Lombard village trustees got into a political tussle this week when they were asked to award a $1,000 scholarship to a "lilac princess" who happens to be the daughter of Trustee Mike Fugiel.
Trustees Peter Breen and Laura Fitzpatrick said it would be a conflict of interest if Morgan Fugiel, 17, received the money as part of the village's annual Lilac Time celebration.
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"We already took a stance (on financial conflicts of interest) more than once," Fitzpatrick said, pointing to a decision the board made less than two years ago not to buy food from Village President Keith Giagnorio's pizzeria. "I feel it is morally wrong to accept personal gain from the village."
But Giagnorio and trustees Dan Whittington, Reid Foltyniewicz and Bill Ware said it was too late to backtrack on awarding the scholarship to Morgan.
"I don't want this to taint the rest of Lilac Time, so hopefully we can get past this," Foltyniewicz said before the scholarship was approved with a 4-2 vote.
The debate came just two days in advance of Saturday's annual crowning of one of the princesses as Lilac Queen to begin the village's Lilac Time celebration.
Village Manager Scott Niehaus said the village has used money from the hotel/motel tax to provide five $1,000 scholarships to the lilac princesses since 2001.
Penny Chanez is president of the Lombard Junior Womens Club, which sponsors the Lilac Princess program for young women ages 16 to 21. She said an average of 20 to 30 hopefuls apply to be a princess each year.
The selection of the five princesses, she said, is based on their answers to interview questions asked by judges who live outside Lombard, their community and school involvement, and the poise and grace with which they carry themselves.
"It should be noted that during that initial interview, the judges are not privy to any of the young women's last names and at no time is a member of our organization in the room during the interview session," she said.
Chanez said she wanted to clarify why an action item to approve Morgan's scholarship was pulled from the consent agenda, so she reached out to every member of the board before the meeting.
She said she received a response from a trustee who said it was to address government transparency. The trustee also wrote that with the corruption in Springfield, it is important that board members avoid even the "slightest hint" of enriching themselves with village funds.
"This is not Springfield. This is Lombard. And while all governmental agencies should adhere to the highest ethics and transparency, the Lombard princess program is a community event, sponsored by our organization, and has a long tradition within the community," Chanez said.
Trustee Peter Breen said he wrote the email and stood by what he said.
"The issue tonight is not about the Lilac Princess program. Certainly, we are proud of all these young women," he said.
The issue, Breen said, was granting a waiver for a conflict of financial interest.
"Members of the board didn't invite this conflict and if somehow Miss Fugiel was assured that she would be given a check by the village board for $1,000, certainly there was no right to make that assurance," he said.
While having the money distributed to Morgan via a 501(c)(3) was an option brought up at the meeting, Fitzpatrick said it would just be "sending the check through a loophole."
When it was Giagnorio's turn to speak, he held up a crumpled ball of paper.
"This was my speech," he said. "I feel this is something that needs to be said from my heart."
Giagnorio said when he heard about some trustees' disapproval of the scholarship a few days prior he was "beyond furious."
"This (princess) court was selected over a month ago. Over a month ago," he said. "It's two days until the coronation. I can't help but think what Morgan Fugiel is thinking, what she's gone through. I have a daughter. I can only imagine. I am embarrassed for that."
"There were no shenanigans involved in this," he said. "There was full transparency. We ran it past our village attorney; Trustee Fugiel was to abstain from this (vote)."
Giagnorio admitted that "in black and white" the award of a $1,000 scholarship to the immediate family member of a trustee may not look good.
To avoid being put in a similar situation again, Giagnorio said the board should take a look at village policies -- but at a later date.
"I understand where you're coming from on a policy matter, but to (make a change) two days before the coronation is absolutely wrong," he said to applause from residents in the crowded board chamber. "How can we sit here and change the policy two days out? Talk about putting a damper on Lilac Time."