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No reason to take project, threats seriously

Jeff Ward

Jeff Ward

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Updated: August 3, 2012 6:09AM

Why doesn’t anyone ever give me this kind of incredible slack? I swear all I have to do is look at my wife sideways and I’m in the doghouse for weeks. Then there’s my two lovely teenage children who think the only reason for my existence is to cater to their every whim.

Don’t even get me started on my merciless editors.

But if your name is Clifford McIlvaine, then you lead the semi-charmed kind of life in which all manner of lords and ladies simply bow at your feet.

Mr. McIlvaine, of course, is the infamous St. Charles homeowner who’s been working on the same home improvement project for the last 37 years. To give you some perspective, those crazy Egyptians managed to build the great pyramid at Giza in just 20.

While I’m sure that lengthy endeavor similarly bothered the neighbors, looking forward, I don’t think Mr. McIlvaine’s tarped domicile will become quite the same tourist attraction. Though, at the rate we’re going, who knows? St. Charles may be able to start charging admission yet.

Finally conceding to the neighbors’ complaints, the city of St. Charles sued McIlvaine in late 2010, claiming his failure to allow the unfinished property to be properly inspected rendered the project a public hazard.

When finally faced with some form of comeuppance, McIlvaine made excuses like, “You can’t just snap your fingers and make it happen overnight,” said the whole thing was a St. Charles vendetta, and threatened to go to jail before he’d accede to any city demands.

But cooler heads prevailed and the two sides reached an agreement whereby the remaining work would be finished per a specific schedule and all construction would be completed by Sept. 29, 2012.

But as anyone who harbors half a brain already predicted (no psychic needed here), McIlvaine missed almost every single one of the agreed upon deadlines, was found to be in contempt of court, and ordered to appear before a judge on June 22.

According to a May 7 affidavit filed by Bob Vann, the St. Charles building and code enforcement manager, McIlvaine was to have finished the interior framing, all exterior rough framing, and the in-floor heating in the basement garage by April 23, but none of it was done.

So after nearly four decades of these shenanigans, you’d think Mr. McIlvaine’s posterior would be fescue, right? You’d bet good money that Judge Thomas Mueller wouldn’t take this latest lapse lightly and the city of St. Charles would finally lower the legal boom.


When McIlvaine, who’s on the hook for $50,000 in code violations, failed to show up for the contempt hearing claiming he was suffering from kidney stones, instead of summarily issuing a bench warrant, Judge Mueller gave him two more weeks.

Even city attorney Phil Luetkehans said, “I don’t believe he’s so sick he couldn’t come today.”

“We are as frustrated as anyone,” he added, “If he doesn’t take the court’s order (to appear on July 6) seriously, we will seek a warrant.”

But why on God’s green Earth should he take any of this seriously? McIlvaine hasn’t had to pay the piper for nearly four decades, so why would he or anyone think they’re about to start imposing those penalties now?

I understand Judge Mueller’s reluctance to throw McIvaine in the slammer because it does nothing to help bring this eternal home improvement project to fruition — the city of St. Charles’ main concern.

But unless this is a mental health issue (if so, it should be treated as one), continuing to give this man the benefit of the doubt certainly ain’t gonna do the trick either.

Not only that, but, while I’m apt to applaud any city and court for first applying the spirit of the law, both institutions should be equally as concerned with the message they’re sending.

In this case, that message is clear. As long as you’re consistent, you can thumb your nose at the city and the courts without any fear of repercussion. We’re I a St. Charles homeowner hauled into court for any kind of building code violation, my perfect defense would consist of just two simple works.

“Cliff McIlvaine.”

You can reach Jeff at

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