Corruption watchdog: Markham mayor approved his own pay raise

Corruption watchdog: Markham mayor approved his own pay raise

A new report alleges Markham Mayor Pro Tem Ernest Blevins illegally hiked his own salary.

Government watchdog group Project Six has unearthed evidence that suggests Markham Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem Ernest Blevins illegally raised his own salary by more than $70,000 and directed the city’s treasurer to pay him an additional $34,000 in back pay for time he’d already served as interim mayor.

Project Six provided an evidence packet with documents showing email correspondence between Markham city officials discussing Blevins’ raise. The evidence packet also shows documents outlining Blevins’ new pay schedule and a city memorandum showing Blevins notifying human resources officials about his new mayoral salary and retroactive pay.

Project Six claims that the raise was illegal, as it was not authorized by the city treasurer nor is there any proof that the City Council officially approved the increase in Blevins’ compensation.

These revelations regarding taxpayer dollars come at a time when Markham residents are shouldering one of the heaviest property tax burdens in the state.

Blevins’ path to the mayoralty was unconventional to say the least. Longtime Markham Mayor David Webb announced he was stepping down in 2016, despite having enough petition signatures to run for re-election in April. Webb was recently indicted by a federal grand jury on bribery charges. Former Markham Deputy Fire Chief Roger Agpawa, who also serves as a fire chief in Country Club Hills, ran for mayor and won. However, Agpawa could not legally take office due to a state law barring convicted felons from holding elected office. Agpawa’s case is currently being litigated.

While Agpawa fought for the office of the mayor, the Markham City Council appointed Blevins as the suburban city’s mayor pro tem in May. However, under state law, Blevins should have only been entitled to his aldermanic salary of $20,000, rather than the mayoral salary of $90,000.

Rather than go to the Markham City Council, however, Blevins contacted members of the Markham human resources department, including Ashley Jackson, a human resources generalist, in October. He asked that his salary be raised to mayoral levels, for an expense stipend and retroactive pay for time he already worked as Markham’s mayor pro tem, according to Project Six’s investigation. Blevins later filed a payroll change including the new requested salary.

On Oct. 26, Jackson sent an email to Markham City Treasurer Belinda Richardson asking for permission to go forward with Blevins’ requested compensation changes, according to Project Six’s evidence packet.

Richardson pushed back, replying, “I am not authorizing the payout at this time until I receive written approval from the Attorney,” according to the emails obtained by Project Six.

But ultimately, Blevins got his pay hike. He received a check dated Nov. 3, 2017, for $4,423, which included his adjusted biweekly pay and his retroactive pay.

Regardless of what happens with this case, Markham residents should keep a close eye on their political leaders. With one former mayor on trial for bribery, a mayor-elect fighting state law for his ability to take office and the mayor pro tem facing accusations of illegal raises, it seems they have their work cut out for them.

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