HODGKINS – Residents attending a Hodgkins Village Board meeting Monday had a lot of questions for board members about the pressured resignation of one public works employee in July and the recent suspension of another for the misuse of village funds.
Even though five trustees voted to fire public works employee Ken Tucker after it was discovered that he had used village accounts to buy personal items in the amount of $142 at Pep Boys, ultimately the decision rested with Village President Noel B. Cummings, Village Attorney John O’Connell said.
Instead of firing Tucker, Cummings decided to issue him a 60-day suspension. Tucker declined to comment for this story.
Friends and family of Eric Rice, the former supervisor of Public Works in Hodgkins who was found to have misused more than $3,000 in funds from village accounts at local stores for personal purchases, took issue with the suspension, and said at the meeting the punishments doled out by Cummings were unfair.
O’Connell said there were other factors to consider in the village president’s decision to pressure Eric Rice to resign, while giving Tucker a 60-day unpaid suspension. Rice was the supervisor of the department, not just an employee, O’Connell said. He added that the amount of funds misused by Rice was significantly higher.
When asked why the village did not seek legal action against either of the men, O’Connell said there was not enough evidence to support bringing the offenses to a prosecutor’s attention at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and the amount spent and not paid back by employees was small.
“A job is the most valuable asset [a person can have],” O’Connell said of Tucker’s suspension. “The two months [suspension] will cost him about $8,000.
According to Trustee Larry Rice, father of Eric Rice, it’s common practice for village trustees and employees to buy items for personal use on a village account to avoid paying taxes on them.
Cummings said this was not true at the Monday meeting. The village president said he did not know employees were using village accounts to make personal purchases, and when he found out, he put a stop to it.
“I disagree with that 100 percent,” Larry Rice said in an interview. “We all knew we could use those accounts ... and put it on the village. It was just to avoid paying taxes on it. Everyone did it.”
Trustee Rice said employees were supposed to pay back the funds to the village after using a village account.
“It just slipped his mind,” Larry Rice said of Eric not repaying the village money. “I think they went too far on Eric.”
Eric Rice said the village president sometimes was forgetful, but that he had given permission to village employees to make personal purchases on village accounts at stores like Pep Boys and Menards.
Village attorney: Rumors of special consideration for Tucker untrue
O’Connell said rumors that Tucker received special consideration in his case because he had worked on property owned by Cummings in Mississippi were untrue.
“It absolutely isn’t true,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell confirmed that Tucker had done work on the village president’s property, but said two other employees also had done so.
According to O’Connell, several employees drove President Cummings to his Mississippi property on their vacation time and did work for him, which they volunteered for and weren’t paid for by the village.