RVC’s house purchase raises questions

Trustee’s wife was real estate agent for $289,000 property purchased in 2001

Rock Valley College (RVC) Board Trustee and Winnebago County Board member Chris Johnson (R-4) acknowledged his wife was the real estate agent who listed and sold a house RVC purchased for $289,000 on June 29, 2001. Johnson said he abstained from voting for approval of the purchase at the May 8, 2001, RVC board meeting.

Johnson said he did not participate in discussions that concerned purchase of the property. Official meeting minutes also show Johnson did not vote to purchase the property. Also, RVC Board Attorney Chuck Kostantacos supported the assertion that Johnson did not participate in discussions to purchase the property and that Johnson abstained from voting.

The house

The four-bedroom house, which is built on 2.32 acres at 6520 Spring Brook Rd., was converted into office and storage space shortly after it was bought on June 29, 2001. According to the Winnebago County Assessor, the house had a fair market value of $247,602 in 2001.

“I don’t remember anything negative on the house,” said former RVC Board Trustee Dr. Bernard O’Malley. “It’s a nice piece of property. The goal was to bring the foundation closer to campus … to consolidate things.”

RVC records show the board discussed purchasing the house in February 2001. The board voted to buy the property in May 2001 and obtained the property for $289,000 in June 2001. Real estate records posted in August 2001 show the listing price was $299,900.

According to numerous sources, the property was on the market for at least several months to more than two years before the college bought the property. Various sources placed the previous owners’ sale price from $300,000 to $400,000.

Real estate records for the most recent listing show the house was sold on Aug. 27, 2001, before it was posted on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) by Gambino Realtors-Homebuilders, Inc. The same records indicate the house was purchased with cash the following day for $290,000, with a list price of $299,900.

Due to current sensitive circumstances, The Rock River Times has elected to not interview the former owners.

Record keeping

Unofficial board minutes from Feb. 13, 2001, in RVC’s library show the board went into “closed session at 7:40 p.m., for the purpose of discussing certain sensitive personnel matters and a possible real estate purchase.” There is no mention that Johnson did or did not participate in the closed session. The minutes do indicate Johnson was present for the meeting.

Most of the official board meeting minutes before 1998 are available in RVC’s library. However, since 1998 most of the official board meeting minutes are not available in the library—soon after Chapdelaine became president of the college in November 1997. Most of the board minutes since 1998 available in the library are unofficial.

In addition, no known audio or video record of the Feb. 13, 2001, and May 8, 2001, meetings or closed sessions are available. RVC began audio taping meetings Dec. 9, 2003.

Conflicting recollections

Kostantacos supported Johnson’s account of events concerning the purchase by saying: “I have a clear recollection of what took place. …Chris didn’t participate in any talk about it, and he abstained from voting. And I’m quite emphatic about that.”

However, former RVC Board Trustees Randy Sturm and O’Malley dispute Kostantacos’ and Johnson’s recollections.

O’Malley said in a Dec. 2 interview: “I remember him [Johnson] commenting about the pool. I don’t remember anyone abstaining or not voting against it. …I usually do pretty well remembering stuff.”

Randy Sturm (R-5), a trustee at the time of the house purchase and current Winnebago County Board member, said Nov. 14: “Chris did not abstain. …I objected since Chris’ wife was the agent.”

However, O’Malley and Sturm ultimately voted to buy the property, along with current RVC Board Chairman Randy Schaefer and former trustees Don Johannes and Dennis Olson.

In response to a Dec. 4 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy of the original roll call notes concerning the vote to purchase the property, RVC said, “there are no documents responsive to your request.” Johnson said the reason there is not a roll call note for the vote was because it wasn’t needed unless someone dissented, not just abstained.

President’s role

Chapdelaine was asked what role, if any, he played in the purchase of the property. RVC’s Public Relations Director Mike Robinson faxed a response that reads:

“After observing that the property (5620 [sic 6520] Spring Brook Road) had been on the market for a considerable time, Dr. Chapdelaine asked the Rock Valley College Board of Trustees for and was granted permission to investigate the possibility of purchasing the property for the college. Dr. Chapdelaine saw the property, immediately adjacent to the main campus, as being a good investment for needed office and storage space, as well as any possible future needs. The acquisition of the property was the joint responsibility of the COO [Chief Operating Officer Don Williams] and the college attorney [Kostantacos] following board approval to acquire the property.”

Chapdelaine was faxed a follow-up request Dec. 4. Robinson said Dec. 4 that the college would not respond to the follow-up questions. Chapdelaine was also asked whether he could recall if Johnson voted. Robinson said the official board minutes reflected Chapdelaine’s recollection.

Insiders said Chapdelaine was “very sensitive” about how board documents were worded concerning personnel issues, such as the June 2002 administrative reorganization.

Economic interest not on file

The Winnebago County Clerk’s office has no record of Johnson filing a 2002 RVC Board of Trustees statement of economic interest that would have identified his wife’s involvement in the college’s 2001 purchase of the property. Johnson said he didn’t have a copy of his 2002 RVC economic interest statement, but said he thought he filed the document with the county clerk.

However, Johnson filed 2001 and 2003 RVC Board of Trustees statements of economic interest. Johnson also filed an economic interest statement in 2002 for his position on the county board.

Johnson’s 2003 economic interest statement lists both his position on the RVC and county boards on the same document. However, in 2001, Johnson filed two separate economic interest statements—one for his position on the RVC board and the other as Rockford Township Clerk.

Again, as confirmed by the county clerk’s office, his 2002 RVC economic interest statement is not on file, and Johnson could not produce a copy of the statement.

However, RVC’s list of who should be notified to file economic interest statements, provided by RVC to the county clerk’s office for 2002, did not list Chris Johnson or any other elected trustee.

Johnson was elected to the RVC board in 2000 and remains a trustee.

Compounding the matter, none of the elected officials governing RVC was notified by the county clerk’s office that they must file. Only faculty and administrators were listed and notified. The cover letter for the list was signed by Linda Kyle, now former executive dean of Human Resource Services, and certified by Rick Johnson, former secretary of the Board of Trustees and current trustee.

‘Official’ documents

As part of the FOIA request, RVC’s submitted certificate for the board’s resolution to purchase the property, signed by Johnson, is not notarized. According to the certificate, the purpose is to certify that the property purchase resolution is a “true and authentic copy of the resolution adopted on May 8, 2001.”

Johnson didn’t know why the certificate wasn’t notarized.

However, another certificate for a different resolution that was adopted the same evening is signed by Notary Public Anieta Ingebretsen and dated May 8, 2001.

As previously stated, RVC said there are no original roll call notes concerning the vote to purchase the property because Johnson said he didn’t need to take

such notes unless a trustee voted against the purchase, not just abstained. Johnson was board secretary in 2001 and said he would have been ultimately responsible for recording votes on paper.

However, Johnson said Dec. 2 Kathy Bender, retired administrative assistant to RVC President Roland Chapdelaine, assisted Johnson in recording votes. RVC maintains in its letter “there are no documents responsive to your request for original roll call notes made by Chris Johnson and Kathy Bender.”

Bender was asked Dec. 2 about her recollection of events concerning the property purchase. Bender said, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember a thing about it.”

Former RVC Trustee and current Rockford Police Officer Dennis Olson had a similar response. Olson said, “No comment, that’s all I have to say about my service on the board.”

Real estate agent

According to state records, Judy Johnson held a real estate license from Nov. 6, 1998, to April 30, 2003. Standard real estate practices grant a 7 percent commission. Usually, half of that commission is retained by the company; one quarter goes to the listing agent, and one quarter goes to the selling agent. Using the 7 percent commission rate, with the selling price of $289,000, Judy Johnson as both the listing and selling agent, may have received about $10,000 from the property transaction. At press time, repeated attempts to contact Judy and Chris Johnson for the exact amount of the commission were unsuccessful.

Judy Johnson said she approached the former owners about selling the property in December 2000 or January 2001 because the previous owner’s listing with another company was soon to expire. Judy Johnson said she negotiated the sale of the property with RVC’s Don Williams.

Sturm said Chris Johnson “didn’t try to hide it once it was brought up, but I don’t recall him volunteering that information before the vote.” However, Johnson said, “I declared it the first time it came up” months before the vote and “I stayed away from it as far as possible.”

Sturm said he verbally “objected” to the college buying the property since Judy Johnson was an agent for Gambino Realtors-Homebuilders, Inc., at the time the property was sold to RVC. Sturm said he couldn’t recall how he became aware that Judy Johnson was the agent for the sale of the house.

Conflicting minutes

Sturm said he stated his objection at the May 8, 2001, meeting before the vote.

The official and unofficial May 8, 2001, board minutes did not record Sturm’s objection. Johnson could not explain why there is no record of Sturm’s comments.

Unofficial board meeting minutes from RVC’s library indicate the purchase was approved in a “unanimous roll call vote,” which implies Johnson voted for the purchase.

When Johnson was initially asked abut the real estate transaction Dec. 1, Johnson was asked to produce evidence he abstained from voting.

About two hours after the initial interview, Johnson faxed unofficial May 8, 2001, board meeting minutes he obtained from Chapdelaine’s office that differed from the unofficial minutes from the library. Johnson’s faxed meeting minutes indicate the purchase was approved in a “majority roll call vote”, not a “unanimous roll call vote.”

Johnson said he obtained his meeting minutes from Nancy Chamberlain, current administrative assistant to Chapdelaine. Johnson’s unofficial minutes from Chapdelaine’s office correspond with the official minutes RVC sent as part of the FOIA request.

The unofficial May 8, 2001, board minutes from the library are not only different but appear to be incomplete when compared with the unofficial May 8, 2001, board meeting minutes obtained from Chapdelaine’s office.

For example, the library’s minutes about the vote read, “Approved on a motion by -, seconded by -, and unanimous roll call vote.” The unofficial minutes from Chapdelaine’s office and official minutes about the vote reads, “Approved on a motion by Mr. Randy Schaefer, seconded by Dr. Bernard O’Malley, and majority roll call vote (Chris Johnson abstained).”

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