The Waukegan City Council votes Monday evening on a proposed ordinance that would suspend Waukegan City Clerk Janet Kilkelly (inset) from performing certain duties after an indictment on 15 felony charges. | Screengrab: WaukeganTV (YouTube)

The Waukegan City Council voted against a proposed ordinance Monday evening that would suspend and re-assign certain duties of Waukegan City Clerk Janet Kilkelly, who was indicted on over a dozen felony charges last week.

A Lake County grand jury last Wednesday returned a 15-count indictment against Kilkelly, 69.

Kilkelly is facing charges of official misconduct and misapplication of funds after an “extensive investigation” by the Illinois State Police, according to the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office. All 15 charges are Class 3 felonies.

Kilkelly is accused in the indictment of illegally providing credits to Waukegan businesses that were applying for liquor and gambling licenses.

Prosecutors said the city council and Kilkelly’s own office “repeatedly established” that the credit would only go to businesses that were in “good standing.”

Despite the language of the ordinance and Kilkelly’s recommendation to the city council, Kilkelly gave thousands of dollars in credits to businesses that did not qualify for the financial support, prosecutors said.

Kilkelly was indicted after an Illinois State Police special agent presented charges and testified before the grand jury.

The Waukegan City Council met for their regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

Part of the meeting’s agenda was for the council to vote on a proposed ordinance that would suspend Kilkelly from performing certain duties.

Chapter 2, Article 3, Division 3 of the Waukegan Code of Ordinances lays out duties that the city clerk shall perform in addition to duties required under the Illinois Municipal Code (IMC), which is a state law.

The proposed ordinance would suspend Kilkelly from the duties under the city ordinance and would instead re-assign those duties to other staff members, as determined by Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor.

The ordinance would also force Kilkelly’s staff members – who currently report to her for assignments and duties – to instead report to Mayor Taylor and her designee.

The extraneous duties would be suspended and re-assigned “until such time as the Charges against Clerk Kilkelly are resolved or the City Council votes to rescind and repeal this Ordinance,” the proposed ordinance says.

Some of Kilkelly’s duties that are proposed to be suspended are the preparation of licenses, the appointment of subordinates in the clerk’s office, being the secretary of the zoning board of appeals and having the authority to charge fees pursuant to Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The ordinance does not prohibit Kilkelly from performing duties under the IMC and other state statutes, and Kilkelly will remain as the Waukegan city clerk.

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The proposed ordinance says that “the mayor and members of City Council nevertheless have determined that the pending indictment will impair and impede the conduct of the City Clerk’s duties in a manner that is inconsistent with the best interests of Waukegan’s residents and businesses.”

The ordinance further states that “it is in the best interest of the public health, safety and welfare and to ensure the efficiency, continuity and sustainability of the Office of the City Clerk by suspending all extraneous duties of the Office of the City Clerk beyond those prescribed by the IMC until such time as the Charges against Clerk Kikelly are resolved or the City Council votes to rescind and repeal this Ordinance.”

Before voting was held for the new ordinance, Kilkelly made a public statement at the meeting for the first time since the indictment.

“I will be first tonight for public comment and I will do it from my chair as your elected city clerk,” Kilkelly said.

“I am here to state that the actions being considered tonight … are inappropriate and wrong. So before you vote on suspension of certain of my duties, I ask that each one of you consider what you know or what you should know, and that is that an indictment is not evidence of guilt,” Kilkelly added.

At around 8:40 p.m., the council’s nine alderpeople voted on whether or not to approve the proposed ordinance.

In a 5-4 vote, the ordinance failed to be passed.

Some members of the public attending the meeting applauded the council’s vote.

1st Ward Alderperson Sylvia Bolton, 3rd Ward Alderperson Juan Martinez, 5th Ward Alderperson Edith Newsome, 6th Ward Alderperson Keith Turner and 7th Ward Alderperson Michael Donnenwirth voted “nay,” or no.

2nd Ward Alderperson Jose Guzman, 4th Ward Alderperson Victor Felix, 8th Ward Alderperson Lynn Florian and 9th Ward Alderperson Thomas Hayes voted “aye,” or yes.

Alderman Turner issued a statement on Sunday “in an effort to provide clarity for the citizens of the 6th Ward of Waukegan.”

“The allegations surrounding City Clerk Kilkelly are related to alleged misconduct and what is being labeled as ‘improper assignment of credits for liquor and gaming fees’, to some businesses under a resolution passed by the City Council on December 21st, 2020,” Turner said.

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The resolution, called “one-time COVID-19 relief in the form of a credit toward 2021-2022 liquor and video gaming license,” was passed by the city council and sent to Kilkelly’s office for implementation to ease the burden local businesses were facing during the pandemic, Turner said.

Turner said that at the time the resolution was adopted and based on the information presented to the council, there was no reason for any council member voting in support of the resolution to believe that it may not have aligned with the statute for official misconduct.

“When a public employee, in the course of their employment implements a resolution raised and passed by the City Council and is then prosecuted for doing so, one must take a step back and question how that could happen.  This is a question that none of us can answer at this time,” Turner said.

“City Clerk Janet Kilkelly has served the people and community of Waukegan diligently in various capacities for over 40 years. While these recent events are concerning, it is imperative to remember that everyone has a Constitutional Right to Due Process of Law and is presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law.”

“I extend encouragement to Clerk Kilkelly during this challenging time, and I remain committed to working with the staff of the Clerk’s office and the City Council to ensure that the work of the people continues uninterrupted,” Turner added.

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said last week, “The public must be able to trust that those who work in public service will follow the law and use our tax dollars as intended.”

“The ISP Special Investigations Unit will continue working to ensure accountability at all levels of government,” Kelly added.

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said last week that public officials “must be held to the highest standards.”

“I want to thank the Illinois State Police for their diligent, thorough, and fair investigation into this matter. Taxpayers lost a significant amount of revenue,” Rinehart said.

Rinehart said the city clerk “violated the public trust when she ignored her own recommendation and the final decision of the Waukegan City Council.”

Mayor Taylor said in a statement last week that she was “disappointed to learn” about the indictment related to Kilkelly’s duties as city clerk.

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“While I firmly believe in our justice system and due process, as mayor, I also know that having a multi-count felony indictment is a considerable distraction to the duties of the clerk’s office and incompatible with the best interests of Waukegan’s residents and businesses,” Taylor said.

“It is my hope that Clerk Kilkelly puts the interests of Waukeganites first. I will confer and work with the City Council to determine if any actions need to be taken by the City to ensure that the duties of the clerk’s office continue to be performed and the public-facing services of that office continue to be provided to Waukegan residents,” Taylor added.

The case is being prosecuted by Chief Kevin Berrill and Assistant State’s Attorney Russell Caskey of the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office Financial Crimes & Public Integrity Unit.

The unit worked with the Illinois State Police on the case throughout 2023 and 2024.

In December, Lake and McHenry County Scanner reported that Kilkelly was under criminal investigation after investigators seized her work cellphone and executed a search warrant at the Waukegan City Hall.

Kilkelly at the time told the city’s alderpeople that her phone was seized as part of an investigation of former 4th Ward Alderman Roudell Kirkwood.

In 2022, felony charges were brought against Kirkwood related to his application for liquor and gambling licenses.

Kirkwood was previously the president of Mac Dynasty Inc., which operated several Lake County restaurants, public records show. The corporation has since been dissolved.

He was charged in July 2022 with 26 counts of forgery, two counts of wire fraud, two counts of official misconduct and one count of theft by deception.

The charges relate to Kirkwood allegedly falsifying documents submitted to the City of Waukegan and the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

An indictment said that Kirkwood’s actions led to him fraudulently obtaining a video gaming license and making between $100,000 and $500,000 in gaming revenue.

Those charges were investigated and filed by the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office because Rinehart had previously represented a family member of Kirkwood.

The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office said they concluded with the Illinois State Police and Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office that no conflict existed with Lake County charging Kilkelly.

Kilkelly is scheduled to appear for her first court hearing in the case on April 2.