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Ill. firefighters criticize leaders after going 5 years without a contract

Dolton Firefighters Local 3766 sues mayor and village administrator over missing funds and threats of retaliation

By Olivia Stevens
Daily Southtown

DOLTON, Ill. — Monday’s Dolton Village Board meeting, rife with contention that has come to be expected surrounding Mayor Tiffany Henyard, involved bold allegations from village firefighters who say Henyard’s office fails to account for their retirement funds, union dues and making sure insurance premiums and workers’ compensation requirements are met.

Local 3766 President Adam Farej, backed by about a dozen other firefighters, spoke out against Henyard, saying employees have worked without a contract for the past five years because of a “dysfunctional” negotiation process.

The union is suing Henyard and village administrator Keith Freeman over what it claims are missing funds and for threatening retaliation against former union President David DuVall.

Farej said DuVall was placed on administrative leave for sending what the administration called “inappropriate” emails after he sent messages to Henyard’s office stating failure to account for funds withdrawn from workers’ checks for their retirement could be considered wage theft.

DuVall has since returned to duty after the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, but Farej said the union is still missing between nine and 10 retirement deposits. He also said they are missing 11 checks since 2023 totaling about $12,600 in union dues, receiving only three unspecified checks.

“This can also be looked at as theft of wages,” Farej said.

Issues with insurance premiums not being met have also led several firefighters and their families to be sent to collections improperly, Farej said.

“This has been brought up to the village numerous times,” Farej said. “All requested data have been ignored.”

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Farej urged Henyard to take steps toward fixing these issues as well as making sure claims are filed properly for firefighters hurt in the line of duty, which is an ongoing issue, as the Fire Department continues to “serve and protect the residents of the village of Dolton.”

Other attendees expressed their support for the firefighters, such as Dolton resident Mary Avent, who called for a standing ovation for the group after they walked into the building.

“We’re 100% behind you,” Avent said. “Because we’ve got the same issues and yours are in our hearts as well.”

Financial transparency remained the biggest sticking point during the meeting as trustees argued with Henyard about unanswered questions related to the mayor’s spending and deal-making. Trustee Jason House said an accountant for the village agreed to sit in on the meeting to answer questions, but he did not come.

The board voted to approve a water bill and overruled a veto to appoint a mayor pro tem when Henyard is not present.

House also announced updates to former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’’s investigation into Henyard’s spending habits as well as efforts to engage the Illinois attorney general in efforts to prosecute the village for failing to respond to public records requests.

The statement from Lightfoot said she is making “consistent progress” on investigating the administration but noted “obstacles” including a lack of compliance with Freedom of Information Act requirements and a hesitancy from village employees to talk about their experiences.

“While many witnesses have been generous and they’re willing to be interviewed, the village mayor’s failure to cooperate has a chilling effect on the current employees’ willingness to speak or otherwise cooperate,” according to the statement. “We will continue to work to overcome this problem.”

“By our estimates we are well under $20,000 to date, and as obligated, we will provide a projection of all costs when we get closer to the $30,000 mark,” Lightfoot said in the statement, referring to cost limits in her hiring agreement.

House said the attorney general’s office confirmed sending a second request to Henyard’s administration regarding responding to FOIA after the first request received no response.

“If they do not get a response, they have no choice but to name this an Open Meetings Act violation,” House said. “As the board, we are waiting to get a proper ruling so that we can decide on next steps on that matter.”

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