CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. (CBS) — Unexplained invoices, checks made out to friends, and her husband hired as a contractor – these are just a few of the items a fired library director in south suburban Chicago Heights was being asked to justify Monday night.
CBS 2’s Jermont Terry on Monday dug into the so-called mismanagement of nearly half a million taxpayer dollars.
The doors to the Chicago Heights Public Library were closed for months, but how the former director spent the money during and before the pandemic is the root of the audit.
The audit does more than raise red flags. It points out there is no accountability on who approved nearly half a million dollars in spending.
Kelley Nichols-Brown worked as the library director for Chicago Heights until the city fired her in June. She made $70,000 a year to help her oversee the city’s library.
As director, Nichols-Brown had oversight of a more than $850,000 a year budget.
A forensic audit questioned where and how half of that money – $400,000 – was spent.
“We’re talking taxpayers’ money when it all comes down to it,” Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez said last week.
CBS 2 first reported this past Thursday how the audit reveals Nichols-Brown’s credit card had countless purchases and how she switched janitorial services – bringing in her husband’s company, Clay Custodial, to clean the empty building.
All of this went down without board approval.
But the audit goes deeper, accusing Nichols-Brown of paying out $143,960 to “23 independent contractors,” many of whom were “personal acquaintances” of the director.
One contractor’s check was “mailed to Ms. Nichols-Brown’s personal address” and the others “lived within close proximity,” or on the same block, the audit said.
At a virtual board meeting in April, weeks before her firing, Nichols-Brown said: “I just send you the invoices. I don’t have access to checking account. The treasurer’s office cuts checks for me. It was in the budget which was approved. Nothing went over the budget.”
Board members were trying to get Nichols-Brown to explain the excessive spending – especially after she purchased “$133,383 in new office furniture” of which none was provide by the board or the “required bidding process.”
Nichols-Brown claimed she didn’t know she couldn’t buy what she felt.
“It’s my job to know I have the restrictions,” Nichols-Brown said at the April virtual meeting. “Well, now I know.”
A board member fired back, “That’s not good enough.”
“I didn’t know when I made the purchases, though,” Nichols-Brown replied.
“Well, you should have known,” the board member said. “You’ve been in this position for almost two years, and this is not acceptable.”
Brown refused to talk to the auditors about the discrepancies, and she has not spoken publicly about the claims outlined.
If you’d like to read the entire forensic audit, all 28 pages, you can do so at this link.
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