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Local
special report
County auditor debate covers the burning issues
 
 03.04.20

cbreach@daily-journal.com

KANKAKEE — The debate for the Kankakee County auditor race between Republican incumbent Jake Lee and challenger Brandon Meredith had all the makings to be a volatile affair as shots had already been fired by both sides on social media.

While the back and forth was contentious at times and on point, both Lee and Meredith were cordial and, for the most part, professional. The candidates forum hosted by the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP on Tuesday at the Kankakee Public Library was in advance of the March 17 primary election.

The panel was comprised of Ayana Smith, of Kankakee; Mike Ruble, of WVLI radio; and Ann Delabra, of the League of Women Voters. Approximately 75 people were in attendance in the fourth-floor auditorium, and Theodis Pace, president of the Kankakee Branch of the NAACP, was the moderator.

There were several questions asked and issues covered by the panel. Here is a sampling of the questions and answers by the respective candidates.

Please outline why you think the auditor’s office is or isn’t in accordance with state law.

Lee: “The office of auditor, for historical context, was created in 1964. ... The office remained relatively untouched until 2003 when the then-auditor, Mr. McCarty, who is now the finance director, went to the county board for the office to be separated.

“I believe that the county board, because the law states, the county board cannot alter the duties, powers or functions of an elected office. I believe that the board altered the duties of the functions of that office. They continue to do so and have further impeded the office through the budget by not funding the office appropriately.”

Meredith: “The thing about the law is it needs to be adjudicated in a court of law. That’s why we have attorneys. Mr. Lee continues to say it’s operating outside the law. ... I’m not an attorney, but the law is ambiguous, and it needs to be decided in a court of law. The attorney general hasn’t weighed in on this because there’s a case in Tazewell County. They refuse to make any kind of determination on that until that case is settled.

“To say we’re operating outside the law, that’s just an opinion. It’s not a statement of fact.”

Is there discord in the auditor’s office?

Meredith: “What’s going on now is absolutely ridiculous. If you can’t communicate with board members, especially your own party, where’s that heading? This dysfunction I’ve seen so far and the reason I got into this race is because it doesn’t seem to be fixable. The county board has reached out to Mr. Lee, and he hasn’t been accommodating to them.

“I don’t think you should just go along, but you have to keep an open line of communication and remain professional when you’re communicating with people.”

Lee: “I would certainly disagree that I’ve caused dysfunction. What my opponent calls dysfunction, I call accountability. Sometimes people don’t like what you have to say, and that’s alright. The idea that I don’t engage or not willing is, quite frankly, made up. The fact is that I have communicated very much with the county board, and I continue to do so.

“I substantiate all of my positions in email form, that they are free to read anything that I have that I’ve submitted to them. There’s an open line of communication and always has been. Any board member is welcome to my office. As far as the party goes, I am a Republican and I hold the most conservative financial values up here.”

Is the auditor’s office accountable to the taxpayer?

Meredith: “How you go about that is the difference between me and Jake. I would go in and discuss everything with all the department heads and see what’s going on first. And then I can drive solutions from there. You can’t be accountable if you don’t go out and see the different departments, know what they’re doing before you start making decisions.”

Lee: “Accountability to the people is the ultimate standard of an elected official, specifically the auditor as it relates to engaging other departments. I have done that. I have visited just about every department in our county. Some we haven’t been able to for various reasons, mainly scheduling on the part of that department. We make our decisions based on policies that do exist already.”

Is it realistic that bills will not be paid?

Meredith: “Sure, it’s realistic that they won’t get paid. The process is that the county board has to approve the bills. If no one is entering the bills, then how do they get paid? Are we supposed to magically cut checks? That’s not how it works, and bills do run the risk of not getting paid if they’re not approved by the county board.”

Lee: “The county board is responsible for paying the bills, so the bills will always get paid. Right now, they have assumed the duty of entering the bills into the accounting software as part of the accounting functions. The bills have never been in jeopardy of not being paid. The imaginative description that we’re going to lose a bond rating and all of that is just a fear tactic. That is not going to happen, and it has not happened.”

How can one begin collaborating with the board and gain the trust of the taxpayer?

Meredith: “Communication is the key. Communicating to people is not talking down to them, it’s not attacking them. ... It’s created dysfunction. Again, I don’t think this can be remedied without change. It either has to come from the elected official, or someone like me needs to step in and make that change.”

Lee: “One thing I can say about communication and so called dysfunction and attacks, I will remind my opponent that there was an illegal meeting in July 2017. That meeting violated the open meetings act, thus illegal. There you had your county board chairman, attacking me, attacking my character in that meeting. They were forced to publish the minutes, which are available on the county’s website.

“... So try to point the finger at the auditor’s office as if we have caused the so-called dysfunction is disingenuous. Our office is willing to communicate, and is willing to come to the table even after an illegal meeting. ... It is the other party that has backed away from any type of negotiations.”


Local
special report
79th state representative Democrats debate opposing veiwpoints
 
 03.04.20

KANKAKEE — The first half of a candidates forum hosted by the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP on Tuesday at the Kankakee Public Library was the 79th State Representative hopefuls for the Democratic Party in the March 17 primary election.

The debate, in the fourth-floor auditorium in front of approximately 60 people, was between current Kankakee County board member Robert Ellington-Snipes and newcomer Charlene Eads. The panel consisted of Trent Willis, NAACP Youth Council president; Mike Ruble, of WVLI radio; and Ann Delabra, of the League of Women Voters. Local NAACP president Theodis Pace was the moderator.

In his opening statement, Snipes said, “This race is not about me, but it is about us.”

Eads said in her opening that she’s not a politician but a community activist. Eads is a social worker for the state.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Jackie Haas in the November general election.

The candidates were asked what they thought was the biggest problem facing the 79th District.

Eads answered, “One of the biggest problems facing the 79th District is property taxes increase. What we need to do to alleviate the property tax increase is, hopefully, the Fair Tax will pass on the ballot. When the wealthy people pay more of their share of taxes, they will be able to fund some of the education to alleviate the property taxes.”

Snipes responded to the question by saying, “There are three issues ... for the state of Illinois. The first is population growth, the second is stagnant businesses and employment opportunities and number three is the skyrocketing property taxes. There’s an exodus of about 640,000 people and their pocketbooks leaving the state of Illinois.

“... Something has to be done to restore the images of the state and the stagnant businesses. The heart of Illinois is the people of Illinois. Without question the heartbeat of Illinois are its small businesses. They will hopefully create jobs where there are few strides in this area. A tremendous jump-start is needed in Illinois.”

Both candidates were in favor of expanding the Metra Rail system to Kankakee County, a question posed by a member of the audience. Both were also in support of more vocational school options and the state providing more funding for elementary and secondary schools.

An audience member asked the candidates if they would support the LGBT community.

“I support human beings. I don’t support causes,” Snipes said.

Eads said, “Yes, I support the LGBT community. They’re human beings, and we should support them.”

Snipes said he is the only candidate who doesn’t accept PAC money.

“I fight for the people,” he said.

Eads said she’s a member of a union and has accepted contributions from unions.


Local
Local NAACP, police agencies work together to better relations in the community
 
 03.04.20

Daily Journal staff report

KANKAKEE — The leaders of all Kankakee County law enforcement agencies and Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP are working toward bridging the gap between police and communities of color.

To that end, all parties signed a 10 Shared Principles resolution at Kankakee Community College in February.

“Many of our officers have stated that they aim to establish trust in the community daily. It’s important to be able to relate to one another,” Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong said. “The shared principles are a step in the process of declaring shared values that will build and strengthen relationships in order to keep our communities safe.”

Theodis Pace, president of the local NAACP, was among those who attended the signing event in February.

“The current climate across the nation regarding the mistrust between law enforcement and all communities, but particularly communities of color, this here is historic when you can bring all the community leaders, law enforcement together on a common goal, on a common ground and looking at how can we bridge that gap between, again, our respective communities and law enforcement,” he said the day of the signing.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois NAACP State Conference worked together to identify the common ground between local law enforcement and communities of color in their commitment to defending civil rights and keeping communities safe. They signed the document in early 2018.

The two state organizations began work in 2014, four months after unrest erupted in Ferguson, Mo.

ILACP officials said they decided to be proactive and sent a letter to the NAACP State Conference president, requesting a private meeting for a candid conversation. The association presidents at that time were Chief Frank Kaminski of Park Ridge and George Mitchell of Evanston.

As protests and confrontations rippled throughout the country, both ILACP and NAACP determined they would forge a “partnership ensuring safety, dignity and justice for all citizens and police officers alike.”

Through meetings, the ILACP and NAACP State Conference identified the following shared principles:

• Value the life of every person, the preservation of life being the highest value;

• Recognize that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect;

• Reject discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, color, nationality, immigrant status, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or familial status;

• Endorse the six pillars of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing including the first pillar of building trust and legitimacy;

• Endorse the four pillars of procedural justice, which are fairness, voice, transparency and impartiality;

• Endorse the values inherent in community policing, which includes positive engagement between community and police;

• Develop relationships at the leadership and street levels to eliminate racial tension;

• Accept mutual responsibility to encourage all citizens to gain a better understanding of the law to assist in interactions with police;

• Increase diversity in police departments and in the law enforcement profession;

• Commit to de-escalation training to ensure the safety of community members and police officers, and

• Commit to replacing mistrust with mutual trust wherever, whenever and however possible.

“With the signing of the Shared Principles Declaration by executives of all the police agencies in the county and the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP, we highlighted our mutual commitment to work together to improve public safety throughout the county while safeguarding everyone’s civil liberties,” said Kankakee Police Chief Kosman.

Pace shares that commitment, saying, “We will continue to work together and stand together in Kankakee and the state level to implement these values and principles to replace mistrust with mutual trust wherever, whenever and however we can.”