The village council voted unanimously Monday night to adopt the provisions of the Illinois Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act, designed to encourage the reporting of fraudulent claims for payment by elected officials, village employees and contractors.
Despite giving the act a strong endorsement, Mayor Anthony Calderone and Village Attorney Michael Durkin expressed concern that some might overestimate the parameters of the act due to misleading statements, some of which were quoted in the Review.
“(Many people) attribute more qualities to the Whistleblower Act than the four corners of the document actually provide,” said Durkin, explaining that the common understanding of the word whistleblower is far more comprehensive than the scope of the act.
Durkin took issue with a statement in last week’s Review which said that the act “would provide protections for village employees who wish to report the misdeeds of their coworkers.”
The act, he said, is concentrated on protecting those who file claims concerning requests for payment. Others commonly perceived as whistleblowers, including those who speak up regarding of instances sexual harassment, are protected by other ordinances such as the Civil Rights Act.
The ordinance presented to the village council on Monday stated that the act imposes liability on those who:
present a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval to a village employee.
Lie or conspire in order to get a false or fraudulent claim paid by the village.
Deliver less property to the village that the amount than was paid for.
Deliver a receipt to the village without knowing that the information on the receipt was true.
Buy public property from an officer or employee of the village who is legally prohibited from selling such property.
Make a false statement in order to avoid or decrease an obligation to make payments to the village.
The act was originally written in 1991 to apply only to the state, but was amended in 1995 so that it could apply to local public bodies as well.
It sets penalties for employers who threaten or punish employees who bring forth protected claims, and demands that employees who are fired or suspended for whistle-blowing be reinstated, receive twice the amount of back pay owed to them plus interest, and are compensated for any special damages including legal fees.
Not only does the act protect whistleblowers, it provides them with incentives to speak up. Two thirds of money collected from settlements in whistleblower cases is earmarked for payments to the whistleblowers and to cover their legal fees. The remaining money is split between the attorney general’s office and the state police.
Calderone said the act is “a good law,” but expressed doubt that a whistleblower case would be brought before the village anytime soon.
“It’s hard for anybody to slip a false bill for payment in here,” he said.
He said that though the act is limited in scope, the village encourages residents and employees to speak up about improper actions not covered by the act and would never engage in any sort of retaliation.
The full text of the act can be found at the Illinois General Assembly web site,
Also at the meeting:
The council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance prohibiting left turns from northbound Lathrop Avenue onto westbound Jackson Blvd. due to safety considerations brought on by the extension of the left turn lane on the westbound Jackson approach to Desplaines Avenue.
Commissioner Theresa Steinbach floated the idea of only restricting the turn during rush hour in order to prevent an increase in traffic on Beloit. She eventually voted for a full-time restriction, but asked that affected residents be given flyers explaining the changes.
The council voted to follow the advice of the Plan Commission and approve a site plan for the expansion and modification of Spotless Carwash at 7802 Madison St.
The property’s owner, Bill McKenzie, plans to build an addition to the front of the building on the west end to hold undercarriage washing equipment and an addition in the rear of the building to house an enclosed drying area.
Village Administrator Michael Sturino reported that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the village has renewed its dedication to emergency weather preparedness.
He said he had set a 60 day deadline for the village to update its plan for such situations.
Sturino reported that Fire Chief Steve Glinke, who is currently stationed in New Orleans along with firefighter Scott Popelka, is in charge of 85 firefighters and is gaining valuable experience that he will bring back to the village.
Commissioner Tim Gillian did not attend the council meeting as he is also helping out in areas affected by Katrina.