Evanston Board of Ethics members ruled last night that the Board held jurisdiction to hear at least 7 of the 10 ethics complaints against 5th Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons. The complaints that will move forward are those that fell under the City’s “Conflict of Interest” standards of conduct.
The complaints were filed on February 11 by Evanston Leads contributor Misty Witenberg. The full packet is available on the City’s website. The Board scheduled the hearing for May 22, 2018 at 7:00 pm. Deputy City Attorney Michelle Masoncup said the May date was the earliest opportunity to hold the hearing as one board member would be on medical leave and two others had recused themselves.
The complaints moving forward to the hearing, include:
- Abuse of Power in Office
- Acquisition of Interest
- Incompatible Employment
- Participant in Contract Making
- City’s Relationship with Third Parties
- Entities Doing Business with the City
- Payment Contingent Upon Specific Action.
The status of Witenberg’s “Use of City Property” complaint remains ambiguous. The allegation was made against the Ald. Simmons’ use of City property, but the Board only cited a lack of jurisdiction over Sunshine’s property use.
Of the two remaining complaints, one was ruled as out of jurisdiction, and the other as moot.
The Board also ruled that it lacked jurisdiction in Witenberg’s complaint regarding the Code of Ethics Statement of Purpose, which states that in all cases its elected and appointed officers perform their duties for the benefit of City citizens, and conduct the affairs of the City with integrity and without allowing allowing the opportunity for personal gain influence decisions or actions or to interfere with serving the public interest.
Secondly, Witenberg’s Prohibited Action complaint (which states that the use of public office for private gain is strictly prohibited, and that City officials take all necessary steps to avoid conduct that would appear to interfere with their ability to perform their official duties independently and impartially) in regards to Ald. Rue Simmons positions on committees that advise and govern CDBG allocation to Simmons’ private employer, Sunshine, and competing entities, was ruled as moot because Sunshine’s Executive Director’s gave testimony that Sunshine would not seek additional CDBG funding. As Witenberg’s complaint specified violations in connection to 2016-2017 funding and did not stipulate future funding, it is unclear as to how this complaint will move forward.
Also unclear were the Board’s rulings that it lacked jurisdiction in regards to complaints against the alderman’s Sunshine employer. Witenberg did not include an Ethics complaint against Sunshine. The ruling was likely a response to the packet’s enclosed supporting documentation, which included allegations concerning Sunshine’s legal operational status and applicability for City grant funding, claims that Witenberg also mentioned during an interview with Evanston Live TV.
A statement read by Joel Hamernick, Executive Director of Sunshine Gospel Ministries and Sunshine Enterprises alleged Witenberg of making false accusations of legal violations in regard to Sunshine contracts with the City, a failure to register Sunshine Enterprises as an Assumed Business name (dba) as required by Illinois law, and a failure to file the operating name with the IRS.
However, Evanston Leads has confirmed that Witenberg’s allegations are correct, and that Sunshine has been operating illegally under the unlawful “Sunshine Enterprises,” and “Sunshine Gospel Ministries d/b/a Sunshine Enterprises” trade names since programming began in Evanston in 2015.
Sunshine did incorporate as “Chicago’s Sunshine Enterprises, Inc” in August of 2016—Sunshine Enterprises, Inc is already registered to another Illinois entity—and was assigned an Employment Identification Number on Dec. 30, 2016. However, Sunshine continued to contract with the City under the unlawful Sunshine Gospel Ministries d/b/a Sunshine Enterprises trade name. And while “Chicago’s Sunshine Enterprises” has not received tax-exempt status, according to the the IRS, all City grant payments through 2018 have been made to the tax-exempt Sunshine Gospel ministries.
In regard to Witenberg’s allegations that Sunshine Gospel Ministries has a history of ties to discriminatory groups, Hamernick submitted the document below.