WINFIELD – In a 4-to-3 vote, the Winfield Village Board of Trustees found a trustee engaged in misconduct when he sent an email to a local school board to ask the district to weigh in on the village’s comprehensive planning process.
Although Trustee Tim Allen was allowed to contact Winfield School District 34, concerns arose over the financial information he included in the email, as well as whether he contacted the school board in a way that made it appear he was representing village leadership as a whole.
“Under no circumstances is the concern Trustee Allen’s right to voice an opinion. That’s not the issue,” said Village President Erik Spande, who provided the tiebreaker vote in the board’s decision. “The issue is false information, a threat against School District 34 and a perception by School District 34 that he was representing the board in his position that he brought forward to them.”
However, trustees decided against censuring Allen, instead saying that the lengthy discussion they had during a meeting March 6 was enough to address the issue.
The email Allen sent to the school board Feb. 26 included a projection he believed to reflect about what the district could expect to receive in property tax revenue if more development were to come to the village as a result of the comprehensive plan.
However, based on a response Winfield officials received from the village’s consultant for the plan, the figure was incorrect, Village Manager Curt Barrett said.
“In the absence of real numbers that I asked for for three months, I had to go with what I had,” said Allen, who showed his fellow board members how he reached the number he shared with the school board.
Another concern came from Allen’s mention of a tax increment financing district in his email to the board.
Trustees disagreed over whether Allen’s discussion of a TIF district should be categorized as a “threat” to the school board, as school districts can be weary of TIFs because they pull from potential property tax revenues that could go to the schools.
Trustee Phillip Mustes said the Village Board has not discussed the possibility of establishing a TIF district in town, but Allen said it is something the village will have to talk about in the future, although he is not in favor of these districts himself.
Trustee James Hughes, who was one of the three who voted against the misconduct charge, said he was concerned about the political back-and-forth on the Village Board.
“What about our village? Who cares about our village?” Hughes said.
Trustee Tony Reyes, who sided with Hughes and Allen against the charge, accused some village leaders of going after Allen because of their differing beliefs about what’s best for Winfield.
“You’re on a witch hunt to go after someone with an opinion that doesn’t match your opinion,” Reyes said.
Allen included his title as trustee in his signature on the email he sent to the District 34 board, leading Trustee Jim McCurdy to say he was presenting the email as an official Winfield government correspondence.
However, Allen said he’s a trustee all the time – whether he’s in the board room or elsewhere – and should be allowed to identify himself as such.
While Trustee Jack Bajor was one of the board members who voted that Allen had engaged in misconduct with his email, he said he didn’t see the value in censuring him.
“But I certainly am not pleased with the way you conduct yourself as a trustee,” Bajor said.
Mustes, who joined Bajor in the misconduct vote, was the only trustee to say he was in favor of censuring Allen.
“But if we want to give him one more chance and then censure him the next time, that’s fine, because this has to stop,” Mustes said.
While Allen acknowledged he could be seen in a negative light by some board members, that won’t stop him from doing what he thinks is best.
“I can’t stop working for what I truly believe is the best interests of the village of Winfield,” he said.