New Cunningham assessor fires 2 workers, hires ex-county official facing misconduct charges

New Cunningham assessor fires 2 workers, hires ex-county official facing misconduct charges

URBANA — On his first full day as the new Cunningham Township assessor, Wayne Williams hired a former county supervisor of assessments who is facing felony charges of official misconduct.

Williams, who ran unopposed last April as the Democratic candidate for assessor in the township that covers the city of Urbana, also fired two longtime female employees in the office: Jamie Willard, who had been the chief deputy assessor, and Kim Hooper, who had been deputy assessor.

Williams hired Joseph Meents, 44, who had resigned from his $73,152-a-year county position in January 2016 amid an investigation into improper use of a county credit card. Meents allegedly used his county-issued credit card to purchase about $1,133 in items for personal use, according to officials. Among the purchases were restaurant meals, groceries, flowers and University of Illinois football tickets.

The purchases began six days after Meents took office, according to John Farney who at the time was the county auditor.

Meents repaid all of the money used for the purchases within a few weeks of the time they came to light.

Last October, a special prosecutor charged Meents with eight counts of official misconduct. But Meents' attorney, Steve Beckett, termed the case a "misunderstanding of the appropriate use of this office's credit card." No date has been set for a trial.

Williams said Tuesday that he believed Meents would be a good addition to his staff.

"I believe that people deserve second chances when they've made mistakes," Williams said of Meents. "I've had the pleasure of working with Joe before. Joe is very smart and capable, and I feel lucky that he is available for me to have as my chief deputy."

Williams, a former member of the Champaign County Board of Review, said he worked with Meents when the latter was the chief deputy in the county assessor's office.

Also, last summer, a no contact/no stalking order was placed on Meents at the request of a former girlfriend.

Meanwhile, Williams said he didn't want to talk "in the press" about the staff members who were dismissed.

But Hooper, one of the employees fired Tuesday, said she was "shocked, disappointed and nervous for the senior citizens of Urbana" after her firing Tuesday morning.

"They were my primary focus. I helped them do all their (property) exemptions. We'd go out to their houses in cold weather and help them with their paperwork," she said of the elderly homeowners in Urbana.

"(Williams) gave me a letter stating that I was not being terminated for any disciplinary action of any kind," said Hooper, who had worked in the office for eight years. "I did nothing wrong, I'm qualified, I kept up my education and, in fact, I did more than needed."

She said neither she nor Willard, a seven-year employee, saw the dismissals coming.

"In fact, he had been in, and we had good communication with him. We were very helpful and answered any questions he had," she said. "I have no idea what's going on here. I have no idea why I was fired."

Hooper said Williams had called Urbana police to be present as he gave her and Willard notice of their termination.

"He had the police there, and they stared at us and watched us pack our stuff and were ready to escort us out of the building," she said. "He actually said to us that it was his unfortunate pleasure to fire us. Maybe that doesn't matter to anybody else, but it hurt. I'm not a violent person. I have no criminal background. Me and Jamie, we're good people."

Williams denied today that he had used the term "unfortunate pleasure."

He also said he could make personnel decisions without the approval of the Cunningham Township Board, which in this case also is the Urbana City Council.

"My personnel are my positions," said Williams, who was sworn in Monday, replacing Dan Stebbins as the township assessor.

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bluesky wrote on January 03, 2018 at 8:01 am

This is the crew that's going to be in charge of our assessments?  Why fire long term employees for no reason, unless the new assssor plans to do things that won't withstand scrutiny.  I predict:  more mugshots. 

dawgs4 wrote on January 05, 2018 at 9:01 pm

How dobyou know therexwas no reason. One of these ladies has a absolutecyerible attitude. 

watchdog67 wrote on January 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm

"dobyou", "therexwas", "absolutecyerible",  I'm sorry, I can't find these words in my dictionary, could you possibly use some other words that I can understand?

billbtri5 wrote on January 03, 2018 at 9:01 am

...Cook County style....

borderbelle wrote on January 03, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Now that is quite a first day on the job.  Having the "unfortunate PLEASURE' ???? to fire 2 long-term  employees ?????     Then hiring someone who is still under charges of official misconduct.  I would question his mental state if he thought the use of a company credit card could be used for personal use. A "misunderstanding of the appropriate use " is an understatement.   He thought he wouldn't get caught , I guess.  And if he is found guilty of the felony charges...what next ?  Will have to find someone else to take his place. In the meantime, who is going to take the workload of the 2 employees who were fired , the new assessor ?  I doubt it. It would be below his job description..if there is one.     And I don't understand why the police were called for a stand-by while the 2 fired employees packed up their belongings and left.  If there had been previous incidents of problems, yes.  But there doesn't seem to have been.  Is he just showing his muscle to prove that he is THE BOSS ?  And it is just decent to give them a reason for the dismissal.

Just doesn't make any sense to me.

dawgs4 wrote on January 05, 2018 at 9:01 pm

Interesting to read how many people think they were there and know what was said and what happened. I can tell you it was very justified. Terrible attitude by one lady. No respect for pears by her. Listens to no one. 

APC wrote on January 07, 2018 at 10:01 am

I, too, have no respect for pears. 

They are too grainy for me.

watchdog67 wrote on January 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm

I also do not like pears..........I much preferr apples.


metalmomof4 wrote on January 03, 2018 at 2:01 pm

I hope someone is in charge of keeping a close eye on this office and the way it is conducting business. I have a feeling there could be more "misunderstandings" on the way if this is how his first day on the job was handled.

cwakefld wrote on January 03, 2018 at 2:01 pm

This seems a little fishy. This article does not provide enough information to know whether there was inappropriate behavior. However, it does appear, on the surface, to require a little more investigation by whoever investigates such things.

How many people does the assessors office employ?


chambanaman wrote on January 03, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Birds of a feather flock together.

GLG wrote on January 03, 2018 at 5:01 pm

"He also said he could make personnel decisions without the approval of the Cunningham Township Board, which in this case also is the Urbana City Council." The Urbana City Council, what could possibly go wrong? 

You folks in Cunningham Township let this democrat run unopposed? 

You voted for it enjoy it!  As for Meents, Just because you did it don't mean your guilty!! Eh Steve Beckett??  I see some probation comming from Ms. Reitz & co.


watchdog67 wrote on January 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Read the January 6, 2018 News Gazette artical and you will see that Ms. Reitz turned the case over to a special prosecutor, probably because of a conflict of interest since her office is required to defend the county and it would put her in the position of a conflict of interest.  The special prosecutor charged him with 8 felonys.

Reykjavik wrote on January 05, 2018 at 10:01 pm

Wayne Williams is doing a good job of portraying himself as corrupt, as a loser, and as a semi-illiterate.  

We can only hope that some adults move in.

And that voters will not re-elect him.

watchdog67 wrote on January 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Voting him out of office will take four years.  Abolish the township and abolish his job.