Tourism Contracts Create More Questions Than Answers

After 151 days, the City has finally provided the Tourism Director contract. Not under our February 27, 2017 request, but as part of a request filed on July 21, 2017, the day after the Attorney General opinion was received.  This FOIA request was responded to in a timely manner, our thanks to the Nauvoo City FOIA Officer.  Our earlier request simply asked for copies of the current contract for the Tourism Director and all other departments of the City, the July 21 request was narrowed to information about the Hotel Motel Board. (See contracts for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017)

It was our contention in earlier conversations directly with the Mayor that this contract was not legal, both in how it was awarded, how it was executed, and how it was being implemented. Our review of the actual contracts confirms that belief.

Since every copy of the contract we received was signed only by the “Hotel/Motel Tax Board Chair”, with no City Council review and approval, no review in a City Council Meeting, and no signature from the Mayor (or any elected official), they are invalid. Further, all payments made related to these contracts would then be improper.

The initial discussions on hiring of a Tourism Director, as referenced in the Hotel Motel Meeting Minutes in 2012, made reference to requesting applications from qualified parties. There was no solicitation of bids, and no competitive bid review completed. We are still waiting on the Meeting Minutes which were withheld without cause to determine the actual process followed, and whether those with a conflict of interest in this selection process recused themselves. This may require legal remedy since the most recent communication we received from the Mayor stated that these were “executive sessions.” We have requested the Mayor review these minutes to determine what information is privileged and provide us with the balance. We have not received this information. Subsequent awards of this contract have not included any bidding process as required by state municipal code (65 ILCS 5/8).

Our July 21, 2017 request also asked that copies of evaluations and reviews related to this agreement be provided. The response from the City states: “We have conducted a search of records and there are no ’employment reviews’ for the Tourism Director from 2012 – present.” This is in spite of the contract’s requirement that “The Hotel/Motel Tax Board will evaluate Orth’s services monthly and request that any deficiencies be corrected.” and that her contract could be renewed “provided the contractor receives consistently favorable monthly evaluations.

The Compensation portion of these agreements is sure to raise eyebrows.  Orth receives a bonus equal to 50% of the increase in tax dollars received by the Hotel/Motel Tax Board over the three year running average of collections.  This bonus is paid regardless of whether there was any correlation between her efforts and the increase, since the bonus payment is not connected to any review process. As you can see in the chart below, FY2016 was a definite setback for the Hotel Motel Board, with the Tourism Director salary and bonus increase exceeding the very limited increase in tax collected (a nearly $7,000 increase in salary for an $800 increase in tax). As a side note, with 76% of the Tax paid to one individual, plus the costs associated with rent, utilities, internet and phone, very little remains for advertising and promotion.

We have previously provided a summary of the challenges with the contention that this position can legally be considered a contractor, and it is unlikely the review currently underway by the IRS will support the contention that Kim Orth is a “contractor”. These documents will certainly create additional issues in that official review.

Additional articles will be provided once our review of the financial documents provided in this FOIA request are completed, and a determination of next steps has been made.

 

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5 Ways to Make Your Home Safer

You no doubt have smoke detectors in your home, and you may have a wide assortment of non-skid mats, baby gates, grab bars, and handrails to help keep your family safe. Are they enough? Maybe not, maintaining a safe environment at home takes practice — literally.

Too often the most crucial safety message is left out on home safety products— the importance of practicing home safety. Products are essential, but they’re only part of the equation and should not allow safety practices and behaviors to take a backseat.

For example, while 97 percent of households reported having a smoke detector in their home, only 19 percent of families actually tested the alarm at least quarterly. The sight of that little alarm snug up against your ceiling may make you feel safe, but if the battery has died or the detector has reached the end of its life, it will be useless to you in a fire. The practice of testing smoke alarms on a regular basis is just as important as the purchase of the product in the first place. (Don’t rely on that little chirp that means a battery is low — if the warning sounded the last time you were away for a weekend, you won’t realize that the batteries need to be replaced.)

Here are five suggestions for homeowners who want to make their homes safer — none require a new product, but all call for simple practices that you’d be wise to make a habit of.

  • Test those smoke alarms, and do so monthly from now on. Create and practice an emergency fire escape plan with your family. The majority of deaths from home fires are from smoke inhalation, so early warning and evacuation are critical.
  • Walk through your home and identify places where trips and falls are likely—loose rugs and wires, poorly lit staircases, and clutter on the floor are common culprits. Remember that falls are the leading cause of injuries at home; taking time to eliminate hazards will go a long way to making your family safer, especially if your household includes children or older adults.
  • Be honest about how safe your children are from poisoning. Are all your medications out of reach, or in a locked cabinet? Are household chemicals and cleaners inaccessible to children?
  • Evaluate your kitchen habits. Do you always stay in the room while the stove is on? Do you remember to turn pot handles to the back of the stove? Do you keep hot beverages and dishes off tablecloths, so that children can’t pull them down and scald themselves? Safe practices in the kitchen could go a long way to preventing some of the quarter-million injuries from burns and scalds each year.
  • Institute practices that will keep your family safer from drowning. Do you never, ever, leave a child unattended in the tub, not even for a second? Do you always keep the gate to your backyard pool locked? Do you keep toddlers away from all sources of water, including buckets and toilets?

Creating a safe home is a bit like creating a healthy lifestyle. You don’t achieve good physical health solely by purchasing and relying on exercise equipment and accessories. A consistent exercise routine, healthy diet, and an ongoing health regimen are what help you achieve the best health possible. When it comes to home safety, a similar approach should apply. Ongoing and consistent safety practices and behaviors should be incorporated into the family’s overall lifestyle, supported and enhanced by safety products.

Home Safety Council research shows that the leading home hazards are slips and falls, poisonings, fires and burns, and drowning and suffocation. More information on these hazards, home safety checklists, and advice on using safety devices can be found on Home Safety Council.org.

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Impact of the Attorney General’s Opinion

City of Nauvoo officials have repeatedly stated that they were unwilling to release relevant documents, or take any action concerning the Hotel Motel Board, until the Attorney General had rendered an opinion.  This week that opinion was delivered to the City by the Attorney General’s Office.

In addition to the requirement that the City release all the documents we requested, we see this opinion having other impacts. Here’s a partial rundown of what we see:

All actions taken by the Hotel Motel Board, operating as an independent body, without elected officials approval them, should be invalid.  This would include:

  1. Any action that involved utilization of public funds. They have no authority to spend public funds.
  2. Entering into any agreements, contracts or relationships, such as contracts for services (ie website development, advertising, employment/contractor agreements).
  3. Making any policy decisions without official approval.
  4. Sponsoring of events and activities that were a conflict of interest for public officials in violation of municipal code.

In addition, there are serious questions raised by the insistence the City has shown to combine a City Public Body with a private body (the Chamber of Commerce).  We have raised this issue in the past, and were told the Hotel Motel Board is independent of the City. Since that illusion has been removed, it should be clear that these bodies cannot collude in the manner previously allowed. Any members of the Chamber of Commerce attending a Hotel Motel Board meeting should be afforded the same opportunity to participate in discussion as any other member of the audience, in the time and manner allocated for that input.

The Attorney General Opinion has far-reaching benefits for the citizens of Nauvoo.  Major areas of public spending will now be forced to be exposed to public scrutiny, and potential conflicts may be revealed. We are hopeful that the comments from the Mayor and other City Officials about wanting to wait to make changes until they had this opinion were genuine, and that we will now see immediate corrective action. Part of this should be the immediate cessation of any payments made on behalf of the Hotel Motel Board, since they did not have proper approval.  A public hearing regarding all contracts, spending, and appointments should be held prior to any utilization of public funds occurs. We have been raising these issues for months, others have pointed out past concerns with how the Hotel Motel Board was operated, and there has been a willful insistence to continue until forced to change.  This opinion should bring that change.

It is also interesting that the responses the City has provided to the Attorney General’s questions (utilizing advice from the City Attorney, and often written by the City Attorney) were found to not be valid arguments. We will be looking at the costs associated with these City Attorney services.

We are currently reviewing all actions taken by the Hotel Motel Board for the last five years, with emphasis on the current fiscal year. This will allow the public a better understanding of what must be done now to unravel the mess.  In addition, it will make clear if improper payments have been made by the City (to individuals or vendors without a public hearing or approval). We have requested additional documents to allow for a full evaluation. We will publish an item by item break-down as we complete our analysis.

This opinion was not limited to the Hotel Motel Board, but supported all our claims about failure to provide access to documents and information.

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Nauvoo City Hearing Date Set

A hearing date has been set for the complaint filed against the City of Nauvoo requesting a Judgement and Injunctive Relief regarding the failure of the City to provide documents as required by the Freedom of Information Act.

Previously the City has claimed these documents are not in their possession, or that they are not required to provide them. They also stated they were waiting for the Attorney General response on our February 28, 2017 request (not named in this complaint). The City has repeatedly taken the position that it needed the Attorney General’s Office to decide its responsibility to provide these documents. We asked the Judge to step in a clear up the issue for the City.

The hearing date has been set for August 9th, 2017 at 10:15am in the Circuit Court for the Ninth Judicial Court of Hancock County, in Carthage.

In a related issue, the Attorney General did render its opinion on July 20th, supporting our contention that the City is responsible to comply, and that the Hotel Motel Board in particular is a City body.

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Attorney General Finds That City Must Disclose All Records

In a response prepared by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, it was found that the City of Nauvoo has not complied with the Freedom of Information Act in regards to requests submitted by us on February 28, 2017.  We have long contended that the Hotel Motel Board is in fact a public body, and part of Nauvoo City Government.  The Attorney General concurs, stating:

“the available information indicates that the Board ( 1) was created by the City and does not have a legal existence independent of the City as an entity, such as a not- for-profit corporation does; ( 2) the Board performs a public function delegated to it by the City; and ( 3) the Board is subject to a significant degree of control by the City. Applying the factors in Hopf, this office concludes that the Board is a subsidiary body of the City.”

With regards to our request to receive contracts related to the Hotel Motel Board (and other departments of the City), the Attorney General also supports our contention that they must be provided to us:

“the City cannot evade its fundamental obligation under FOIA to provide records where, as here, a FOIA request is directed to the City for records concerning the Board, whose members the City Council approves and whose operations the City oversees.”

Other elements of our request for review were also supported relating to lost documents, missing meeting minutes, etc. and instructed the City to “conduct an appropriate search for the tourism director’ s contract, minutes of the April 3, 2012, April 23, 2012, and April 27, 2012, Board meetings, and Board employee expenses and disclose all responsive records…”

We expect the City to comply quickly with the Attorney General’s instructions, and will post the responsive documents here.  This should put to rest the contention that the Hotel Motel Board is not part of the City, and a restructuring of how it operates and how contracts are granted should begin immediately.  There are other FOIA requests where the City has refused to provide documents, stating a desire to await this opinion (related to Hotel Motel finances, and how funds are collected and disbursed) and how meetings are conducted (see our outstanding Open Meetings Act Violation).  The City now must provide all documents requested.

This will also allow for a more detailed analysis of conflict of interest issues associated with this body.

The full opinion follows:

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Nauvoo Turns Out to Support Kids

openNauvoo was happy to co-host an event at the City Center Wednesday Evening, July 19th with the City of Nauvoo, and the Advocacy Network for Children. It was well attended, with community leaders, religious leaders, law enforcement, fire department and local families in attendance. Mayor McCarty was instrumental in presenting this event, a big thank you to him and the rest of the City Council.

Jessica Bolton, CAC Coordinator from the Advocacy Network for Children in Carthage offered an informative presentation that educated families, leaders and officials on the issues of Child Abuse, with a strong emphasis on Child Sexual Abuse. The reason for this emphasis became clear when the Coordinator explained that 90% of all Child Abuse cases seen at her office were sexual abuse cases, and only 10% were physical abuse.

It was clear from the questions asked by mothers in attendance, that there is concern, and that this has already affected local children.

During the course of the presentation many statistics were shared with the attendees, which served to drive home the real dangers that face families and children, even in a rural community like Nauvoo.

Notably, attendees learned that 98% of abusers are known to the child and the family. In addition 92% of abusers are male.

Perhaps most troubling is the fact that over 60% of victims do not report their abuse.  This leads to many victims dealing with the repercussions for their entire life, and in many cases becoming abusers themselves.

Officer Mike Boley, with the Nauvoo Police Department, expressed the challenges of the legal system in prosecuting these cases legally.  But, it was clear that the overriding issue is counseling and support for victims, even if the legal system doesn’t always result in accountability.  The vast majority of abuse cases do not result in legal action, but this in no way reduces the importance of reporting.

It is our hope that the information provided in this community meeting begins the process of discussion, and that will demonstrate that this is a problem to be taken seriously. Too often the discussion is dominated by the false-narrative that is the traditional defense of abusers. This is an issue affecting our children, and only vigilance, and a policy of zero tolerance, will successfully protect Nauvoo’s children.

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A Profile of the Child Molester

How many child molesters live in the United States?

Approximately 400,000 convicted pedophiles currently reside in the United States, according to Department of Justice estimates.


How many victims does a child molester average?

Interviews guaranteeing complete confidentiality and immunity from prosecution, conducted by Emory University psychiatrist Dr. Gene Abel*, uncovered that:

  • Male offenders who abused girls had an average of 52 victims each.
  • Men who molested boys had an astonishing average of 150 victims each.
  • Only 3% of these crimes had ever been detected.


How do child molesters get into situations where they can exploit children?

Few child molesters are able to resist their powerful urges to initiate contact with children and will go to great lengths to do so. Common strategies include:

  • Befriending parents, particularly single parents, to gain access to their children.
  • Offering babysitting services to overextended parents or caregivers.
  • Taking jobs and participating in community events that involve children.
  • Attending sporting events for children and/or offering to coach children’s sports.
  • Volunteering in youth organizations, offering to chaperone overnight trips.
  • Loitering in places children frequent – playgrounds, malls, game arcades, etc.
  • Spending time in Internet gaming and social communities, learning the online interests and lingo of youngsters.
  • Becoming foster parents.


Wouldn’t a vigilant parent be able to detect a child molester, just by their actions?

Not necessarily. Remember, sex offenders who prey on children:

  • Are notoriously friendly, nice, kind, engaging and likeable.
  • Target their victims, often insinuating themselves into that child’s life – their family, school, house of worship, sports, and hobbies.
  • Are professional con artists and are expert at getting children and families to trust them.
  • Will smile at you, look you right in the eye and make you believe they are trustworthy.
*Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics, by Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D.; National Center for Juvenile Justice, July 2000, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
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Child Sexual Abuse Statistics

The prevalence of child sexual abuse (CSA) is difficult to determine because it is often not reported; experts agree that the incidence is far greater than what is reported to authorities. CSA is also not uniformly defined, so statistics may vary. Statistics below represent some of the research done on child sexual abuse.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau report Child Maltreatment 2010 found that 9.2% of victimized children were sexually assaulted (page 24).

Studies by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, show that:

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.

According to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well (page 5).

A Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows 1.6 % (sixteen out of one thousand) of children between the ages of 12-17 were victims of rape/sexual assault (page 18).

A study conducted in 1986 found that 63% of women who had suffered sexual abuse by a family member also reported a rape or attempted rape after the age of 14. Recent studies in 2000, 2002, and 2005 have all concluded similar results (page 8).

Children who had an experience of rape or attempted rape in their adolescent years were 13.7 times more likely to experience rape or attempted rape in their first year of college (page 9).

A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthless ness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and can become suicidal (page 1)

Children who do not live with both parents as well as children living in homes marked by parental discord, divorce, or domestic violence, have a higher risk of being sexually abused (page 171).

In the vast majority of cases where there is credible evidence that a child has been penetrated, only between 5 and 15% of those children will have genital injuries consistent with sexual abuse (page 2).

Child sexual abuse is not solely restricted to physical contact; such abuse could include noncontact abuse, such as exposure, voyeurism, and child pornography (page 1).

Compared to those with no history of sexual abuse, young males who were sexually abused were five times more likely to cause teen pregnancy, three times more likely to have multiple sexual partners and two times more likely to have unprotected sex, according to the study published online and in the June print issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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