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Low Census count would be costly

The U.S. Census is most definitely a count of the population. More importantly, the census is what the federal government uses to decide where to direct money. And early indications are the Kankakee region will lose important, needed funding because thus far, the count is low. In some cases, very low.

As of this week, the U.S. Census response rate — the number of households that have responded to the mailed questionnaire — is at a disturbingly low 54.1 percent in Kankakee.

Kankakee is trailing its self-reporting response rate of 2010 Census, when it was 64.6 percent.

To be fair, 2020 — thanks to COVID-19 — is a year unlike any other.

“We need these numbers to improve greatly,” said Barbi Brewer-Watson, Kankakee’s economic and community development executive director and the person charged with the assignment of getting the city counted. “My goal is to get at least 90 percent of the city’s population counted.”

She explained the Census count establishes the number base of which many formulas use to calculate dollars being returned to a community.

“We just need the count to be as accurate as possible,” she said. “These numbers help provide the roads we drive on as well as the sidewalks we walk on.”

It isn’t just roads and sidewalks. It helps the government make decisions as to where an estimated $675 billion per year is directed for schools, hospitals, public works and other capital items. The numbers are used to help expanding businesses decide where to locate, which puts people to work.

She has a long way to go, but Brewer-Watson is not alone.

In Manteno, the census response rate so far is 78.4 percent.

Chris LaRocque, Manteno administrator, said the village reached a response of more than 80 percent in the last census.

“It doesn’t seem like our community gets a whole lot of prompting,” he said. “It would be great to get between 95 and 100 percent.”

Getting an accurate census count will affect funding for state and federal programs that trickle down to the local level, he said.

“Our message to people is this is important, not necessarily for village revenue but for schools, townships, roads,” LaRocque said. “Everything funnels down from a federal level, so it’s important to get as many people to respond as possible.”

The response rate in Manteno is on the high end compared to other municipalities, but the ultimate goal is to get 100 percent of residents counted, LaRocque added.

“That’s why the Census [takers] work so hard,” he said. “It matters for the bottom line in every community.”

Across Illinois, the response rate is 67.1 percent. Nationally, the response rate stands at 62.3 percent.

These numbers indicate there is plenty of room for improvement.

Brewer-Watson noted that according to data, Kankakee’s north and east sides are struggling in terms of completed Census forms. The city’s south and west sides are better but quite some distance from high marks.

Because of the COVID virus and because of immigrant fears, there are significant hurdles for Brewer-Watson and other officials to battle to get a close to an accurate count as possible.

Brewer-Watson noted the city receives a considerable sum of federal money. Money that comes to Kankakee by way of the federal government includes Workforce Innovation and Opportunity funds; Title I education funds (to aid low to moderate income students); and Community Development Block Grant (assist with housing, public services for youth, homeless, mental health and disabilities. Also can be used for small and minority-owned businesses).

In 2017, Kankakee County received $6.3 million in Title I dollars, of which Kankakee School District 111 received the bulk. In that same year, the county received $463,162 of block grant money. Again, Kankakee received the most, Brewer-Watson noted.

Del Skimerhorn, Kankakee County planning manager, said the county has been monitoring the response rate for the unicorporated areas.

“It’s at 67.3 percent now,” he said. “We have brochures to send out and are working with other departments.”

How will the county be affected financially if numbers don’t improve?

“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Skimerhorn said. “I know grant money and tax dollars are tied into that. How that’s going to be affected and tracked and all that, I’m no expert on any of that. I don’t know when the Census is going to be completed because of the COVID-19. I think everything is going to be delayed.”

Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore said the effect is huge.

“It can be devastating to any community if the [population numbers] are not accurate,” Schore said. “If you lose 20 to 30 percent, then you are talking layoffs of public works, public safety. And that bad number sticks with you for 10 years.

“People should know this is their tax money they pay coming back to their community. It’s a win-win.”

Tara Latz, finance director for Bourbonnais, said the Census count affects the two biggest sources of revenue: state income tax and use tax.

Use tax is a form of sales tax designed to distribute the tax burden fairly among consumers and assure fair competition between in-state and out-of-state businesses. Illinois, like most other states, imposes use tax on the privilege of using goods within their borders as a complement to sales taxes.

This tax applies to individuals, businesses and organizations. Illinois law requires you to pay tax at Illinois rates on purchases you make for use or consumption in Illinois.

Bourbonnais’ 2010 Census population was 18,631. Illinois Municipal League estimates a municipality will receive $105 per person from state income tax revenue.

In the 2021 fiscal budget that meant Bourbonnais received $1.95 million. If the 2020 population number decreases by 5 percent, the village would loss $100,000. The 5 percent loss would come to $33,000.

Regarding the workforce innovation funds, operated through the Grundy, Kankakee and Livingston Workforce Board in downtown Kankakee, a total of $2.1 million came here. The organization, which assists in workforce preparation and employment, has numerous Kankakee clients.

Brewer-Watson noted a Census under-count would take a bite out of those streams of funding, although she did not know to what extent at this point.

Tentatively, door-to-door Census takers are scheduled for Aug. 1 through Oct. 31.

In the meantime, Momence has been trying to improve on its response rate.

“We’re at 67.8 percent, and at this time last year, we were at 71 or 72 percent, so we’re very close,” Alderman David Cook said. “At some point we anticipate the door knocking by the Census Bureau to start helping.”

The Census data is used as the backbone for any number of federal or state grants as well. Again, a lackluster count, would make the area less attractive for grant funding.

“Everything all goes back to the Census. And if we are unable to get these funds, it will lead to a huge gap in what we are able to do to assist our residents,” she said.

Completed Census data is set to be delivered to the White House in December.

School Board to vote on back-to-school plan, calendar

KANKAKEE — Kankakee School District 111 administration will present a finalized back-to-school plan and address specific issues regarding returning to school during Monday’s school board meeting.

The Kankakee School Board meets at 7 p.m. Monday in the Kankakee High School Auditorium. Community members are able to attend with masks and social distancing.

The district plans to provide three options for students to return to school in the fall: continue with remote learning, engage in a hybrid model in which they attend school for a few hours at a time some days and learn from home other days or return to in-person learning full-time.

At a July 13 school board meeting, Superintendent Genevra Walters presented a list of discussion items to be addressed when the finalized plan is presented Monday.

These include the district’s policy of wearing masks, its modified plan for Phase 4 of Restore Illinois, the three learning options, the arrangement of school buildings around 50-person gathering limitations and procedures for adults or students who test positive for COVID-19.

Another webinar/ meeting to discuss the plan with parents and community members will be scheduled after Monday’s board meeting, according to the presentation.

A recording of the previous webinar can be viewed on the district’s website,, under the Fall Semester 2020 Plan tab.

Also on the agenda for Monday is the approval of a revised 2020-21 school calendar.

Law enforcement embracing change

KANKAKEE — At the Kankakee Law Enforcement meeting Thursday, hosted by the Kankakee Branch of the NAACP, Theodis Pace noted how the attendance has grown from a handful of police chiefs to representatives of the 11 county agencies as well as the Illinois State Police.

Pace, president of the local branch, said the timing is right for change at the gathering held at the Kankakee County Sheriff Complex.

“Everything we do now is magnified because of the climate we’re in,” he said.

The Law Enforcement meetings began in 2014 and initially were held six times per year. Now, they’ve begun meeting every month.

In February, the 11 law enforcement agencies adopted the 10 Shared Principles, which are measures designed to build trust between law enforcement and communities of color and to work together to implement these policies.

“We felt this was a good start,” Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said of the principles that were adopted in February. “How do we know our officers are buying into the 10 shared principles? The short answer is we don’t. But it’s something we have to do as administrators from the standpoint of training, from the standpoint of observing and keeping our eyes open and our ears open finding out who is not buying in.”

Bradley Police Lt. Robert Mason II said each of the department’s officers watched a video on the 10 principles and had them sign off when they watched it. The department also has conducted relative training.

“We’re trying to stay on top of all that is what we’re trying to push out to everybody within our department and throughout the county as well,” Mason said.

Now, the local law enforcement agencies also have embraced the #8cantwait initiative launched by the nonprofit Campaign Zero after the death of George Floyd in May. It’s a campaign that seeks to bring immediate change to policies at police departments, including the following: ban chokeholds and strangleholds, require de-escalation, require warning before shooting, require officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting, duty to intervene, ban shooting at moving vehicles, require use-of-force continuum and require comprehensive reporting.

“The #8cantwait, we’re really running with seven of them,” Manteno Chief of Police Alan Swinford. “We’re just waiting on the national database.”


The next step Pace said the NAACP would like to see communities adopting is a civilian review board. Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe gave a presentation during Thursday’s meeting on how they would work.

“The citizen makes a complaint about police activity,” Rowe said. “That board would receive the complaint. They would review it, conduct an investigation, maybe conduct interviews of witnesses for the complainant. They could potentially, if the municipality allows, have subpoena power. … It means they have access to documents — 911 calls, something that wouldn’t otherwise be released to the public. … It gives them access to documents so they have the full scope.”

Rowe said the civilian review board’s role is that of an independent watchdog.

“After the review, the members of the civilian review board would compile a report, and ultimately that report could be made available to the public,” he said. “It would also be sent to the police and fire commission, your command staff. … They could make a determination for a need for discipline.”

Rowe said his office has talked to some of the chiefs who indicated an interest in exploring a civilian review board within their community.

“We’re not trying to take the place of your village or city attorney, but we would be happy to work with them,” Rowe said. “We have some of the resolutions drafted already. We can work with you on what the models look like.”

How is this different from internal investigations that are done now?

“Without a civilian review board, the officer is being investigated by fellow members of the department, usually command staff, chief, deputy chief or whoever,” Rowe said. “… [A civilian review board] is sort of making sure there is another set of eyes on civilian complaints other than members of that officer’s department.”

Each community would have its own review board if it desired one.

“If a community is interested in pursuing or exploring the possibility of a civilian review board, all they’ve got to do is give my office a call,” Rowe said. “We’d be happy to sit down and talk with them.”

It’s something Pace said is needed to take the next step in building trust.

“This is something that the Kankakee County Branch is going to stand firm on,” Pace said. “If we can get the majority of our municipalities to sign on the 10 Shared Principles, why not be looking at the citizens review board?”

Husband was facing domestic violence charges at time of murder-suicide

KANKAKEE — When officers responded July 18 to a call of shots fired at a home in downtown Kankakee, it wasn’t the first time they had been there. But this time was different. This time, the domestic disturbance between the residents — Ellissa C. Williams and her husband, Steven A. Williams, both 36 — had turned deadly.

Police say Steven A. Williams shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself about 4:30 p.m. that afternoon in a residence in the 900 block of South Schuyler Avenue.

“This case is a tragic example of what domestic violence can lead to,” said Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe.

There’s no shortage of these examples. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there had been 350 murder-suicides in the U.S. this year as of July 22. In 2015, 928 women were killed by male partners. Most were killed with firearms.

And, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s data, 79.2 percent of domestic violence-related homicides are by current intimate partners and 14.3 percent by former intimate partners. About 1 in 10 victims experienced some form of violence in the month preceding their death, the data shows.

And that’s the case with Ellissa and Steve Williams.

At the time of her death, Ellissa was under an order of protection against Steven — the result of a June 4 visit to the home by Kankakee police — meaning he was not legally allowed in the residence with her.

On June 4, officers responding to the home on a domestic disturbance call arrested Steven Williams on charges of domestic battery involving strangulation.

The court set Williams’ bail at $15,000, though Rowe said a $40,000 bond was requested. Steven Williams posted the required 10 percent of the bond and was released.

The court also granted a criminal order of protection filed by the state. Steven Williams was to have no contact with his wife or the couple’s three children as the criminal case moved through the court system. The order further said he was to stay 500 feet away from them.

On June 10, Ellissa Williams filed a motion to dismiss the order of protection.

“I am asking the court to dismiss the restraining order because I need to have contact with the defendant to discuss matters pertaining to our children and for him to see them, to discuss finances and to proceed with filing for divorce,” Ellissa wrote in her motion.

On July 6, the court did not dismiss but amended the order of protection to allow for her requests. The next court date was set for Aug. 3.

The state’s attorney’s office objects to dismissals of protective orders.

“We stand by the original order of protection,” Rowe said Tuesday.

The tragic case brought a response from Harbor House, a nonprofit that advocates for victims of domestic violence.

Executive director Jenny Schoenwetter offered a statistic to put the risk of incidents such as that which occurred here in Kankakee July 18 into perspective. A victim of at least one domestic battery/strangulation faces a 750 percent chance to likely be murdered, she said.

“Domestic violence can happen anywhere ... in any home across our community,” the organization posted on its Facebook page in response to Ellissa’s death. “It could be in your neighbor’s home, your coworker’s home or your home. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please take action. Ending domestic violence that takes lives like Ellissa’s is everyone’s responsibility. It takes all of us doing our part to intervene and prevent such acts of violence.”

And according to statistics offered by Rowe, Kankakee County is not immune to domestic violence.

Rowe said his office has dealt with a felony domestic violence case every 36 hours since the beginning of 2020.

The pandemic-related shutdowns have caused an increase in callers to the Harbor House, Schoenwetter said. In June, there was a 60 percent increase in calls over June 2019, she said.

“There are a lot of people affected, but it is something they do not want to talk about. This happens every day,” she said. “It is hard for the victims. There is a fear to leave. There are so many factors. It makes it difficult to understand.”

But there’s help available for those who find themselves in an abusive relationship, Rowe said. There’s also guidance available for those who know someone in an abusive relationship.

Rowe said if you suspect someone is a victim, you need to get them help. Harbor House has a 24-hour hotline, which can be reached by calling 815-932-5800.