explaining to do. Must be Tuesday!
On 1/18/16, the Village’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compliance officer Alexandra Snodsmith (that’s her real name, I swear…though it sounds like a made-up name that the character Karen Walker would have used in a pinch on Will & Grace if her usual alias of Anastasia Beaverhausen was not available) finally produced copies of the “Lost Receipt Affidavits” that the Village had been repeatedly delaying production of for some time.
The Village claims it started using “Lost Receipt Affidavits” in April 2015 in situations where a Village employee demands reimbursement for food and drink while supposedly traveling on Village business…but the employee “lost” the receipt to prove the purchases were really made. This is in stark contrast to the private sector, where if an employee at a private company would “lose” a receipt then that employee would be out of luck (as private sector accountants have strict rules about never reimbursing for expenses without receipts).
(Aside: I keep putting “lost” and “lose” in quotes because I don’t believe these receipts are ever really lost and think that Village employees just claim to have “lost” the receipts because something fishy is going on. End Aside)
The Village at first refused to comply with a FOIA request for these Lost Receipt Affidavits, claiming it would be “too burdensome” to search for them. This is what the Village always says when it does not want to turn over embarrassing documents. The Village just settled a $12,000 lawsuit for violating the Freedom of Information Act but doesn’t seem to have learned its lesson in this regard.
In an earlier FOIA production, one of these “Lost Receipt” documents had turned up involving a forgetful employee who claimed she couldn’t find her receipt for the Chick-Fil-A sandwich, fries, and drink she consumed. Instead of obtaining a new receipt from Chick-Fil-A, the Village employee filled out this Lost Receipt Affidavit and was reimbursed. The form states at the bottom that it should be used only in rare occurrences, which made us curious to see how many times these forms have been used in recent years.
That’s when the Village, through its FOIA compliance officer
Anastasia Beaverhausen Alexandra Snodsmith, refused to produce the Lost Receipt Affidavits (because…burdensome). We had to complain to Village Manager Paul Grimes and Mayor of Orland Park Dan McLaughlin to compel Snodsmith to provide the Lost Receipt Affidavits. We successfully argued that the Lost Receipt Affidavits were documents in the possession of the Village of Orland Park and that they must be produced for public scrutiny. The Village admitted that it had these documents, but it didn’t want to give them to us so they just made up lies.
Snodsmith had claimed it would take her over 50 days to look for these documents. That seemed stupid, since I can’t imagine it taking 50 whole days to find the file cabinet marked “L” for “Lost Receipt Affidavits” (or possible “R,” for “Receipts, Lost” or whatever). She made it seem like she would have to travel to that big creepy warehouse in Area 51 that they showed at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the federal government locked away all the treasures that Indiana Jones uncovered. I highly doubt that
Alexandra Illinois Snodsmith needed to wander through a maze of giant wooden crates for 50 days (and 50 nights!) like a lost tribeswoman of Israel in search of these “Lose Receipt Affidavits” the way she made this all out to be so difficult for her to do. After we complained to Grimes and McLaughlin, the next day Snodsmith admitted they had only been using the forms since April 2015 and that it wouldn’t really take 50 days of burdensome effort (in Area 51) after all to locate them. Imagine that!
This made us wonder what the Village didn’t want us to see in these Lost Receipt Affidavits, because every time they play games and refuse to produce something it’s because there is a page or two in there that they don’t want us to see because we will no doubt embarrass them with it. We suspected the Lost Receipt Affidavits might show either the same “forgetful” employees “losing” receipts consistently or employees being reimbursed without a receipt for questionable purchases. We imagined if an employee ordered something that he or she should not have ordered and wanted the Village to use taxpayer money to pay for it, a good way to hide whatever it was would be to claim the receipt was lost and obtain reimbursement by way of these affidavits the Village created.
When Snodsmith finally responded with the Lost Receipt Affidavits, she produced a total of 9 instances where forgetful or careless Village employees claim to have lost their receipts but still demanded reimbursement from taxpayers anyway. Again, no private company I’ve ever heard of would have handed over a cent to these forgetful idiots without having hardcopy receipts to verify these purchases were legitimate.
The page that jumped out as most questionable was a Lost Receipt Affidavit completed by Village employee Karie Filing on 5/22/15, for expenses she claimed she incurred on 4/18/15. Filing requested $15.59 to reimburse her for what she spent at McMenamins Six Arms Pub in Seattle, Washington. The website for this establishment shows that McMenamins is a brewery…and a delightful one at that!
Without a receipt showing what Filing ordered, there’s no way to tell if she was reimbursed with taxpayer money for beer or other alcohol at this pub. This is an example of why public bodies should not allow something like a “Lost Receipt Affidavit” to ever be used; such a document allows public employees an opportunity to slip in reimbursements that might not have been allowed if the employee was forced to produce an actual receipt showing everything that was ordered in a questionable establishment like a pub.
Abuse of this Lost Receipt Affidavit is not only possible but probable if public employees know they can be paid back for going to a pub if they conveniently “lose” their receipt and then fill out this affidavit form instead. Then, no one can see what was ordered at the pub.
Let’s be real: who goes to a brewery and doesn’t have a frosty cold one?
The Village of Orland Park has a policy against reimbursing for alcohol purchases by public employees, but without the actual detailed receipt from McMenamins Six Arms Pub no one will ever know what Karie Filing ordered while she was there…and her reimbursement check was cut for her without any further questions from her bosses at the Village. Should that be the case?
Do you think the Village would let you get off the hook for something if you needed to have documentation but you said you “lost it” or “forgot it” or “left it in Seattle at the brewery”? Hell to the no. Government employees should be held strictly to the rules because these very same government employees take delight in wielding rules against the public. The problem is that too few members of the public bother to scrutinize what our government at all levels is doing, which is why “Lost Receipt Affidavits” pop up as loopholes for pub crawling reimbursement.
Another Lost Receipt Affidavit was for $125.00 worth of bagels that were supposedly ordered and given to Fifth Third Bank by Village employees, for some reason. Can’t the bank buy its own bagels? Without a receipt, how can you know if bagels really were ordered and if this is legitimate spending? With an order that large, couldn’t the Village have contacted the bagel shop and asked them to reprint the receipt instead of just taking the employee’s word that she really spent $125.00 on bagels? That sounds like an awful lot of bagels. Another careless employee claims she drove to the Wisconsin Dells and wanted $98.00 in taxpayer money given to her for the drive, but she “lost” her receipt. Did she really go to the Dells or did she just want $98.00 for free? Without a receipt, we’ll never know for sure.
Why Should You Care?
Lost Receipt Affidavits are a bad idea from a public policy and government transparency perspective. It is much better if a public body takes a “tough luck” approach to these situations, where Village employees who are forgetful or careless should be told “tough luck” and forgo reimbursement if they cannot be bothered to keep ahold of their receipts. Let them have to pay for their own delicious chicken sandwiches, fries, pub crawls, and bagel-paloozas and watch them learn lickety-split to stop losing their receipts.
A strict policy of “no receipt means no reimbursement” would mean employees who go to pubs while on trips they intend to bill to taxpayers will be sure not to order anything they aren’t supposed to be ordering, since they know the itemized receipts will be scrutinized. And all bagel purchases and trips to the Dells would have to be completely legitimate and above the board too, since receipts would prove whether those events really happened as well.
Without such receipts, too many questions are raised. The reason Illinois is in such a mess is because public employees believe they can get away with the little things they do that are bad…which then convinces them to try other, larger, more terrible things since they figure no one is ever watching.
© 2016, Kevin DuJan. All rights reserved.
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