By Kevin Beese
BELLWOOD | residents are looking to take matters into their own hands regarding their library after revelations that a Bellwood Library Board member has a felony conviction and may not even be a resident of the community.
A group of residents planned to gather Tuesday “to discuss strategies for getting corruption out of the library,” said library Trustee Connie Riales. Results of the meeting were not available as of press time. The meeting came after knowledge that legal steps are being taken to try to remove Sharon Tharpe from the board because of a felony conviction and her apparent moving from the community. Tharpe is being targeted in court filings filed by Riales and other members of the “Dream Team,” which won three seats on the board in the spring elections. They are seeking the ouster based on Tharpe’s 2002 arson conviction in an insurance-fraud scheme.
In Tharpe’s arrest report, obtained by the West Suburban Journal, Chicago police charged Tharpe with disorderly conduct and arson in January 2002 after she had claimed she was the victim of car-jacking on Dec. 30, 2001. She said two men had taken her car on the 1600 block of Drake Avenue. However, police found the vehicle in a garage and on fire at about 8:15 p.m. that same day.
According to Chicago police, Tharpe “found a group of male blacks and asked them to get rid of the vehicle; she did not want to get it back.” Police also said that “she had made arrangements to dispose of the vehicle to defraud the insurance company.” Tharpe had the 1999 Lexus station wagon insured through Farmers Insurance, police records show. Tharpe’s address at the time of her arrest was 146 Tomahawk Court, Bolingbrook. Publicrecords.directory lists that as one of the former addresses of the library trustee, whose Bellwood address is listed as 155 Linden Ave.
She was on probation for two years after her conviction, according to court records, satisfactorily concluding that probation in 2004.
Illinois law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from holding public office. The state’s Officials Convicted of Infamous Crimes Act states “Any person holding office under the Constitution of the state of Illinois and every elected official of local government or of any school district who is convicted in any court of the state of Illinois or of the United States of a felony, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime … shall be, upon conviction, ineligible to continue in such office.”
Riales said she is surprised, with the recent revelations, that Tharpe doesn’t simply move on. “I would be so embarrassed if that was out about me,” Riales said. But, she noted, Tharpe is aligned with political heavyweight Chuck Baxter and he won’t go away without a fight. “He has them all twisting and ruining their lives,” Riales said of Baxter’s effort to keep control of the board.
Dream Team members also contend Tharpe does not qualify to be on the Bellwood Library Board because she no longer lives in the community. The West Suburban Journal found in property-transfer records that Tharpe’s residence at 155 Linden Ave., Bellwood, was sold in April 2016. The court filing against Tharpe contends that she now lives in a condominium in Chicago. The West Suburban Journal was not able to find any records of Tharpe purchasing a condo in Chicago.
Library Board minutes show that Tharpe has not attended a board meeting since April 8, 2015. Tharpe, however, did attend a special meeting on June 29 that led to the temporary suspension of Library Director Jacqueline Spratt. Mary Clements, Janice English, Gwendolyn Reese and Tharpe took the action, as well as passed legislation saying trustees could not sit on other government boards, a swipe at two of the Dream Team members who also serve on the School District 88 Board. However, their actions were short-lived as Spratt was reinstated to her position after two days of court hearings. Spratt had failed to recognize the special meeting because a prior special meeting had been called for the Library Board for earlier that day. In that earlier meeting, no business was conducted because of the lack of a quorum (a majority of the board’s seven members being present). At that first meeting, Trustees Deborah Giles, Dorothy Clark-Smith and Riales were the only one’s present.
Reese is not recognized as a trustee on the library’s website because she was appointed in March in what has been called “an illegal meeting” by some trustees. At that meeting, Trustee J.B. Carr resigned, but then voted for Reese’s appointment. There was also not 48 hours’ notice of the meeting given and no agenda was posted at the library prior to the meeting, both violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is still reviewing the validity of the Reese appointment.
“We are still waiting to hear the ruling from the State’s Attorney on Reese,” Riales said. Riales noted the Library Board still has not met to elect its officers. State law requires that board officers need to be elected within 60 days of an election. The spring election was in April. Riales said she and her peers are also still waiting for a court date in trying to get Tharpe removed from the board. “That is about the only way to stop her, a court has to force her out,” Riales said.
Tharpe could not be reached for comment as of press time.