County chairman says no conflict of interest

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-enDlFRMOFt.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘A road construction sign on Willow Brook Road in Roscoe sits in front of Winnebago County Board Chariman Scott Christiansen’s property in the background. Christiansen advocated andsigned the resolution for the bond sale that allowed the road construction.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-6pFX9VSrZ1.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘Willow Brook Road is down to gravel because the county will soon upgrade the road to accommodate heavier vehicles. Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen owns property on the northwest corner of this intersection (left side of photo).’);

Scott Christiansen is part owner of property and defunct business in road improvement area, and has several financial lawsuits pending against him

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) said being owner of property in an area undergoing development and advocating the sale of taxpayer-supported bonds for road improvements in that same area is not a conflict of interest because plans for the projects were in the works before he was appointed County Board chairman. Meanwhile, other questions have been raised about the recent spate of lawsuits that have been filed against Christiansen and his roofing business concerning unpaid bills.

The combination of Christiansen’s land ownership and lawsuits have several Republican and Democratic County Board members privately scratching their heads, wondering whether Christiansen can effectively represent taxpayers and citizens.

Land, bonds and development

Before Christiansen was appointed on May 10, 2004, and took office May 24, he was and remains part owner of property in an area that is currently undergoing significant road improvements and development. Funding for the road construction projects in the northeast section of the county wasn’t authorized until the County Board approved the sale of road construction bonds last summer.

Christiansen vigorously advocated sale of the bonds on the platform that the projects would result in economic development in the region. Development has already begun near Christiansen’s property at 12542 Willow Brook Rd., which is on the northwest corner of Willowbrook and McCurry Roads (see photo on page A1).

William Charles Investments Inc., and Loves Travel Stops and Country Stores have begun construction of a truck stop on 176 acres at the intersections of Interstate 90 and Rockton Road. The truck stop is less than one mile north of Christiansen’s property, which he owns with Ronald F. Swanson Jr., former Rockford Township Highway Commissioner.

Swanson was acquitted of theft and official misconduct charges in 2001 relating to his tenure as commissioner from 1997 to 2001.

Christiansen served on the County Board from 1984 to 1988 and 1990 to 1999, when the county last sold a large amount of bonds to construct roads about 10 years ago, which included portions of Perryville Road, Spring Creek Road and Charles Street. The total amount of bonds that were sold then was $10 million.

Deeds and trust

During an interview Oct. 15, Christiansen said he and Swanson were owners of a blind trust identified in county records as Belvidere Bank Trust 2372, which Swanson formed on Jan. 1, 2003. However, Swanson’s deed wasn’t notarized and received by the recorder’s office until Sept. 30, 2003, five days after funding was authorized by the County Board for improvements to Willow Brook Road during fiscal 2004 budget discussions.

The deed was prepared by G. Michael Scheurich of the law firm of Guyer and Enichen, P.C. Scheurich is currently attorney for the county forest preserve district.

Actual funding for improvements to Willow Brook Road and other projects wasn’t secured until after the bond sale was formally approved on Aug. 12, 2004, which Christiansen proposed in July.

At the Aug. 12 County Board meeting, a resolution was approved to sell $10 million in bonds to be used for construction of Willow Brook Road from McCurry Road north to Rockton Road, McCurry Road west to Illinois 251, Willow Brook Road from Rockton Road north to Illinois 75, and parts of Baxter and Perryville roads.

Christiansen signed the resolution on Aug. 12 along with members of the Public Works Committee: Glen Wilkins (R-8), Pearl Hawks (D-6), Gary Jury (R-3) and Dave Yeske (R-2).

Asked whether his advocation of the bond sale and ownership of the property is a conflict of interest, Christiansen said he didn’t think so because plans and funding were authorized in 2003 before he was appointed chairman. He added that the issue of his ownership of the property was revealed last year on WNTA radio’s Chris Bowman Show when he first announced he was challenging former Chairman Kris Cohn for the position.

County records show Christiansen and Swanson’s Belvidere Bank Trust 2372 already have financially benefited from owning the property. They received $13,000 from Winnebago County after some of the property was purchased for the right-of-way on Willow Brook Road.

The same day in 2003, Swanson individually deeded the property to the blind trust, a separate deed lists Swanson and Christiansen as co-owners, who also deeded the property to the blind trust. However, similar to Swanson’s individual deed, the pair’s deed was not received by the recorder’s office until April 29, 2004. Previous deeds for the property from 1990 and 1991 indicate Swanson was the sole owner of the property.

The Christiansen/Swanson deed was prepared by attorney James E. Tuneberg, who, like Scheurich, is also a member of Guyer and Enichen. Tuneberg is a cousin of State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34).

However, relationships and political clout do not have much influence with creditors that have recently taken legal action against Christiansen for bills they said have not been paid.

Show me the money

Two lawsuits against Christiansen that remain unresolved concern a total of at least $97,839 in unpaid bills against Christiansen and his roofing/construction company. Three others filed since 2003 have been closed, and settled. Still more were filed prior to 2003.

Christiansen said payments to plaintiffs in cases that are open have been made to Milwaukee Insulation Company, Inc., and Unimet Metal Supply Inc. However, attorneys for both companies disputed Christiansen’s assertion in court documents.

Unimet’s attorney George P. Hampilos originally alleged Christiansen’s company, S.H. Christiansen Roofing, received but did not pay for $7,927 worth of product materials in late 2002. Christiansen entered into an agreement in August to pay $10,746 to Unimet in six equal monthly installments. However, no record exists in the court file that Unimet has received any payments.

In a similar case, Milwaukee Insulation’s attorney Mark J. McClenathan filed a motion for default judgment last week because they alleged in their Aug. 2 complaint that Christiansen “has refused and failed to pay the balance due owing in the amount of $87,093.70, plus interest, attorney fees, and costs of the suit.”

Other recent but settled lawsuits also involve Christiansen not paying bills. One was filed in 2003 by Rockford Financial Systems Inc., which concerned A to Z Automotive and Sales Inc. The other involved the Rockford Register Star and an all but defunct tree nursery business named Earth and Barn, Inc.

In the case of Rockford Financial, Christiansen agreed to pay $75,000 concerning products from A to Z Automotive. The other closed case involved Christiansen signing an advertising contract in 2002 on behalf of Earth and Barn, a company Christiansen co-owned with Swanson.

The Rockford Register Star sued Christiansen and Earth and Barn in January 2003 for at least $4,285 in which they alleged he failed to fulfill terms of the contract. The dispute was dropped in June 2003 before the case went to trial.

Earth and Barn was located at the property Christiansen and Swanson own on Willow Brook Road. Christiansen said Earth and Barn was just a failed business venture.

As to why bills have gone unpaid, Christiansen explained that the economy has been hard on him, too.

In response to the sour local economy, Christiansen acknowledged he has started a new and financially viable roofing business in Alabama. He also said his Alabama business is operating in Florida to assist hurricane victims in securing their homes from further damage.

Asked how he could afford to start new businesses when local creditors were not being paid, Christiansen maintained that they are being paid. Asked whether he plans to file bankruptcy after the election, Christiansen responded by shaking his head and saying, “No.”

Now that construction of Willow Brook Road is under way and the
area is being developed, Christiansen was asked whether keeping the property as long as possible was in his economic best interests considering his recent financial and legal problems. Christiansen responded by saying he has tried to sell the property but has yet to find a buyer.

If and when the property is sold, Christiansen said, “There’s no chance for me to make a dime” due to a $755,000 mortgage that was taken out on the property in 2003 to finance Earth and Barn.

Editor’s note: Unlike other public officials who have stonewalled us, Christiansen was very willing to interview with The Rock River Times several times to discuss this article.

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