By Megann Horstead | For The Sentinel
The Shorewood Village Board of Trustees reviewed the legal opinion recently provided by the firm selected to lead the probe into Mayor Rick Chapman’s fuel usage.
The matter drew a number of residents to a public meeting held following the April 4 election.
Shorewood officials took action at its June 27 regular meeting to retain legal counsel to advise the board on what, if any, action to take moving forward. At that point, the Village sought the assistance of Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins.
“I tried to cover all the bases to make a determination,” said Scott Nemanich, an attorney for Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins.
To arrive at a conclusion, Nemanich interviewed 16 staff members and elected officials, reviewed a number of documents and surveyed the site of the Village-owned gas pump the mayor used.
“The whole saga starts out basically on May 20, 2011 when Kurt Carroll left for the Village of New Lenox,” he said. “At that point, the mayor stepped in the role—decidedly stepped into the role—of village administrator. It was nothing formal [and] the board never approved, but I gather everyone who was on the board at the time knew how [it was.]”
At that point, Chapman had access to the Village-owned gas pump.
On Aug. 23 of 2011, Roger Barrowman temporarily moved from the public works department to serve as village administrator. Chapman continued to possess the key to the fuel pump.
By November of 2011, a new village administrator was brought on board and Barrowman reverted back to public works.
The Village of Shorewood continued to see new faces in the village administrator position in 2012 and 2013. Each time, Barrowman was appointed by the board to serve as the interim.
“And, then he signed a formal contract on June 11, 2013 and he’s been administrator ever since,” Nemanich said.
When the Village began utilizing Windows in May 2016, access to the Village-owned fuel pump was dislodged. Around that time, Barrowman became aware the mayor had a key.
Nemanich said there are different accounts detailing the manner in which the mayor sought access to the key.
Barrowman had contacted the Village’s attorney, Dave Silverman, to seek input on the matter.
Village code stipulates that elected officials seeking reimbursement must submit an itemized list to be approved at the discretion of the Board of Trustees.
“The rest of the history you know it,” Nemanich said. “Then, came the April election, flyer [was distributed] by April 3, FOIA thereafter, [the mayor] stops using of the key [and by] April 11, the board shuts it down.”
To date, the cost of the mayor’s fuel usage reportedly amounts to $2, 218.79.
“The reason that you just can’t fill up gas—as I explained to you and if you didn’t understand that before, I could be wrong, but I have a hunch the mayor understands now. We went over this,” Nemanich said. “Very simple, it’s a check and balance.”
Nemanich said while he does not find criminal intent, it could be close to official misconduct.
“I do not find official misconduct,” he said. “And, why’s that? Because he never intended—at least in my book, [nor] in my investigation—to steal from this Village. He thought [maybe] he could save [the Village] a little money.”
Nemanich added that that’s why when an elected official gets put under a microscope, they never want to be in a position to verify their actions.
Nemanich said moving forward, it needs to be made clear the board is not at fault.
At the board’s next public meeting, Nemanich suggested that Chapman extend an apology to the trustees and the village administrator, arrange a private meeting with village staff to address how he will make up for it and make a payment in an amount to be approved by the board.
Trustee Daniel Anderson wanted to thank Nemanich for his work.
“I think you brought up a few things that [we] weren’t aware [of],” he said. “This served a purpose.”
Shorewood Mayor Rick Chapman agreed with Anderson’s remarks, and said he knows what he will do moving forward.
“I made notes and will follow through on that,” he said.