The Town Rules
July 13, 2006 (WLS) -- ABC7 News and Chicago's Better Government Association go undercover in west suburban Stickney to document questionable conduct by some officials.
The government watchdog BGA began looking at Stickney's top officials more than a year ago and asked ABC7 to join the investigation. Both BGA and ABC7 documented the personal use of village vehicles, on-the-clock drinking and then driving government cars. After hours of surveillance and interviews by the BGA and the I-Team, we can expose "the town rules."
Stickney is known for its sewage treatment plant, the largest in the world. But now, it is something else that stinks in Stickney.
"We had a source come to us and let us know that there was various misconduct or suspicious activity going on in the Village of Stickney," said Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association.
Activity involving Stickney's part-time mayor, part-time fire chief and village supervisor, all of whom have full-time village vehicles to use however they please.
"You are driving to the casino, you're driving to your other job that's 30-40 miles away, you're driving to a bar that's two towns away and having drinks, I'm not seeing how that's village business," said Dan Sprehe, BGA chief investigator.
On different days, at different times, undercover teams from the Better Government Association and ABC7 followed Stickney officials in their taxpayer-provided cars. On one occasion Mayor Donald Tabor and his wife drove to a Joliet casino for an overnight outing.
"It's the day after New Years and they are ending their stay, their vacation, but instead of loading their luggage into their personal vehicle, it belongs to the Village of Stickney and the taxpayers of Stickney," said Dan Sprehe, BGA chief investigator.
The ABC7 I-Team asked the mayor of Stickney if he thought he was entitled to take the car anywhere he wanted.
"Yes, because I have the radios in the car and I can be in touch with the police and fire at all times," said Mayor Tabor, who added he brings a radio and pager with him inside the casino.
Even though the part-time mayor lives right next to city hall, and Stickney covers less than 2 miles, Tabor says that he needs a full-time car, with all gas and upkeep financed by taxpayers, because he is on call 24/7.
"One time I got called at 2 in the morning by the police chief to go look for a body," the mayor said.
While Stickney's lenient use of government cars may not be illegal, the BGA says it is unethical.
"I hope they knock it off. I hope they start taking public resources more seriously," said Sprehe.
For a year, the mayor's car was outfitted with this license plate that state officials say was illegal and intended to be only decorative.
But the mayor's not alone. Part-time fire chief Larry Meyer drives his village car to his full-time job in far west suburban Batavia. Fire chief Meyer didn't show for our interview and let the mayor do the talking.
"He is on call 24/7. He has an agreement there, if there is a major catastrophe here, he can leave there and respond here quickly," said Mayor Tabor.
Fermilab, where the chief works, is 42 miles away. Village supervisor James Kubinski is another employee given an all-expense paid car to use 24/7.
"One to three times a week, probably, after work is driving his village vehicle to a bar in Forest Park, and he parks it outside and goes in the bar and sits there and has vodka drinks," said Dan Sprehe, BGA chief investigator. "One of my investigators that was inside the bar noted that he was in the bar from 3:45 to 6:30 and observed him having eight drinks, eight vodka drinks."
ABC7 showed the mayor BGA surveillance tape of village supervisor Kubinski drinking in bars on several occasions, then leaving the bars, getting into his village car and driving away.
"The policy is that you do not drink while you are on the job, number one. Number two, if you are caught drinking on the job you are subject to dismissal," said Mayor Tabor.
Six years ago when supervisor Kubinski backed his village car into a parked train, the mayor says alcohol was involved, but Kubinski received just a few days suspension.
"His counseling was that he talked to our chaplain and talked to myself about it and warned that if it happened it again he would be dismissed," said Mayor Tabor.
Since speaking to the mayor, the I-Team tried to talk to Kubinski at his home, sent him e-mails and letters, and left phone messages, but he never responded.
On Tuesday, Kubinski resigned from his job with the Village of Stickney. The BGA says that's not enough.
"I think they need to reconsider how those vehicles are being used. Does the mayor really need a village car to go gambling in Joliet? God only knows what else is going on in Stickney," said Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association.
"I'm a mayor that is proud of his village, and I'm proud of the people who are working here, and I'm proud of working with the people for the Village of Stickney," Mayor Tabor said.
Village attorney Stanley Kusper said Thursday the mayor has ordered him to conduct a top-to-bottom evaluation of village vehicle use and that they will be putting new rules in writing.
The Better Government Association has scheduled a noon news conference for Friday to discuss this findings of this lengthy investigation.
i-team, chuck goudie
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