Who are Friends of White County Schools? Who is Ameresco?
And so the quest began.
This post is about local politics….I think. Actually it extends farther than that. It is statewide because as long as each county in our state continues to ask the taxpayers for a new 1% sales tax, it is a statewide matter. But let me start at the beginning.
In 2014, our county was asked to consider a 1% sales tax increase under the school facility tax law. The tax would be used to take care of public school facilities. The same year, 13 other counties were also putting the same referendum on their ballots. Like most school districts, the locals care about their schools. You don’t have to twist their arms to come to the rescue of the education system. The citizens where I live are constantly doing things to make their district better. People are always donating and raising funds to do things for the district. So it’s not necessary to LIE to them, to deceive, or to hoodwink. It really isn’t.
Ads were purchased in the local newspaper by such entities as Ameresco, Friends of White County Schools. These all came through one school board member. He ordered the ads with my newspaper and told me to bill him. I handled the insertion of them into the newspaper. We received payment sometime after the referendum passed, I believe.
The beginning of my quest was to ask who are “Friends of White County Schools”? I asked a school teacher and she had never heard of them. I asked a couple of other people, but no one knew. My interest was now being piqued. Who were these shadowy entities? By this time, I had read an op ed written by a newspaper on the other end of the county which explained who Ameresco was. I could find Ameresco on the internet. Another name that had come up was StifelNicolaus. Prominently. Like the head of the spear. They are on the internet too, a multi billion-dollar international investment banking conglomerate headquartered in Missouri. My sources say that Stifel initiates state sales tax hike campaigns by having its representatives travel the state, meeting with county and school board members, administrators, regional superintendents and other corporate and community groups, all in efforts to convince local officials to launch pro-tax hike campaigns. This same source goes on to say “At an Illinois Association of School Business Officials meeting in 2011, before school administrators from across the state, Stifel distributed materials touting how they helped execute a massive campaign to convince Champaign County school boards and voters to initiate and pass a tax hike in 2009 benefiting Stifel’s bottom line. The net result of the campaign was more than $60 million in new taxes on Champaign County shoppers since the tax was enacted.”
And there’s more. Just keep reading.
Had Stifel-Nicolaus been instrumental in pushing this referendum in my county? According to Pat Seil’s Op Ed in July of 2015 in The Navigator, representatives of Ameresco, a St. Louis based performance contractor, had approached the Grayville School board about doing a lot of improvements on their buildings as well as erect a new building. Stifel-Nicolaus, working hand in glove, was also in attendance, offering to finance the whole job, which amount approached what the district would be able to borrow because of the new tax.
I happened upon a website one day. I say “happened,” however, I don’t believe in coincidence. Coincidence is just God revealing things and making things come to light. I found the Illinois Sunshine website. As I perused their listings, I kept seeing Friends of Marion Schools, Friends of Peoria Schools, etc. Oh my, was I in the right place or what?! Illinois Sunshine www.illinoissunshine.org is a site devoted to tracking campaigns and where the money is coming from and going. It is an excellent resource.
Illinois Sunshine had no information about Friends of White County Schools, but I knew I was in the right place, so I emailed them, asking them about the group. I received no correspondence from them, but a couple of weeks later I decided to take another look and do a search. Sure enough, Friend of White County Schools was NOW listed! I now had all the information I needed, including who were the shadowy figures behind it and who funded the referendum.
Friends of White County Schools was founded on October 9, 2014, shortly before the 2014 mid term elections. Carmi-White County School Board member Andy Acord is listed as the Treasurer of the Committee and H. Keith Botsch is listed as the President. (Mr. Botsch has some troubles of his own, being linked with some misbehavior with a bank.) The group was founded as a Ballot Initiative Committee. Five days later, after its founding on October 14, 2014, Thermal Mechanics, Inc. from Missouri, gave $10,000 to the Committee. Who is Thermal Mechanics?
Thermal Mechanics, Inc. has corporate headquarters in Chesterfield, Mo. Google says they are “System Design & Engineering Resources, New & Replacement HVAC Equipment, Integrated Building Controls, Mechanical & Building Controls, Service Planned, Maintenance Contracts, Building Controls System Monitoring, Certified OEM Replacement Parts, 24/7 Emergency Service ..”. Who knows how Thermal Mechanics Inc, found out a county in Southern Illinois needed money to pass a referendum and educate the voters? They are the only contributors to the “committee.” I’m sure it’s all legal.
So, a lot of important, big corporations have a lot of interest in passing these 1% sales tax increases. But here’s the interesting part. Did anyone read the law before putting these referendums on the ballot?
I accidentally read the law.
And the law says this: “…this tax shall be imposed only in 1/4% increments, up to 1%.” It doesn’t say START at 1%. It says, essentially, start at 1/4%, then you can move it up, but stop at 1%. Huh? So why is everyone putting 1% on the ballot? Good question. I did read that one county put 1/2% on their ballot.
I’m starting to get mad now. And I suspect Stifel-Nicolaus has a WHOLE LOT TO DO with how the referendum (scheme) is being presented to school boards and consequently, to the public, who is being lied to. I don’t suppose school boards read the actual law.
So I maintain that the referendums themselves are, essentially, breaking the law as it is written and therefore illegal.
Let’s see where this all goes. Oh, one more thing…the State of Illinois has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are…they get to keep 2% of all the new tax money coming in. Just think what a cut they would take if all the referendums went down to 1/4%….I’m just sayin’.
I work for a newspaper. A small town newspaper, but a newspaper nonetheless. This week we got a letter from a “Freedom of Information Officer” from one of the small towns in the area. It seems we are “making too many mistakes in reporting the minutes of their meetings.” But no one has ever, not once, called in to tell us that; not one complaint has ever come. We would gladly print a retraction if we are wrong about something. This baffles me. They want the right to preview our reports from now on before we print.
This is a government board. How much would they want retracted from the original report? And who the heck is a “Freedom of Information Officer?” The Freedom of Information Act is there to guarantee that citizens are allowed to see and hear what their government is doing. In another town, they threatened to do all their meetings in executive session, just because we brought a recorder. The recorder is to guarantee we get it right, not to do a “gotcha.”
Imagine if the Federal Government or the State government asked for the right to preview everything that gets printed about them. It would be gridlock!
Like most of what we see in politics these days, someone throws out a vague accusation against another, but never gives the details, and when asked to give one, they usually can’t think of anything. I suspect that may be what this is. Being a newspaper employee, I intend to have them put all those details, list every single error they think we have made, in writing, because if we did make a mistake, we need to correct it, right? This also validates our decision to record the meetings. It’s benefits both of us, media and government. It protects both of us.