Even after City Councilwoman Cheryl Brombolich settled her federal lawsuit against Collinsville, some of the people involved are declining to talk about it because of another lawsuit that’s still ongoing.
Brombolich’s suit alleges that she was forced to resign from her position as a city employee in 2014 after she was critical of former city manager Scott Williams, who was among the defendants.
When she was elected to the City Council in 2015, Brombolich says she was embarrassed by the release of “private documents” about her. Her suit alleges that Williams and former City Councilman Mike Tognarelli sought to discredit her with the documents because they believed she would vote to fire Williams. The city was also named in the suit.
Both the settled lawsuit and the ongoing one involve Brombolich’s repeated use of city credit cards and tax-free city accounts for personal purchases when she was a city employee.
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Former city councilwoman Nancy Moss previously spoke out about Brombolich’s credit card usage, calling it “a betrayal of trust.”
“I am very disappointed,” Moss said of the outcome of Brombolich’s lawsuit in an interview Wednesday. “That settlement is a decision that I could not have supported.”
Mike Tognarelli’s lawyer Wayne Skigen said the decision to settle was reached because the case was being defended through insurance companies, which came to an agreement on an amount they were willing to pay.
We’re satisfied with this compromise.
Jack Daughtery, attorney for Cheryl Brombolich on her settlement
Skigen said there were motions for summary judgment still pending at the time.
“It was our feeling that we had a very good chance” with the motion, Skigen said. Among other things, it argued that Brombolich’s claims were beyond the statute of limitations.
The insurance companies paid the majority of the settlement. The city stated in a news release that its insurer, Trident Insurance Company, was responsible for $160,000 of the $200,000 payment.
Tognarelli’s insurance company paid $40,000, and the city was required to pay $10,000 to meet its insurance policy deductible.
Skigen and the city both noted that Tognarelli, the city council and the city manager didn’t approve the settlement amount.
Brombolich’s lawyer in the federal suit, Jack Daughtery, said Brombolich would make no public comment. He said Tuesday that the settlement “represents a compromise.”
“Neither side necessarily ‘won,’ but my client and I are satisfied with the result,” Daughtery said previously. “I can say in response to the city’s press release that my client and I are satisfied that the city’s insurance carrier made a rational decision. We’re satisfied with this compromise.”
He declined to comment further on Wednesday.
Williams declined to comment on the outcome of the case on Wednesday, and his replacement, City Manager Mitch Bair, said the city’s only comment would be the news release it published online on Tuesday.
The city and Williams are in the middle of another court fight.
In a lawsuit of his own, Williams alleges that he was fired in 2015 in retaliation for disclosing “wrongdoing” by Brombolich and the mayor.
Brombolich was among the council members who voted against renewing Williams’ contract, so she is named in his lawsuit. Also named in the civil suit are Mayor John Miller and City Councilman Jeff Stehman, who voted against renewal of Williams’ contract.
Brombolich’s lawyer in the ongoing litigation, Charles Pierce, couldn’t be reached for comment. Williams’ lawyer Stephen Wigginton declined to comment on the civil suit.
The city is represented by Heidi Eckert in both cases; she couldn’t be reached for comment.
The documents referenced in Brombolich’s lawsuit show that she used city credit cards or tax-free city accounts at least 20 times over 10 years. City officials have said she later repaid the money. But the practice violated city policy and is the “wrongdoing” that Williams refers to in his lawsuit.
Williams compiled the documents. The city was ordered to release them to the News-Democrat after Madison County Associate Judge Don Flack ruled they are public records.
Brombolich’s lawsuit contends that violating the city’s credit card policy was “common practice among city employees” and that she was among a group who made personal purchases with city cards. She says Williams punished her because she complained when he allegedly aided personal friends in his capacity as city manager, including not disciplining a department head after a complaint of sexual harassment was filed.
The documents show Brombolich also sent 131 text messages in a single day begging the finance director not to tell Williams about one of her personal purchases, claiming it was just a mistake. At the time, Brombolich was on administrative leave while Williams decided whether to fire her.
“Just let me take care of it and act like u never saw it,” Brombolich wrote on Sept. 11, 2014. She resigned four days later.
Skigen noted that there is no admission of wrongdoing by the plaintiff or any of the defendants in the settlement agreement.
I am very disappointed.
Nancy Moss, former Collinsville city councilwoman on Cheryl Brombolich’s settlement
In addition to Brombolich’s use of city credit cards, Williams’ suit states he also disclosed that the mayor received truckloads of dirt from a city contractor. Williams alleges that the “receipt of free good and services” violated the Illinois Gift Ban Act.
Miller has publicly addressed that allegation, saying that he did “nothing wrong.”
“I fought for this country in Vietnam. I worked for the fire department for 31 years. I’ve been on the City Council 10 years,” Miller said during a city council meeting. “I have served with integrity and the only thing that I want right now is for this to go away so that the city can get back to its greatfulness that we have in this city.”
In response to Williams’ suit, the city filed a counterclaim against the former city manager, which alleges that Williams destroyed and stole city-owned property.
Before his last day working in City Hall, Williams is alleged to have made a copy of a city computer’s hard drive for personal use and then destroyed the original hard drive. The city states that there were no documents, emails or other city-related material on the city computer that Williams used after his last day, July 17, 2015.
“If the city had been aware of Williams’ conduct prior to the decision to terminate his agreement, it would have immediately terminated Williams for just cause,” the city states its in counterclaim. The city also would have withheld Williams’ final paycheck for $48,677, the counterclaim states. (The figure represents his final pay, plus unused sick and vacation time.)
“Not only did the city suffer a loss of city documents and material that may never be recovered, but Williams received severance and benefits that were not owed to him as a result of his illegal activity,” it states.
The city wants Williams to return the $48,677 final payment he received. The suit’s next court date for a status hearing is scheduled for Oct. 9 in St. Clair County.