CHICAGO – Two state fair managers took scores of free beer tickets to use at annual events, violating a ban on accepting gifts, according to a report released by the Illinois Inspector General's office Monday.
Although Illinois Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza said the managers were specifically trained to avoid engaging in these kinds of activities, one of them later told The Associated Press that he considered the longstanding practice to be proper business etiquette.
"You give a guy a couple free beer tickets they think it's a big deal," former Du Quoin State Fair Manager John Rednour said. "It's too bad the rest of the state doesn't do business the way you should do business."
The report said Rednour, who resigned in January to take the helm of his family's bank, requested a "free roll or two" of 1,000 to 2,000 beer tickets – an estimated value of $4,000 to $8,000 – from the fair's beer vendor in 2012.
It also noted that Illinois State Fair Manager Amy Bliefnick accepted at least 120 beer tickets from a vendor at the fair in Springfield last year – a market value of $540 – which she distributed to Department of Agriculture officials, members of her staff, volunteers and fairgoers. Bliefnick admitted to investigators that she has accepted free beer tickets at the fair each year since she became manager in 2005.
Bliefnick was fined $1,000 and suspended for two days without pay by the Executive Ethics Commission. Rednour was fined $5,000.
Nothing in the vendors' contracts obligated them to provide the free tickets, the report noted, and both employees took part in the annual training that covers the law that prohibits government employees from soliciting or accepting gifts from those doing business or seeking to do business with the state.
Bliefnick did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Rednour, reached at his office at the Du Quoin State Bank, described the practice as "something that's been done for years" and said he often sent the tickets to radio stations to give to listeners and sponsors. He described the practice as "good business" that helped "create goodwill and promote your event."
"There was no personal gain [in it] at all," he said.
Rednour also said that while he requested tickets in 2012 and 2013, beer vendors at the Du Quoin State Fair balked and he didn't receive them.
Illinois Department of Agriculture spokesman Jeff Squibb says both Bliefnick and Rednour have paid the fines. Additionally, Rednour has agreed not to seek employment with the state for five years.
The Illinois State Fair is scheduled to run from Aug. 7-17. The Du Quoin State Fair is scheduled to open Aug. 22 and run through Sept. 1.