I-TEAM: Atlanta Library in hot water over controversial grant

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Atlanta, Ill (WAND) – The Illinois Secretary of State is demanding repayment of a $25,000 grant made to the Atlanta Library in Logan County and some residents agree the money needs to be returned.

The Atlanta Library Board attempted to use the grant for upgrades on the historic Union Hall located directly across the street from the library even though the library did not own the building.  The library indicated it was going to purchase the Union Hall but no money ever exchanged hands over a two year period. 

“There were never any payments towards the purchase of this building.  That was a requirement for the grant,” stated John Kraft of the Edgar County Watchdogs.

Efforts by the Atlanta Library Board to purchase the structure may also be a violation of state law.  The building is owned by Bill Thomas.  Thomas is also listed as a library board member.

“The Officers Prohibited Activities act says that board members can’t have a financial interest directly or indirectly with the public body and he (Thomas) has a very direct financial interest,” Kirk Allen of the Edgar County Watchdogs told I-TEAM reporter Doug Wolfe.

The Secretary of State recently demanded repayment of the grant.  In a letter to the library board, seeking to recover the $25,000, cited the financial conflict of interest Thomas had in a potential sale.  An appeal hearing by the library is expected in January.

WAND News reached out to Thomas for comment.  He did not respond.  However, library board president Randy Brooks defended Thomas and the board’s actions.

“Bill didn’t coerce anybody or influence anybody on any of the decisions that were made,” Brooks told WAND News.  “I think everybody’s been pretty well informed and voted in the manner they felt was necessary to try to provide for the community.”

Some Atlanta residents and business owners want to see the money repaid.

“It was a two-year grant and in that two-year grant time never did they meet all of the criteria,” said business owner Amy Wertheim.  “They need to pay it back and we need to start doing things honestly and above board.”

Thomas attempted to sell the Union Hall to the library for $200,000.  When public outcry became apparent he eventually donated the aging structure to the library.  As recently as December 14, 2017 Thomas was attempting to lease space in the library.  The library board tabled a vote on the lease until a lawyer can look over the lease document.

  

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