Letter: The father-son relationship in Sugar Grove deserves more scrutiny

By on January 21, 2010

Sean Michels is the village president of Sugar Grove. Engineering Enterprises Inc. (EEI) is a very large vendor to the village of Sugar Grove—to the tune of more than $8 million over a decade. Engineering Enterprises is owned by Sean Michels’ father .

EEI holds the key to building permits, and access to construction all over the village.

That is a very strategic position with substantial influence over private projects.

The work being performed here is largely “consulting,” not bricks and mortar type stuff, thousands of dollars to review a building permit.

This work and the payments are non competitive bid work.

A conflict of interest is formed when a party either has or has the potential perception of having positioned oneself in a position to influence decisions of their employer (the village of Sugar Grove) for “their” benefit. “Their” benefit certainly need not be constrained to direct benefit, a family relationship to the beneficiary is certainly enough to qualify.

In fact, let me paint you a picture of how one might interpret this.

Very rich men buy up land and make a deal with the village in the form of an annexation agreement.

The terms of the annexation agreement discount the permit cost to the developers, costing existing taxpayers many tens of millions of dollars.

By law and agreement, the village administration controls the deals, but also every step of compliance and permitting.

Influence is partitioned and transferred by the third party review of EEI; thus EEI exercises a considerable influence on the developers.

Those same developers may well have done business directly with Engineering Enterprises, in which case they are making direct payments to the oversight process in a form which is not subject to public examination and review.

Whether or not the developers have paid additional sums of money directly to EEI is irrelevant to the question of whether or not a conflict of interest occurred, but it is relevant to the extent to which the breach of moral trust has gone. It has already been irrefutably established that the family of the village administration has directly benefited by payments of vast sums of money from the organization with whom its members control.

Now building has slowed to a crawl. Sean Michels now seeks to become state Senator. OK, we have seen how he operates at the local level. Now he would “move up” to the next stage of political progression.

What benefits would be served to the “very rich men” who prospered by their local affiliation with the family; and how might the family, in its new-found position, organize itself? The moral pattern of behavior having already been established at the local level, an ordinary citizen still paying for the unfunded liabilities of the last deal (several thousand dollars per year per homeowner) might have a reasonable concern.

Conflict of interest is a nice term. It almost sounds like it could be an oversight or a trivial infraction, while in fact it is the only evidence the public will ever get to a massive fraud of this kind. If a man walks into a bank with a gun, the crime is clear.

If the family of a powerful politician is in the position to bag vast sums of money from the organization its members control, that position alone is a crime. Actually doing it—selling influence or somehow profiting from the position of conflict—is another crime.

The “potential of fraud” is all we can prove, because measuring “intent and influence” is impossible. “The potential for fraud” is the anatomy of political corruption. This is my personal opinion, not a legal opinion, but I don’t see how the public is going to get any closer to finding a smoking gun.

This is when my children say, “Mom said it was OK.” I expect Sugar Grove will say it was OK too. Both responses share the same twist on truth, first it can’t be OK, and second, when mom gets in the picture, the children have not been entirely forthcoming in their interpretation of the facts. Mom was not fully in the loop, the whole story was never told, no understanding was reached. I attempted to contact Mr. Michels and the city to discuss this, with no reply.

Jeff L. MacKenzie
Maple Park

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One Comment

  1. shanmac

    January 25, 2010 at 12:33 AM

    Mr. MacKenzie –

    You wrote:

    “A conflict of interest is formed when a party either has or has the potential perception of having positioned oneself in a position to influence decisions of their employer (the village of Sugar Grove) for “their” benefit. “Their” benefit certainly need not be constrained to direct benefit, a family relationship to the beneficiary is certainly enough to qualify.”

    Since Mr. Michels doesn’t vote on who receives Village contracts, in order for your accusation to then be true, you would need to prove that the Village of Sugar Grove would have used another engineering firm for the work for…oh, yes…Sugar Grove. Why shouldn’t the Village of Sugar Grove, whether Mr. Michels is Village President or not, utilize the services of one its own? That is, a highly reputable and qualified engineering firm? Were you aware that the Village of Sugar Grove used EEI before Sean Michels was President?

    I, for one, applaud the Village for supporting its local businesses.

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