On June 5, the Cary Village Board entered a closed session meeting to discuss a third-party investigation into one trustee's harassment claims against another.
The findings of that investigation would remain a secret for months – until the Northwest Herald obtained a copy of a report issued to the village from Oak Brook-based law firm Engler, Callaway, Baasten & Sraga.
Trustee Ellen McAlpine alleged Trustee Jim Cosler’s behavior for more than a year had been “unwanted, derogatory, unprofessional, disrespectful, libelous and defamatory."
The $4,800 report backed up some of the claims – but the board on Nov. 27 voted, 4-2, to repudiate the findings and make the recording of that closed session meeting on June 5 public.
The discussion that unfolded that night sheds light on how the divided board operates behind closed doors and offers a different perspective on a board at odds for years.
'This was not taken lightly'
Cosler's biggest question was this: Who launched the investigation?
"It was my decision,” Administrator Jacob Rife said. “This was not taken lightly."
Rife talked to the village's previous legal counsel – Ancel Glink – and asked how a harassment complaint should be processed. Ancel Glink and an "outside legal firm" gave Rife the same direction: He needs to determine whether McAlpine's claims were founded.
"I knew that this was going to be a challenging discussion," Rife said. "This wasn’t anything I took lightly or wanted to go through, but I was looking out for the best interest of the village."
'One of the worst investigations'
Trustee Kim Covelli is the highest-ranking female officer at the Lincolnshire Police Department, where she was promoted to commander last year.
She read the report with the eyes of a police officer.
"This is one of the worst investigations I have ever read," Covelli said. "It just boggled my mind that this is actually written up as a fact-finding mission, when this is all opinion-based."
Covelli filled three pages, she said, noting what she viewed as opinion injected into the report.
"The attorney went so far as to dismiss what Jeff [Kraus] said in the report, because she felt that he appeared anxious and nervous, and he was also listed as uncooperative because he didn't see anything," Covelli said. "Here you have a witness who's telling you something, but now you're negating what that witness is actually saying. You cannot do that in a fact-finding mission."
Covelli said she would never pay for the Callaway report. She called it "garbage."
"This was horrible, horrible," she said. "If I had a detective turn this in to me, if this was an actual report that came before me, I'd be like .. 'No, go back to training, because this is not how to write up a report.'"
'They wanted to burn me'
In early 2018, after McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally determined the village acted on bad legal advice in a previous situation involving the Chamber of Commerce, Cosler was instrumental in pushing the village to dump Ancel Glink.
The firm's recommendation to Rife to commission an investigation, Cosler said in the closed session, was a matter of bad blood and getting even.
"Ancel Glink was a firm that I helped get rid of, there was obvious bias against me," Cosler said. "Of course they’re going to say I should be investigated, because they don’t like me. They wanted to burn me."
"That’s speculation, Jim," Kownick said. "We followed the advice of our attorneys … It was a very uncomfortable situation."
"So wait a minute, when a felony is committed, that’s not uncomfortable?" Cosler said, referring to his allegations last year that Kownick and McAlpine violated the Illinois Public Officer Prohibitive Activities Act. "An investigation isn’t conducted when possible felonies are committed. Yet, when Jim does something, we launch an investigation? Is that what we’re getting at here? This is obvious discrimination. There will be a lawsuit, you understand?"
"Jim," Kownick said, "there was no discrimination here."
'Abolished from record'
Several times throughout the session, Cosler shared wishes to have the report erased from public record.
"I don't want to 10 years down the road have somebody accuse me of something based on a past history of supposed harassment, and this is now hanging out there as part of public record," Cosler said, "and I will do whatever it takes to eliminate it."
Cosler said he had evidence the report had leaked to the public.
"I am requesting from this board for this report to be rescinded, totally abolished from record," Cosler said. "I know we can’t take that action in executive session, but that is what I want to occur."
"I’m not familiar with how this is public," Kownick said. "I haven’t released it to anybody."
"I haven't," McAlpine said.
'You sound like Clinton'
Trustee Jeff Kraus called the investigation a political witch hunt.
"You and Jim and Ellen and Jim have been going at it since 2013, when Pedcor first started, and it has been nonstop since," Kraus said. "'We're gonna get ya! We're gonna find something to hang around your neck!'"
"I couldn't disagree more," Kownick said. "I've done everything I can to try and have conversations with you."
"And then you pull a stunt like this," Kraus said, "You're going to sit here and deny it and deny it and deny it. You know, you sound like Clinton."
Board picks a direction
Trustee Jennifer Weinhammer asked McAlpine whether she wanted the report rescinded.
“I think that’s inconsequential," McAlpine said. "An investigation happened and a report has been issued."
"So it is how Jeff said," Weinhammer said. "‘Let’s get Jim. We’re out to get Jim.”
"If I was out to get Jim," McAlpine said. "I would have released this a long time ago."
AttorneyScott Uhler asked: Does the board have a direction they want to pursue?
"I'm in favor of rescinding it and sealing it off and deleting it," Weinhammer said.
"I am, too," Kraus said.
"I am, as well," Covelli said.
"I am, too," Trustee Christine Betz said.
"If that's the direction of the board," Uhler said, "we will take a look at that."
'I have methods'
Before a majority of the board shared their thoughts on the future of the report, Weinhammer offered a hypothetical situation.
“Even if it is erased, and it’s been released to the board members here, let’s say – I don’t know – somebody talks about it during an election time to somebody else,” Weinhammer said, "and it starts going all over the place and they have some documentation that was printed out because they had it, what are the consequences for that?”
There’s a pause.
“I have methods,” Cosler said.
“You have what?” Weinhammer asked.
“That would give me ability to sue them,” Cosler said.
“OK,” Weinhammer said.