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Column

Styf: What we know on new Joliet City Manager David Hales

The city of Joliet took a few shots at us last week. You probably have heard that by now.

It relates to the recent hiring of City Manager David Hales and financial issues in Bloomington.

We were referenced in a press release and in interviews with other local media, which ran with it and their line of questions, one of which started with an admission that the interviewer hadn't read the story.

Another went after reporter Bob Okon, naming him and questioning his reporting.

The basic complaint was the story and headline unfairly connected Hales, who manages the city, to the charges and scandal related to the theft of city resources when Joliet claimed he was the one who brought that information to police.

The story did not say Hales was involved in the illegal actions or guilty of anything.

It did state that he was in charge during more than a handful of years when that theft occured, he left for Joliet while the scandal was brewing and several Joliet leaders weren't told of the scandal before Hales was hired.

All of those, by the way, are true. You can read it again here for yourself.

In its press release, the city said Hales wasn't allowed to discuss the investigation into the five members of Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM), which managed the city-owned Coliseum, during the hiring process.

So when did Hales know and did he lead the charge to stop CIAM's alleged stealing, as Joliet said?

Well, a 2014 audit of CIAM had notes of concern that there was an “inadequate system of controls over the preparation of financial statements” caused by a lack of oversight by management, according to NPR station WGLT, which asked the question of why the city didn't know about the theft earlier.

That audit was brought up in front of Bloomington's council on April 14, 2014 during debate on changing the contract from professional to amateur hockey. as pointed out by blogger Diane Benjamin.

At that point, councilwoman Judith Stearns wasn't pleased with City Manager David Hales' response to those comments in the audit and called for a full audit of CIAM.

You can watch Hales' response in the embedded video.

He said, among other things, "you've got to keep in mind that this independent auditor opinion is unqualified. There is nothing that they brought out that was a significant deficiency or anything else.

"But that, in no way, takes away from the unqualified or clean opinion that the auditors gave CIAM and the coliseum."

Benjamin had been asking about the agreement and if CIAM was being honest with financial numbers such as concessions back in February 2014.

Since December 2014, Benjamin had been requesting the concessions numbers, which the city was owed a percentage, and she eventually sued for their release. CIAM claimed the numbers were confidential but they were ultimately released until Aug. 23, 2016.

The city brought in the Bronner Group in March 2015 to conduct the full audit, which was what Stearns wanted nearly a year earlier.

Then, in September 2016, the city announced an investigation into coliseum management's actions through April 2016.

In that announcement, from the city, Hales was quoted as saying "these reviews brought forward multiple areas of concern for City staff which we promptly reported to the Illinois State Police in an effort to determine whether any unlawful conduct had occurred."

That press release, written by city staff such as Hales, was passed along by the city of Joliet to local media last week along with the 115 pages of indictments charging the five related to CIAM as proof that Hales was the man who found the bad guys.

"If somebody commits crimes on your watch and gets caught, that’s a good thing,"

Interim City Attorney Chris Regis told The Herald-News last week. "I don’t understand why this is a knock on Hales at all. This is a major plus.”

I'll leave that opinion up to you, the reader.

• The Herald-News Editor Jon Styf can be reached at jstyf@shawmedia.com, on Twitter @JonStyf or at 815-280-4119. Styf also is editor of the Morris Herald-News and Herald Life.

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