The tawdry facts of what happened to the “decorative wall” wouldn’t have generated much interest from mystery writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Allan Poe.
But they didn’t work for the Executive Inspector General of the State of Illinois.
So when the gumshoes in the IG’s office received — “on Aug. 29, 2018, at approximately 9:07 a.m.” — an anonymous complaint about the alleged improper disposal of state-owned property, they rushed to the nearest window.
“OEIG investigators observed the south parking lot of the ALPLM’s 212 North Sixth Street building from a north-facing window of the OEIG’s fourteenth-floor offices at 607 East Adams Street in Springfield,” states a recently released report on the controversy. “At that time and location, investigators saw and photographed a man using a machine-powered saw to cut apart what appeared to be a decorative wall.”
With this, the probe was on. Over the next 11 months, sleuths at IG's office probed the suspected wall dismembering at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in pursuit of facts needed to bring the wrongdoers to the state’s version of justice.
In the end, two state employees were identified as being responsible for the improper disposal of state property. They escaped disciplinary measures by resigning.
“We have placed a copy of the OEIG final report in the personnel file of each individual in question in order to ensure they are not hired in the future,” wrote Alan Lowe, executive director of the museum.
Illinois is a state where many elected and appointed officials try to steal everything that isn’t nailed down. So it’s eye-opening when state watchdogs — usually toothless and narcoleptic — throw themselves with such fervor into what many would consider, at least initially, a minor matter.
What’s also revealing is the bureaucracy built around the preservation and disposal of state property.
At any rate, the property reportedly dismembered and thrown into the trash wasn’t a desk, as first reported, but a decorative wall that was once attached to a desk. In the course of the separation, the decorative wall lost its state inventory tag number, making it impossible to trace.
Museum officials oversee two properties and their contents in Springfield — the presidential library and the “old Springfield Union Station.”
If they have property that is no longer useful, valuable or wanted, they must run a bureaucratic gauntlet to be rid of it.
They must ask Central Management Services for permission either to send it to surplus or destroy it. If they wish to be rid of it, they must complete a “Request for Deletion of Inventory” form identifying whatever it is they wish to “dispose.” They also must say how they wish to “dispose” of the property — either “scrap” or “scrap-cannibalize.” CMS must then grant its approval.
The desk — “a large wood reception-type desk with carved rectangles and a stone top” — that once was suspected to be attached to the decorative wall was located in the Lincoln museum’s reading room.
Its value — the desk and decorative wall — was reportedly placed at “over $20,000 in 2008,” but library officials had no idea where it came from. It was “either donated” to or purchased for the museum by an unidentified patron.
Whatever its provenance, once the desk’s decorative wall was separated from the desk, it bounced around the museum, eventually landing in a storage room.
When the storage room was marked for conversion to a “secure-file storage area” by Lowe and Chief Operating Officer Michael Little, the wall’s status came up for review. With no identification markings to be found, Little reportedly said the library could “get rid of it.”
After the two discussed the matter, “Mr. Cooper said that, as he recalls it, Mr. Lowe then told him to make it happen.”
After Lowe told Cooper to make it happen, Cooper said he asked around and learned that “no department wanted the wall unit,” and there was “no storage space for it.” So Cooper told "unidentified Employee 3", who told "unidentified Employee 1" “to cut it up based on Mr. Lowe’s directive,” the report states.
That’s not how Lowe remembers it. He said he “did not recall having a specific conversation with” Little about the decorative wall and “that he did not tell Little to get rid of it.” Lowe acknowledged that he subsequently learned “that the wall unit had been destroyed.”
In the end, the inspector general blamed Cooper, the library’s facilities director, and Little for violating state guidelines on the disposal of property.
“When a state agency has property it no longer needs, it is required to report it to CMS’s Property Control Division and then move it to a location the division designates,” the report states.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com.