Tim Savage, First Midwest Group president Sunil Puri, two others apply for craft grower license
MACHESNEY PARK — Village Administrator Tim Savage resigned last week after Village President Steve Johnson questioned his role in a proposed cannabis farm with one of the village's most prominent developers.
The business venture, a limited liability corporation called Grow 815, was originally proposed at Illinois 173 and Interstate 90, but is now pegged for a different site in Winnebago County outside of the village, Savage said. Savage said he is not at liberty to disclose the new location and that the business venture won't move forward unless the Illinois Department of Agriculture approves a craft grower license for Grow 815.
Savage said he is an equity partner in the business. There are three other partners, according to state business records: Savage's niece, Savana Savage of Tinley Park, First Midwest Group President Sunil Puri and Mike LaLoggia of Rockford.
Johnson said he got a phone call late the night of April 21 informing him that village staff had discovered Savage's ownership interest in Grow 815 through a public records search. Johnson said he is “extremely disappointed” that Savage did not previously acknowledge his role in the business venture.
“You can't be doing business with one of the biggest developers in the village,” Johnson said. “It's just a conflict. You can't do that. Obviously, when I found that out I was taken aback.”
Savage tendered his resignation, effective July 31, after further discussions were had with the village attorney and trustees, Johnson said. Savage said he is required, per his contract, to give the village six weeks notice of his intent to resign. He gave the village 90 days notice, he said, to help with the leadership transition.
Johnson said he's asked James Richter III, the village's community development director, to consider stepping into the administrator position, though nothing has been decided yet. Savage will stick around to wrap up contract talks with Winnebago County Sheriff's Department regarding village police services and tend to various administrative matters until he departs, Johnson said. He will have no further role in village development or real estate matters, Johnson said.
First Midwest Group has developed myriad retail establishments in Machesney Park — and has been awarded taxpayer subsidies for many of them — since Savage became the village's first full-time administrator in 2011. Among those incentives was a $440,000 subsidy the village approved in 2016 to offset the company's $1.2 million investment in a road it built through its property at I-90 and 173.
Savage said that at no time did his roles as village administrator and a partner in Grow 815 constitute a conflict of interest. He'd been planning to leave his job at Village Hall for more than a year, he said, and it wasn't until January that he began talking with Puri and other Grow 815 partners about establishing a cannabis business and applying for a grower license.
“We haven't had any development deals or contracts come up with First Midwest Group since last year,” Savage said. “Had that come up, I would not have participated in it.”
“...I don't consider it a conflict of interest since the business doesn't become real until you were to get a license,” he said. “If there's no license, the LLC goes away.”
In his resignation letter to Johnson, Savage “stated that he intends to retire from public service in order to travel and pursue other interests,” according to a news release the village issued Friday to announce his departure. The news release makes no mention of Savage's role in Grow 815.
Trustee James Kidd said he'd prefer that Savage part ways with the village immediately and that trustees discuss how to improve oversight of village administration.
“We don't have the proper oversight,” Kidd said. “This is something I have brought up for several years. I've suggested multiple times at board meetings that we don't intervene, but trustees should be able to oversee and overview what business the administrator is conducting.”
Johnson said that Machesney Park is in a financially sound position thanks to Savage. Machesney Park does not levy a municipal property tax, yet still manages to provide its roughly 23,000 residents with police and public works services and road and bridge improvements with just 12 employees. The village has an annual operating budget of approximately $10 million and is sitting on cash reserves of about $8 million, he said.
Savage “has done what's best for the village and it shows,” said Trustee Joe Seipts, adding that board members have adequate management controls in place.
“Tim doesn't really have the power to say 'I'm gong to give Sunil Puri all this or that' or not give it to him,” Seipts said. “That still comes down to the board members. The final vote comes down to those six people — and the mayor — as to what gets done or doesn't get done.”
Isaac Guerrero: email@example.com; @isaac_rrs