Under pressure from an independent watchdog group and an inquiry from the state transportation department, Rende Langlois, owner of a longtime roofing company in Kankakee, resigned on Monday as commissioner of the Kankakee Valley Airport Authority.
Langlois was accused last year of violating a state law barring public officers from doing business with the board they serve on. During a regularly scheduled meeting of the airport authority, Langlois denied any wrongdoing, calling the law "clear as mud."
"I do not want there to be any more controversy that can affect our city or county's opportunity to move forward with any future projects to make the Kankakee Valley Airport Authority the best airport in the state of Illinois," Langlois said, according to a video of the meeting published by the Edgar County Watchdogs, a statewide group that administers the website Illinois Leaks.
The contract in question was for roof renovations on one of the airport's hangars. Langlois and two other roofing businesses submitted bids in May 2016, eight months after Langlois was first appointed to the board.
Langlois submitted the lowest bid at $91,296. The second-lowest bid came in at $94,869. And a third bid came in at more than $169,000.
The watchdog group, headed by John Kraft, who lives in downstate Paris, began investigating the contract in August 2016, calling for Langlois' resignation in October.
"I am aware that the KVAA attorney advised to approve this contract, however, he cannot authorize violations of law," Kraft said in an email to Langlois.
Steve Wilder, the board president, said on Tuesday that he begrudgingly accepted Langlois' resignation.
"I hate to see it," Wilder said. "I feel like one of the most stellar individuals has been the victim of character assassination."
Both Langlois and Wilder, in separate interviews, underscored two points: First, Langlois' bid was the lowest, ultimately saving taxpayers $3,500. Secondly, the bidding process was sealed and handled by a third party, in this case a local architecture firm. Langlois abstained from any votes associated with the project.
Langlois, who called the 55-year run of his firm "impeccable," oversees $6 million in contracts a year, he said — much larger than the airport roofing project. His company has done previous work at the airport, and he said he was asked to bid on the renovations. Langlois added that he agreed to submit a bid only after getting the OK from the board's attorney, Michael Donahue.
Donahue offered to resign after the meeting, but he maintains that the contract was awarded legally.
"They just drew their own conclusions of whether there was a violation of the law," Donahue said, adding that the accusations "imply criminal intent and there absolutely was not."
That didn't entirely jibe with the state. Late last month, the Illinois Department of Transportation sent the board a notice warning that Langlois "may be disqualified from acting as a [commissioner]."
Citing the law barring contracts for board members, IDOT asked the board to conduct a special hearing. It also asked that the board consider removing Langlois from the board. The Kankakee County Board must now replace Langlois, who had more than four years left in his term.
The airport authority board is made up of six commissioners who make about $1,600 a year in per diems.