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2 Kankakee officers file suit against city

KANKAKEE — Two white Kankakee police sergeants have filed a federal lawsuit against the city claiming overt racism and political discrimination regarding a 2019 promotion to lieutenant.

Sgts. Tim Kreissler and Paul Berge claim they were bypassed for the promotion which went to Michael Sneed, an African-American sergeant.

The 31-page, four-count suit filed in the Central District Court in Urbana, names the city of Kankakee, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, Police Chief Frank Kosman, Deputy Chief Willie Hunt, Kankakee Police and Fire Commission and Nickey Yates, a member of the commission, as defendants.

The suit seeks an unspecified judgment regarding compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. The two officers are represented by the Herbert Law Firm of Chicago.

A jury trial regarding this case would likely not take place for two years.

In the lawsuit filed last Thursday, Kreissler and Berge were both noted to have scored higher on the lieutenant’s examination than Sneed. According to the suit, Kreissler scored 87.37, which was the department’s top score, and Berge, had a final score of 82.63. Sneed, meanwhile, had a final score of 73.40.

In the lawsuit, Kreissler stated he was told he was passed over despite having the top score because “the leadership in the police department does not look enough like the citizens of Kankakee.”

Also according to the lawsuit, Berge spoke with Chief Kosman as to why he was passed over for the promotion.

According to the suit, Kosman agreed with Berge when he stated that, “Sneed looked more like the Mayor’s administration.” Contact Monday, Kosman said he could not comment on any aspect of the suit.

Kreissler has been a member of the department since March 2002; Berge since February 2006.

Currently, the 66-member force is comprised of 12 black officers and eight Hispanics. The remaining 46 officers are white.

Chief Kosman was allowed to choose from one of the top three lieutenant candidates.

Mayor Wells-Armstrong noted on Monday that promotions come from the police chief.

She added, “It is our practice not to comment on pending litigation. Unrelated to the litigation, I am serving as the first African-American mayor elected in the history of the City of Kankakee, which is a community of diversity. This City is approximately 40 percent Caucasian, 40 percent African-American and 20 percent Latino.

“Since my election, I have been transparent in regard to my desire to diversify the staff and leadership to reflect the demographics of this community. The City adheres to state and federal laws. In addition, all promotions are based on qualifications,” she concluded.

Sneed was promoted to lieutenant in September 2019 and has been a member of the police department since March 1997.

According to 2019 U.S. Census data, which was cited in the lawsuit, Kankakee’s population was 51.4 percent Caucasian, when including whites, Hispanics and Latino residents, and 41.5 percent African-American.

Attorney Dan Herbert, representing the two officers, said the Sneed promotion was a way for the city administration to protect its self-interest. He said discrimination today does not make up for discrimination of years past.

“What’s happening now to white officers is just as egregious as what happened to African-American officers 30 or 40 years ago. Just because the race has changed doesn’t make it any less disturbing,” he said.

Kankakee Patrolman Kris Lombardi, who also serves as president of the Kankakee Federation of Police Lodge 102, said it was in large part due to this situation in which the police approved a “no confidence” vote for the police administration.

While he acknowledged the chief can select any of the top three candidates for the promotion, there should be concrete reasons for passing over officers ranked higher on the promotion’s list.

“There needs to be some valid reason, not ‘just because,’” he said. He said skipping over higher-ranked candidates is simply “playing favorites.”

Lombardi said he has nothing against Sneed.

“I would put up this same stink if Mike Sneed was No. 1 and he was skipped. When promoting within the department, it should be to the No. 1 guy unless there is some just cause,” Lombardi said.

Roff House receives award for restoration

WATSEKA — It’s been a long journey for John Whitman and the historic Roff House in Watseka, and his efforts over a 15-year period have reaped some just rewards.

Whitman, a Watseka native, has poured tons of sweat, work, money and his heart into the Italianate-style house at 300 E. Sheridan St. in Watseka.

“This house is fixed up enough, it’s renovated enough, it’s beautiful enough, someone would want to come spend time in the house without knowing anything about the story, without having any interest in anything paranormal,” Whitman said. “They will say, ‘This is a beautiful, old home and I once spent time there.’ It’s finally reached that point.”

Whitman bought the house in 2005 and started its rebirth from scratch. The finished product is so impressive that in October it won the Landmarks Illinois’ Driehaus Foundation’s preservation award for restoration.

In awarding the Roff House, the foundation said, “The house and its stories draw people far and wide: In the past 15 years, over 10,000 people have toured and even stayed at the home. ... It had long been neglected. Today, the Roff House is renewed. Its architectural details are celebrated and historic characteristics brought back to life. A tremendous amount of research was put into crafting Whitman’s five-phase restoration plan.”

Whitman stuck to a plan in the restoration.

“Because of the history of the home, I’ve been very careful in trying to put it back the way it was, respecting the original character of the home, the original color scheme, the architectural details,” Whitman said. “I basically peeled back 150 years of renovations and additions and changes to the home to save what was here originally to every extent possible to put that back.”

The house also has a ghostly past, and it’s been known as the Watseka Wonder.

According to a Daily Journal story from 2014, “The Watseka Wonder” is the story of 13-year-old Lurancy Vennum, who reportedly was possessed for 100 days by the spirit of Mary Roff, whose parents bought property in 1865, the year that Mary died at age 19.

The story became widespread through a 19th century spiritualist’s booklet, a 1977 novel “Watseka,” a 2009 film “The Possessed,” as well as the guidebook “Weird Illinois.”

Whitman found out early when he began the restoration the local folks and tourists had an interest in the house.

“I found I could not be outside on the lawn without somebody stopping their car and coming up and say, ‘Can I please see your house?’” he said. “I learned very early on just that first summer that I had the house that people have a very strong interest in the story of the house. I needed to learn how to have a manner for dealing with it.

“I began opening the house to people who wanted to see the house, doing open houses, tours and then for ghost-hunting groups who wanted to come through the house and look for things.”

Whitman slowly brought the house back to life, replacing the roof to stop ongoing water damage and rebuilding a portion of the foundation. He did the work in phases, some by his own “sweat equity” and by using local contractors.

“There was no heat,” he said. “The electrical was old, so there were some things I did right away. There were five roofs on the house. No one had ever taken a roof off the house in 150 years, so we took them all off, and put on a new roof, matching the color scheme of the original roofing and the original shingles.

“We put a new boiler in to keep the house warm in the winter and then worked out from there. That was the first phase in the first year or so.”

Whitman also searched online to find the best way to restore the old house while maintaining its historic value. He bought the house for the value of the land that it sits on, so he was able to sink a great deal of money in the project, within reason.

“I tried to keep the cost of the renovation in line with what a house of that size and that age would go for in Watseka,” he said. “I’ve tried to keep it under $250,000 in terms of the whole project.”

With the Roff House’s restoration completed, Whitman began offering the house for rental on airbnd this past year.

“It really took off this summer,” he said. “We started in the winter, and we had one weekend a month somebody was there. Starting in the summer and stretching into now, there’s probably about between a third and a half of the days of the month it is rented out now for people on Airbnd or for investigations, people wanting to spend time there. It’s been very busy.”

When Whitman was in his 20s and living in New York City, he often thought about his boyhood home in Watseka. He felt separated from that feeling even while living in Chicago, where he maintains a home and works remotely for a marketing company. It’s one of the reasons he bought the Roff House.

“This house and all the blood, sweat and tears that I put into it over the past 15 years, I realized a few years ago this has become not just a house, it’s my home,” he said. “It’s not just like a museum or a monument to the original ghost story of the house, but it has become my home. I find myself hard to separate myself from that.”

Now, he can kick back and relax in the house.

“After 15 years of working on the house and worrying about the house, wondering how I’m going to get it done, how am I going to afford this, am I doing it the right way, I just want to sit and enjoy the house,” Whitman said. “Sit in the backyard and have a barbecue and look up at the house and think, ‘Wow, I did this.’ I gave myself this challenge, and it was much more challenging than I thought it would ever be.”

Pritzker announces Tier 2 mitigations in three more regions

Daily Journal staff report

Kankakee County will be subjected to even further COVID-19 mitigations starting Nov. 11 as the state’s rates of infections and hospitalizations continue to climb.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Monday the new restrictions for Region 5 (Southern Illinois), Region 7 (Will and Kankakee counties), and Region 8 (Kane and DuPage counties).

The three regions join Region 1 (Northwestern Illinois) which is already in Tier 2.

Region 7 first went into Tier 1 mitigations on Oct. 23, after seeing a seven-day rolling average test positivity rate of 8 percent or above for three consecutive days.

“Mitigations are only effective if they are followed,” Pritzker said. “The end goal of mitigating the damage the virus is doing to people’s lives is this: keep as much of our economy and our schools as open as possible in a safe manner, and when risk rates in the community surge up, take meaningful action to bring things back down in order to protect ourselves and the people we love.”

Ten of the state’s 11 regions are under Tier 1 mitigations, which include the closing of bars and restaurants to indoor service and limiting the size of public gatherings to 25 or fewer, among other measures.

Only Region 1, which includes northwest Illinois, is under Tier 2 mitigations. Restrictions under Tier 2 include limiting public gatherings to 10 or fewer people and limiting outdoor seating at bars and restaurants to six or fewer people at a single table.

Regions are placed in the first tier of resurgence mitigations whenever the average test positivity rate exceeds 8 percent for three consecutive days. The restrictions are lifted only after the positivity rate falls below 6.5 percent for three consecutive days.

Pritzker said the latest actions are being taken because of rising test positivity rates in each of the regions. In Region 7, according to the most recent data on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website, the seven-day rolling average positivity rate stood at 16.4 percent rate.

But measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus so far have failed to bring down the rate of infections in those areas, and Pritzker put the responsibility for that on local officials.

“Some elected leaders are allowing this continued rise in positivity to balloon out of control while taking no action,” he said. “These mayors and city councils and county boards and state’s attorneys need to take some responsibility for keeping their constituents safe. I promise them that responsibility pales in comparison to what could come when the hospitals in your area are filling up and there aren’t enough nurses or doctors to save their constituents’ lives.”

A spokeswoman for Pritzker said in an email that the administration typically waits two to three weeks before moving a region into a higher tier of mitigation.

All of Illinois has been on an upward trajectory of COVID-19 infections since early August. During his briefing, Pritzker noted the average number of new cases reported daily in Illinois has jumped 380 percent since Oct. 1, while the positivity rate has climbed 180 percent and both hospitalizations and deaths per day are up 150 percent.

Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.

Riverside announces closing of pharmacy

KANKAKEE — After more than 30 years in business, the Riverside Family Pharmacy inside Riverside Medical Center at 350 N. Wall St. in Kankakee will close at the end of the year.

Riverside Healthcare announced the closing on Monday through a news release. Riverside informed its employees of the closing and will be sending letters to its customers in the upcoming weeks, according to the news release. The pharmacy will close on Dec. 31.

“Larger retail pharmacy chains offer significant advantages to customers, including extended hours, easy-access technologies and nationwide connectedness,” said Patt Vilt, Riverside senior vice president, explaining some of the reasons behind the closing.

The pharmacy opened in 1987. Its closing doesn’t affect Riverside’s inpatient pharmacy operations or the Gift Shop that’s adjacent to the pharmacy.

Vilt said Riverside is working with the pharmacy employees to find them other opportunities within its hospital system.

“We are confident the many retail pharmacies in our community will provide excellent service for those we have been grateful to serve these many years,” Vilt said.

Although national chains CVS and Walgreens announced some pharmacy closing across the U.S. this past year, none of those were in the Kankakee area. Walgreens operates two pharmacies in Kankakee and one in Bourbonnais. CVS has a pharmacy in Kankakee, and there’s a Jewel-Osco Pharmacy in Kankakee and in Bourbonnais.

Some big box stores in the area also operate pharmacies.

According to a story in PharmacyToday.org in March, a number of pharmacies across the U.S. shut their doors.

CVS Health closed 46 under-performing stores in 2019, including some in Missouri, Illinois, California and Texas. The pharmacy was also expected to close another 22 stores in the first quarter of this year. Walgreens announced in August of 2019 that it planned to shutter approximately 200 stores, which make up about 2% of the nearly 9,600 Walgreens in the country.

In addition, while researchers found that the total number of pharmacies in the U.S. grew by 7.8% from 2009 to 2015, that growth was undercut by the collapse of 12.8% of the nearly 75,000 pharmacies operating during this time period, according to the story in PharmacyToday. Independent pharmacies were the most affected, making up 27% of the pharmacies that were closed in urban areas.