Chester J. Strzelczyk loan agreement form / Photo credit: LinkedIn
Summit’s top municipal bureaucrat – who also is the mayor’s nephew – abruptly resigned amid questions from the Better Government Association and FOX 32 about an apparently unauthorized “loan” he took from village coffers.
Chester “Chet” Strzelczyk, village administrator of the southwest suburb, at first denied taking any loans or pay advances from the municipality that he ran on a day-to-day basis.
If you don’t see the video above, click here and watch it on FOX32.
“People make stuff up, they have partial truth,” Strzelczyk told a BGA representative in June. “We’re a small municipality, it’s run legally. We have nothing to hide.”
Strzelczyk said in the interview the only thing close to a taxpayer-backed loan that any village official received was a pay advance given to “one of our senior trustees” who “ran into some financial difficulties,” and that money “definitely was paid back.”
“This is a practice we are reviewing and I have ordered an audit to accurately identify the extent of this practice under the former Village Manager. I’ve issued a statement to departments heads and other officials to ensure that this kind of practice does not continue in the future. I don’t believe the intent was to harm the public’s interests but rather to help people. Summit is a very small and close knit community and I think sometimes we go a little overboard in our enthusiasm to help people. Clearly the practice is wrong.” – statement from Summit Mayor Joseph Strzelczyk
But when the BGA subsequently submitted a formal request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act for any “documents relating to village officials – whether elected or staff – receiving loans or advances from the village,” the documents told a different story.
Strzelczyk took a “payroll advance” of $2,800 in June 2013, according to a copy of a “loan agreement form” provided by the village in response to the records request.
“Mr. Strzelczyk received no compensation beyond his salary as the Village Administrator,” according to a letter to the BGA from Summit’s village attorneys. “Mr. Strzelczyk received the salary advance in order to pay pressing medical bills.”
The loan agreement indicates Strzelczyk, whose annual salary was roughly $80,000, was to pay back the amount in 14 $200 interest-free increments by the end of 2013. A pay stub indicates that occurred.
However, the BGA and FOX found – and village officials acknowledge – other troubling aspects to the loan:
- There’s no evidence the village board approved the loan – even though state law and local ordinance appear to require it. In fact, trustees may not have known about the loan at all until reporters started snooping.
- Strzelczyk signed the loan agreement as the “borrower,” while his clerical assistant signed the loan agreement as the “lender.” However, that employee didn’t have the authority to serve in that capacity, officials said.
- Mayor Joseph Strzelczyk would not comment on the loans or his nephew – and would not say whether he knew about the pay advance when it was made.
Two trustees also were fronted village money in recent years – one was allowed to stay on the village’s health care plan for several years without paying more than $17,000 in premiums, records show. The other was advanced $6,000 from his salary over two years. Trustees are paid $10,000 annually.
After the BGA and FOX began raising questions, the Summit village board called an Aug. 13 special meeting, and Chester Strzelczyk submitted a resignation letter to his uncle the same day.
The letter said, “Effective immediately, please accept my letter of resignation. Thank you for this opportunity.”
The village is now considering hiring an outside firm to conduct an “independent audit” of village finances to make sure there’s “no other discrepancy,” an official said.
Reached on his cell phone in recent days, Chester Strzelczyk said he couldn’t hear a reporter, and the line went dead. He didn’t return subsequent calls.
His late father, of the same name, previously served as mayor of the town of 11,000 people adjacent to Chicago’s Southwest Side. The younger Chester Strzelczyk, who now lives in Lockport, also previously served on the Summit village board as a trustee. He ran unsuccessfully for the Will County board and has been active in Democratic politics in the suburbs, according to public records and interviews.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and FOX 32’s Dane Placko. The BGA’s Patrick Rehkamp contributed to this report. They can be reached at (312) 821-9030 or email@example.com.