City Consultant Contracts Up for Renewal; Question Arises Regarding Conflict of Interest
While committee members tout Charles Van Slyke's high moral character and integrity, another job he holds prompted some questions last week.
Elmhurst City Council is scheduled on Monday to renew two consulting contracts, but one of the consultants' work with DuPage County prompted a conflict-of-interest question at the Oct. 10 Finance Committee meeting.
Charles Van Slyke, an expert in real estate, has served as a consultant to the city of Elmhurst since the late 1990s. Much of his time with the city recently has been in regard to tax increment financing issues.
And according to a memo to aldermen, VanSlyke has consulted with the city manager and City Council on many other issues, including property records, tax-exempt status, economic development and matters "including but not limited to ... negotiations of leases, easements, the purchase and sale of property and all related matters on a project by-project basis as directed."
"Mr. VanSlyke brings unique technical expertise relative to commercial real estate management, and efficiency and effectiveness in dealing with DuPage County relative to Elmhurst and county real estate issues," the memo states.
While committee members touted his contributions as invaluable and his character beyond reproach, another position he holds prompted a question of conflicting interests.
Van Slyke sits on the three-member DuPage County Board of Review, which handles the review of property tax appeals from both businesses and individual homeowners. He was appointed to that position by former DuPage County Chairman Robert Schillerstrom.
"Have we ever looked into conflicts of interest he might have?" City Treasurer David Dyer asked the committee last week.
"I believe he has a very high ethical standard," Finance Director Marilyn Gaston responded.
Committee Chairman Steve Hipskind added, "I would welcome any examination into his character."
It's not a question of character, Dyer said.
"It's two jobs that might run in conflict," he said. "I don't know where he sits in our theory of (determining) real estate tax value, but he's on the board that you object to. If you protest real estate taxes, he's on the Board of Review. It's a theoretical question: Would that create a conflict?"
But he's not determining real estate assessments for the city, assistant City Manager Mike Kopp said.
"He's helping us evaluate them," he said.
Gaston said Van Slyke would not gain anything personally from his relationship with the city. Committee member Scott Levin said since the city doesn't pay any property taxes, it's strictly a theoretical question.
"A lot of the information Charlie deals with is factual, hard, real numbers that aren't subject to manipulation by anybody," committee member Kevin York said.
But, Hipskind said, "it's a great question."
"I'd be happy to ask that question and interested in the answer, too," he said. "This is a curiousity question. It has nothing to do with Charlie (personally). Let's find the answer."
In an unrelated matter, the Chicago Sun-Times Oct. 6 reported on an investigation by the Better Government Association into a potential conflict of interest between the Board of Review and Schillerstrom's current law practice, which includes a property tax appeals practice. Schillerstrom brings his clients' cases before the the board members he appointed and re-appointed when he was DuPage County Board chairman, the article states.
The Elmhurst City Council also will vote Monday on whether to renew a consulting contract with Ken Bartels, principal of Ken Bartels Consulting and senior vice president and director of Community Bank of Elmhurst. He has extensive experience in fund-raising and community relations, committee members said.
"He's always got his ear to the ground … always fighting for Elmhurst," York said.
"He makes an excellent impression on people in the business community in Elmhurst," Hipskind said, referring to his work with the Economic Development Commission. "Ken adds value to the city."
In a memo to aldermen, Finance Committee members wrote: "Specific areas of responsibility for consulting services are enhanced communication to the community, fundraising for the Elmhurst Historical Museum and economic development. Mr. Bartels has assisted the Elmhurst Historical Museum and the Elmhurst Heritage Foundation with developing a multi-faceted approach to fundraising, has created and co-hosts the 'Elmhurst NOW' cable television program, and serves as liaison to the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission."
Billable hours for both Van Slyke and Bartels will go down this year, according to committee members. The committee agreed on a cap of 900 hours annually for Van Slyke's three-year contract, a decrease of 140 hours compared to the prior contract cap. For Bartels, the committee recommends a cap of 500 hours a year in the three-year contract, a decrease of 50 hours from the last contract. Both of their hourly rates have remained the same: $100 for Van Slyke and $90 for Bartels.
"As we were going through the assistant city manager discussions, this was one of the pluses to (hiring) the assistant city manager," York said. "We would see a decrease in consulting expenditures. This is a clear-cut example in that regard."
Both Van Slyke and Bartels also work for former City Manager Tom Borchert's consulting firm, Borchert and Associates.