The village administrator of Forest Park says he has spent nearly $11,000 of his family’s money to fix up space in a village-owned building for use by the Forest Park Historical Society.
But it wasn’t until this week that Tim Gillian received a carefully worded letter from Forest Park Historical Society board President Gerald Lordan, acknowledging the money spent by Gillian to remodel the third floor space at 501 Desplaines Ave., which the historical society is now using for offices and some storage.
Gillian had requested the letter so he could support a claim for a charitable tax deduction on his tax return. He considered the expenditure an in-kind donation to the historical society.
“I wanted to make a donation to the historical society,” Gillian said. “My goal was to get them a space they could use.”
But some members of the historical society board were troubled that Gillian did not provide them invoices for his spending, showing them instead only checks and credit card statements.
“If you do this for a business and you want to get reimbursed for expenses, you always submit your invoices and then you submit your payment,” said Diane Hansen Grah, the executive director of the historical society. “If the credit card says ‘Home Depot,’ well, I don’t know what you bought from Home Depot. How do I know?”
In an email obtained by the Review, Gillian told historical society board member Augie Aleksy that he didn’t have detailed invoices because he was using a small contractor who was “flying completely under the radar.” Gillian said he paid the contractor by the hour.
According to Steve Glinke, the head of the village’s building department, the electrical work was done by someone the village employs as an electrical inspector.
“I am hopeful there is no one on the board insinuating the work was not done,” Gillian wrote to Aleksy. “You saw what the space looked like in the beginning. Does your board think it was magic that made it a usable space?”
Aleksy told the Review it would have been better if Gillian had provided invoices.
“We’ve got the receipts for the checks and the credit card statements, but it would be nice to have invoices to charge them against and line them up against,” said Aleksy, who formerly worked in the banking industry.
Gillian also paid for a company to move historical society artifacts to the third-floor space at 501 Desplaines Ave. The historical society needed additional space after the sale of St. Peter Lutheran Church to Mt. Moriah Baptist Church resulted in the loss of the storage space the historical society was using at St. Peter.
But at least one member of the historical society board, Jean Lotus, a former editor of the Forest Park Review, questions whether money paid for work done on a building owned by the village, not the historical society, qualifies as a contribution to the historical society.
“The moving expenses would be a good example of an in-kind donation, but remodeling a space owned by the village of Forest Park is technically a gift to the village, not the to the historical society,” Lotus wrote in an email.
The historical society was so concerned about how to treat the money Gillian paid to contractors that it consulted three different certified public accountants and a lawyer to get advice on that matter. The board finally decided to send Gillian a letter that acknowledges he paid for work on a village-owned property that benefited the historical society.
“If the IRS questions him, then it’s on him to prove his work and what he did for the historical society, so it’s not on us,” Hansen Grah said.
In 2013, the village council voted to allow the historical society to use one of two former apartments on the third floor at 501 Desplaines. A lease was signed renting the space to the historical society for the nominal fee of $1 a year.
But the space needed a lot of work. Gillian spoke with Bob Cox, then the president of the historical society and said he would pay to fix up the space. Walls were knocked down, new windows installed, a bathroom was put in, floors were refinished, dry wall was put up, and the heat was changed from radiant to electric.
“It didn’t matter to me who owned the property,” Gillian said. “The historical society has a lease for the property, so to me the space was theirs. The space needed to be renovated in order for the historical society to use it, and my wife and I decided to make sure that got accomplished so it would be good usable office space.”
Hansen Grah and some board members say they didn’t know Gillian was paying for the work until after it had already begun.
“We were really never consulted about anything that was happening over there,” Hansen Grah said. “We just assumed that the village was doing this. We had no idea right away that Tim Gillian had stepped forward to contribute some of his own personal money into rehabbing this space for us. It was a couple of months already into the project when we found out.”
Gillian said that Hansen Grah and Aleksy were well aware by April 2014 that he was paying for the work.
“I certainly talked with Bob Cox, who was the president at the time, and I certainly had Augie and their executive director, Diane, in the loop because I had them up there at least two times,” Gillian said.
On Feb. 10, 2015, Gillian hand-delivered a letter and brought some cancelled checks and credit card receipts to Aleksy.
Gillian wrote that he and his wife Dorothy spent $10,744.85 to fix up the space and pay the movers. He provided his family’s credit card statement, which showed three purchases at Home Depot and also provided copies of checks made out to the contractor, electrician and movers.
In the letter, Gillian wrote that he was not sure if the historical society intended to occupy and stay in the space although Hansen Grah says she has been using the space, usually two days a week, since moving in last August.
Gillian said that if the historical society didn’t want the space he would withdraw his donation and offer it to the village or another organization that could use the space.
“I am very sorry that my family was caught up in the turmoil with the [historical society] but that appears to be the case,” Gillian wrote. “If you plan to occupy the space and accept our donation then please provide an appropriate letter to our family to be used for tax purposes.”
Lotus viewed that statement as a veiled threat to evict the historical society from the space if Gillian didn’t get his tax letter.
“That’s just B.S.,” Gillian said. “They don’t seem to be using the space right now. All this talk has made me wonder if they really want the space. I’m hopeful they do use the space and that they stay up there forever.”
Hansen Grah said the historical society has never seen the space as a permanent home.
“Both parties knew from the very beginning that this was temporary,” Hansen Grah said.
Both the historical society and Gillian seem to want to put the matter behind them, and Gillian was happy to get his letter on Monday.
“It gratefully acknowledges our donation, so I’m a happy camper,” Gillian said.
But he was upset about the effort it took to get it and was not happy that some seemed to question his honesty and integrity.
“I am absolutely in total support of the historical society in Forest Park and I think it’s a very a worthwhile effort,” Gillian said. “There are some board members, I guess, who have made this much more difficult than it needs to be and that’s concerning. … It seems that there is a lot of politics going on within the historical society. I’m sorry that somehow our family donation to the group has caused any more controversy.”
Hansen Grah was also eager to move on.
“I don’t want this to strain any more the relationship between us and the village,” Hansen Grah said. “I want to have a good relationship with them.”