Lauzen wants answers on agency's director after think tank report
Kane County officials will begin a public examination of the Upper Illinois Valley River Development Authority following recent reports by a conservative think tank raising questions about the agency's executive director.
The agency is one of 10 regional development authorities in Illinois. Its executive director, Andrew Hamilton, heads eight of them, including the Upper Illinois Valley agency that includes Kane County.
Two reports by the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank whose financial backers included Gov. Bruce Rauner until 2013 when his foundation ended its support during his first campaign for governor, focus on more than $2 million they say has gone to Hamilton and companies he leads.
Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen says he sent questions to the county's liaison to the authority, Greg Meyers, but did not get satisfactory responses. So, he's calling for a closer look.
The regional authorities are set up by the state to spur local economic growth by encouraging development, construction or business facility improvements. They can issue taxable bonds, tax-exempt bonds, moral obligation bonds or notes. They can also own, lease or sell real estate. And they can enter into contracts with private bodies or other units of government.
It's that last provision that drew scrutiny from the Illinois Policy Institute and, now, Kane County. The institute found Hamilton operates a related private business that has resulted in $2 million in pay and reimbursements since 2010. That total includes an average of about $241,227 in annual pay and reimbursements to Hamilton from the eight authorities combined during the past eight years. It also includes $151,078 paid to one of Hamilton's side businesses, Opportunity Alliance.
In an email interview, Hamilton disputed any notion that he has received a private financial windfall as a result of his roles with the authorities. Hamilton said he does provide consulting services to firms, but those firms "do not receive, or have ever received, UIRVDA assistance."
"The only private firm utilized by the authority where I do have a financial interest was utilized for marketing and governmental relations services for a $1,000 monthly retainer," Hamilton continued. "No expenses were reimbursed to this firm for these services. The firm had no other business with the authority. This firm is no longer being utilized by the authority to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest."
The marketing agreement with Hamilton's side business stopped following the institute's report.
Legislation pushed by Rauner seeks to put more restrictions on executive directors of the development authorities. The legislation says no person can serve as executive director of more than one regional authority. The executive director must also live within the region covered by the authority. And no person "with any form of financial interest or business relationship, formal or informal, in any economic development consulting, lobbying, or advising business may serve as an RDA executive."
Hamilton said any changes imposed to the authorities should be put in context. The Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority is responsible for the creation of nearly 3,000 jobs and more than $300 million of investment "at absolutely no cost to the Illinois taxpayers," Hamilton said.
His roles with the eight authorities he leads, he said, are all part time, so he receives no retirement or health benefits. The authorities receive no operational funds from the state. All funding comes through fees charged to private-sector businesses that apply for assistance from the authorities.
That information may address some of Kane County's concerns, but Lauzen appeared ready to push for a change in Kane County's representation to the authority. He told county board members Meyers has not responded to three requests for more information about the authority despite having a month to do so.
"That person that is not representing us should either resign or be removed from office," Lauzen said.
Meyers has been Kane County's representative to the authority's board since 2000, according to the state of Illinois' website. His term expires every three years. Meyers' current appointment will expire Jan. 21. Lauzen would have the ability to appoint a new representative at that time.
The statute indicates he does not need the approval of the county board. The position is uncompensated except for expenses.
Meyers could not be reached for comment. He will appear before Lauzen's executive committee to answer questions on Oct. 3.