Embattled Chatham mayor apologizes for flipping off resident at ethics hearing
Chatham Mayor Thomas Gray made a bad situation worse when he flipped off a citizen filming an Ethics Commission hearing this week.
The Edgar County Watchdogs' (ECW) online publication Illinois Leaks said Gray conducted himself unprofessionally during the ethics hearing. The village trustees told Illinois Leaks that they plan to demand Gray's resignation at the next council meeting.
The ethics hearing was in response to Chatham residents' formal complaint regarding Gray and his leadership of the village. Resident Jeff Greer was filming the proceedings and panned across the room to Gray, who looked straight at the camera and quickly raised and lowered his middle finger. Greer, who was filming to Facebook Live, was uncertain if Gray actually had flipped him off until he read the comments on Facebook.
When questioned about the incident, Gray said his personal space was violated by the filming. Gray did not attend the Committee of the Whole meeting later that day. In an interview with a local TV station, Gray said he was sorry.
“I don't think," Gray said. "I'm sorry for what I did for myself, but I don't feel like I should have been there tonight...I am sorry that I lost my cool.”
The ethics hearing was the culmination of a tumultuous two years regarding the mayor's handling of the village water supply. Complaints about the water quality began shortly after the South Sangamon Water Commission (SSWC) began providing the village's water from its $55 million water treatment plant in 2012. Citizens also questioned the methods used to sever Springfield's City Water, Light and Power services, approve the new water treatment plant and implement the SSWC. There were no referendums or votes by the residents of Chatham and nearby New Berlin to approve the change. Instead, the two village boards committed their citizens and sold municipal bonds to pay for the treatment plant.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency determined that the water from the plant was safe to drink. While the water might have been drinkable, state chemist Jewel Brant said secondary standards were not being met.
Approximately 200 Chatham residents met with Brant to provide comments and submit surveys regarding the water quality in December 2014. The water commission proactively released a statement before the meeting, addressing the complaints about a strong chlorine smell and dark mineral stains, and the actions taken.
"The commission is addressing customer concerns about such mineral deposits by moving forward with the design and permitting of a 'greensand' filtering system that will greatly reduce the mineral content of the finished water supplied to the two communities," the SSWC statement said.
The ECW took note of residents' continuing complaints in 2016 and began investigating the 2010 resolution that led to the formation of the SSWC and building of the water treatment plant. It found that after the bid process, the village board disregarded the low bid for the water transmission lines and determined that it could negotiate a better deal. The contract said “WHEREAS, pursuant to Section 8-2-9 of the Municipal Code, (65 ILCS 5/8-2-9), a municipality has the power to waive bids with a 2/3 vote of trustees,” but the watchdog group said there is no such provision in the Municipal Codes.
The ECW also reported other discrepancies between the Municipal Code and the Chatham resolution authorizing the formation of the SSWC. Illinois Leaks reported on Dec. 6 that the municipal bonds sold to build the water treatment plant misrepresented the capacity of the plant at 3.3 million gallons daily, but the facility can only produce 2.2 million gallons per day. In addition, the wells' ability to provide enough water to the plant has come into question.
As an attorney, past president of the Illinois Municipal League, retired General Counsel to the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System and the mayor of Chatham for nearly 16 years, Gray should know better than to flout state law and disrespect the citizens of the village with an inappropriate gesture, ECW said. While he said he would not step down, calls for his resignation by village trustees and citizens have grown louder.
"He would best serve the community now to quit creating a sideshow and go ahead and resign from office because he no longer adds any value to this community, in my opinion," Chatham Trustee Mark Clayton told Fox Illinois.
Gray already said he would not seek reelection in the spring.
Organizations in this Story
109 W Mulberry St
Chatham, IL - 62629-1328
1021 North Grand Avenue East
Springfield, IL - 62794
500 E Capitol Ave
Springfield, IL - 62701-1814