by Randy Pierce
MADISON COUNTY — Conjecture over what Paul Nicolussi of Collinsville described as his unsuccessful efforts to speak by telephone with Metro East Sanitary District (MESD) Executive Director Rick Fancher has resulted in the former publicly addressing what he said were “untruths” in allegations made by Stacey Pace of Troy at the November meeting of the Madison County Board.
All of this being an auxiliary point of contention as it relates to the activities of the MESD and, to a certain extent, the efforts to remove one of its commissioners, as Nicolussi explained at a meeting of the county board’s government relations committee held earlier this month, the statements he actually objected to originated with Nameoki Township Supervisor John “Eric” Foster then followed up on by Pace.
This scenario is perhaps best summarized chronologically beginning with comments made by Nicolussi at the October meeting of the county board. Then he stated his several attempts to contact the MESD executive director by phone were unsuccessful, adding, “and he has not called me back. I don’t understand why he will contact some other board members and tell them information that most employers don’t tell people, but he will not contact others.”
Nicolussi had made those calls in conjunction with his intent to seek information from Fancher about the MESD Board which has been the subject of considerable discussion by county elected officials for the past several months.
That statement about Fancher was referenced by Foster, a former member of the county board, at the following government relations committee meeting, in November, during its public comment segment.
Quoting what Nicolussi said as mentioned above, Foster said he found those remarks “troubling” in that, after stating he has known Fancher his “entire life” and worked with him on both a personal and professional level, the MESD director “has always returned phone calls” even during “the height of the 1993 flood.”
Along with saying he had filed an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request for the phone records of both Fancher and Nicolussi, Foster said the responses he received from “three separate entities” show no record of the former being contacted by the latter.
The Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which was approved by the state legislature in 1983, allows any individual the right to inspect and copy such materials as public government documents and records except that which is exempt for reasons such as personal privacy including what is protected by the federal Health Insurance Affordability and Accountability Act of 1996. This state law cited by Foster in seeking the phone records applies to all levels of government, including the MESD and Madison County Board.
“If this FOIA information is true and correct,” Foster told the committee which is chaired by Pace, “we have a serious problem on the floor. We have a board member that has lied, not only to the board but to the taxpayers and used defamatory comments concerning an individual that works at MESD.”
Pace then brought this information forward at the November meeting of the full county board, first noting Nicolussi said he tried to call Fancher several times and had gotten no response.
She further mentioned Foster’s FOIA requests which resulted in no response concerning the alleged telephone calls, adding, “We also confirmed Mr. Fancher received no phone calls so based on that information, the statements made by Mr. Nicolussi last month is giving the impression that is false and if that is false information, at a minimum, Mr. Nicolussi, in my opinion, owes Mr. Fancher a public apology as well as our board.”
Nicolussi’s rebuttal at the December meeting of the government relations committee referred to Pace’s saying “she’s done her due diligence” concerning the allegations about the telephone calls he said he made.
“This is totally untrue,” Nicolussi went on. “She saw me a week later at the health committee meeting. She said nothing to me, didn’t ask what phone I use, what month I called, nothing.”
“She took the word of a man (Foster) that already accused me and my mother of a ‘pay to play’ scheme at the October, 2022 county board meeting.”
Nicolussi was referring to circumstances connected to discussion at the county board level then about using a rotating system for auditors and how Foster commented about the actions of Chairman Kurt Prenzler at that time.
In October, 2021, the county board defeated Prenzler’s attempt to appoint Nicolussi to fill a vacant position created in its 27th district following the resignation of Heather-Mueller Jones the previous month. That district had since been dissolved as a reconfiguration reduced the number of districts to 26.
The ‘pay to play’ comments made by Foster during the auditor discussion a year later referenced this failed appointment of Nicolussi then another one that went down involving his mother.
Foster at that time, according to the October 2022 meeting minutes told Prenzler “we looked into” that matter and determined the chairman had received a $300 contribution from Nicolussi. Prenzler denied acting in such a way. The next month, Foster lost his reelection attempt to John Janek.
Back at this December’s government relations committee meeting, Nicolussi said he checked with local area law enforcement sources and learned no investigation was taking place concerning his statements about trying to reach Fancher.
Nicolussi added, “I don’t know why anybody’d be worried about a phone call that no one answered. There’s been a lot of reckless conduct by some board members. It’s led the county to potential problems.”
He continued to say it was obvious to him that Pace had intended to attack him at the November county board meeting, “otherwise she would have talked to me, and the scariest part is someone made a reference of talking to the state’s attorney as if I did something wrong.”
“Guys, we need to stop the trend of using law enforcement to get back at political opponents.”