PRINCETON — Accusations flew Monday night at the Princeton City Council meeting after Commissioner Joel Quiram accused Mayor Keith Cain and Princeton City Manager Jeff Clawson of keeping the council in the dark about a recent four-day trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a legislative rally.
From March 9 to March 13, Cain, Clawson and Princeton Superintendent of Electric and Telecommunications Jason Bird attended the American Public Power Association’s legislative rally. As in years gone by, the city was invited by the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency (IMEA), from whom the city of Princeton gets its electricity. IMEA paid for two of the Princeton attendees’ airline tickets, motel rooms and registration costs. The third attendee’s fees was paid by the city’s electric department.
Quiram said he was not notified of the trip, which was planned in November. He read a prepared statement at Monday’s council meeting saying the trip or the money involved wasn’t the main issue, rather “the trip should have come before the council for discussion.” He accused Cain and Clawson of keeping the trip from the rest of the council and misusing electric department funds. He said the trip will no doubt cost the city thousands of dollars.
Cain said he didn’t see anything unusual about the trip, adding he had turned down the request to go for several years in the past. He said IMEA paid for his flight and other expenses associated with the trip, and he doesn’t plan on turning in any other receipts to the city for reimbursement. Cain said he used vacation days from his job to attend the event. He also said his presence gave the Princeton trio time with legislators that might not have happened, if he were not there.
In a letter to Cain from IMEA President/CEO Kevin Gaden, he said, “You (Cain) and your team were a part of a major effort that saw hundreds of municipal electric system officials from all over the nation come to the capitol to advocate for, and to protect the interests of, their citizens.
“Our mutual goal has always been to provide power to our citizens in a reliable and environmentally-sensitive manner and at a stable level of cost over the long term. The three participants from Princeton were part of a 20 city delegation from Illinois totaling about 41 people that helped to deliver that message.
“It was especially valuable to us to have both your utility system manager (Bird) and your city manager (Clawson) with us, as their knowledge of the issues and obvious commitment to your city’s well being was evident in every one of the meetings held,” Gaden said.
Clawson addressed Quiram directly at the meeting and told him he was “more than a bit offended.” He said his statements were “irresponsible and inaccurate,” and he called Quiram’s accusations “inappropriate.” Though he admitted he doesn’t like dealing with politics, Clawson said many successes came from the trip. He also said all conferences attended are always addressed through the budget process, and this trip was no different.
In Quiram’s final point in his prepared statement, he said Cain and Clawson’s actions showed a lack of respect and reflected poorly on the council.
“The last point you made is a blatant breach of my contract,” Clawson said. “If you don’t want me here, you need to just tell me, and I will leave.” He later added he deserved the same respect of other employees of the city, when discussing performance.
After the meeting, Bird said when he got the invitation to attend the rally, he did what he’s always done. He called Cain and asked him if he wanted to go. When the mayor said he thought he should probably go this time, since he’s a voting member, Bird said he made the reservations and asked for a check to be issued to pay for the registration fees ($245 per person). Bird said the bill for the conference registration was passed by the commissioners, including Quiram, at the Dec. 2 council meeting.
In February, the bill for the airline tickets came before the council, which amounted to about $250 per person, Bird said, adding the expenditure was approved again by the council, including Quiram. Bird said his paperwork for check requests clearly showed Cain’s, Clawson’s and his name on those requests, including a reason for the expense — a legislative rally.
Bird said Quiram did approach him right before he was ready to leave on the trip and said he’d been meaning to ask him what those invoices were for.
“The council approved both those bills without any questions,” Bird told the BCR. “In both cases, the roll call was 5-0, I believe.”
Bird, who is on the IMEA Board of Directors, said the city will be reimbursed for two attendees at the rally. He estimated the amount remaining would be around $2,000. He said his budget for this type of expense is $14,300 for the fiscal year, which ends April 30. To date, he has only spent, $5,013 for training, generation schools, webinars and other items throughout the year, so there is ample money to pay for the rally.
In regards to approving the bills for the rally, Quiram said, “We review a stack of bills twice a month — hundreds of bills. Do some charges get by us? Sure they do, so I don’t doubt them when they say a bill for this trip was approved by me and all others. That doesn’t mean I knew about the trip. The clear intent on everyone’s part when reviewing bills is to do our best — to account for everything, but it is nowhere near a perfect system. The point I made Monday is that neither the mayor nor Jeff mentioned this trip verbally or by email or by text to any commissioner prior to their leaving the Sunday before last.”
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