RANTOUL, Ill. (WCIA) — Months after a longtime community member first raised concerns, Rantoul Village officials are defending a decision to hire an ex-Danville employee who allegedly lost his job due to grant mismanagement two days after being arrested for a domestic battery.
Christopher Milliken was hired on June 20 last year as Rantoul’s new urban planner — less than 90 days after losing a similar position. Milliken had been Danville’s Planning and Urban Services Manager for nearly 16 years.
But on April 1, Mayor Ricky Williams Jr. sent Milliken a termination letter detailing a series of alleged missteps with an Illinois Housing Development Authority grant.
WCIA obtained a copy of that letter via an open records request; in it, Williams told Milliken that failure to comply with grant deadlines “led to an out-of-pocket expense liability to the City in excess of $195,000.”
Williams called the alleged incidents “gross acts of negligence and dereliction of your duties.”
That letter — and subsequent job loss — came two days after the Vermilion County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of domestic battery by Milliken’s ex-wife.
WCIA also obtained a copy of that March 29 report. In in, a deputy wrote that Milliken’s ex-wife told police the two had been divorced for nearly a year in part, at least, due to an affair between Milliken and another Danville city employee.
According to that report, a pre-planned meeting between the three to exchange the couple’s children led to an argument, with Milliken’s ex-wife accusing him of “yelling at her and cussing at her, (getting) out of his vehicle and confronting her and struck her across the right side of her face.” The report adds that Milliken’s then-girlfriend confirmed to police that she had witnessed the incident and that it had “surprised” her.
Court documents dated August 15 indicate Milliken later pleaded guilty to domestic battery and complied with court requirements to complete a partner abuse intervention program.
It was that incident in particular that troubled longtime Rantoul resident Debbra Sweat, who emailed board members with her concerns earlier this year.
In an email to WCIA, Sweat said she isn’t against second chances. It was the timing that bothered her, she said.
“As I told others, if Mr. Milliken had completed his court service, I could see the potential of a second chance and employment with the Village,” she wrote in an email. “But to hire him during the court process was unconscionable.”
During public comment at a Tuesday village board meeting, Sweat said her attempts to discuss the matter with Village trustees didn’t pan out — only two had responded to her and only one had agreed to meet in person.
During that meeting, Sweat said the trustee told her she “was wrong in questioning this hire.”
“He also suggested I needed to do better and pick my battles in order to win,” she told board members. “I am not at war with anybody.”
Sweat called for improved background checks and said that the hiring for positions like Milliken’s should be in the hands of the village board: Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer, one of five members of an interviewing committee, ultimately made the decision to hire Milliken.
Eisenhauer — Danville’s former mayor who left the position for Rantoul last year — told WCIA that the pair had worked together for years.
That was exactly why he hired Milliken to begin with, he said.
“Recognizing I was in the Office of Mayor for the City of Danville prior to coming to Rantoul, I was fully aware of Mr. Milliken’s exceptional qualities as an employee,” Eisenhauer said in an email statement. “We were able to speak candidly about his separation from the City of Danville, and having knowledge of how certain matters were being addressed, I was comfortable that any issues he may have had in Danville under the current administration would not be of concern in Rantoul under my leadership.”
Eisenhauer emphasized that the charge against Milliken was only a misdemeanor, which justified the Village’s offering him a second chance.
“The Village of Rantoul has been proud of its commitment to provide ‘second chance’ opportunities to those who have made a mistake, committed a misdemeanor, owned and atoned for their mistake, have abided by the court’s orders, and have a skill set, education, experience, and level of expertise appropriate to advancing our goals and mission,” he said in an email statement. “Anyone who fits that description, and does not commit a similar offense or an offense rising to the level of a felony, has the opportunity to seek and gain employment with the Village of Rantoul.”
“Frankly, I am surprised that WCIA would be involved in a story regarding the hiring of someone with nothing more than a misdemeanor on their record,” Eisenhauer said in an email.
Eisenhauer said he also spoke with Mayor Chuck Smith and wasn’t discouraged from making the potential hire.
He added that the job posting had only received “two applicants” who “met the qualifications necessary to perform the tasks related to the position,” including Milliken.
Regardless, Sweat said the outstanding issue remains unaddressed.
“I will continue to request on a monthly basis — and until it happens — changes in the hiring protocol and process for administrative/high profile Village positions/employment,” she said.
“We need ethical and proper search and hiring procedures along with better and proper background checks and vetting,” she told trustees on Tuesday.