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Hundreds gather for talk opposing vaccine mandates

BRADLEY — Several hundred people packed the Bradley Quality Inn & Suites Monday afternoon to hear a local health care professional discuss options for people who don’t want to be vaccinated for COVID-19 despite mandates from their employers.

Wendy Menigoz, a connective tissue specialist and owner of the Naprapathic Healing Center in Bourbonnais, said she expected around 80 people would show up to the meeting.

That turned out to be a serious undershot.

Attendees filled every table and crowded around all sides of the Aspen-Bristol banquet room, the hotel’s largest meeting room which is meant to seat around 300.

Menigoz stressed that the meeting was not to discuss politics or the science of vaccinations or masks; the point was to gather community members who support religious and medical freedoms.

“This is supposed to be inspirational,” she said. “I want to raise everybody out of fear, desperation, worry and being scared. It’s OK if you’re angry. There is justifiable anger.”

Menigoz took to task local employers who have implemented mandatory vaccine policies for employees.

She encouraged people to push back against their employers for denying their religious exemptions to getting vaccinated.

“It is time for businesses in this town and people to come out of the shadows,” she said. “We have been quiet for way too long, and we’re the majority.”

Menigoz also noted that she is not a lawyer or a medical doctor, but she had some advice for people wanting to go against mandates from their employers.

She encouraged people who do not want to be vaccinated to submit religious exemptions with their employers, even if they are not affiliated with a particular church.

“That does not matter. Your religious beliefs are your deep down, moral feelings that you have,” she said. “So when somebody, your employer tries to challenge your religious beliefs, you can, if you want, argue with them, but you do not have to.”

If the exemption gets denied, Menigoz suggests people should get the denial in writing and file claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Illinois Civil Rights Commission. If it comes down to losing your job, Menigoz suggests getting fired rather than quitting, then file the claims.

After those steps, a class action lawsuit may be possible against the employer, she said.

“Here’s the thing, if you work in a nursing home and there are only two of you, that’s OK. It could only be the two of you,” she said.

Menigoz said that, just as employers shouldn’t be bullying employees for their personal choices, individuals should not bully one another for their decisions around masks or vaccinations.

“I have patients who have chosen to get vaccinated, that’s fine,” she said. “I have people who still want to wear their masks, and that’s fine.”

Officials take the mic

Neelie Panozzo, Kankakee County Health Department board member, addressed the crowd Monday.

“I will say with regards to masks, that there is no legal enforcement,” she said. “That’s today; it could change tomorrow, but I will tell you that the health department would like you to follow the mask mandate.”

Panozzo also expressed sympathy for people afraid to lose their jobs over not wanting to take the vaccine.

“I work with a lot of nurses that don’t know how they are going to feed their families, and I just want to say to teachers, nurses, whoever is affected by this, stay calm, do not lose hope,” she said. “It’s going to take time, but we will win this battle.”

Jake Collins, Kankakee County Board member and vice chair of the Kankakee County Libertarian Party, also shared his thoughts during the meeting.

He said people should continue organized efforts to rally against mandated vaccines.

“I will fight for your right to believe in whatever god or whatever medicine or whatever way of life you choose,” he said. “I only ask that you do the same for me.”

New bill would give ISBE authority to punish schools

Nearly 60 schools have been put on probation or listed as not recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education for failing to follow a statewide mask mandate for schools.

Some locally elected school boards have since complied, but a parents’ rights group says it is government overreach.

This comes as a measure filed at the Statehouse would give ISBE the ability to revoke a school’s recognition status for not following COVID-19 rules signals to some that the governor and ISBE don’t yet have that authority.

State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr., D-Chicago, filed House Bill 4135 on Friday to give ISBE the authority to revoke the standing of a district for not following health rules during times of disaster declared by the governor. Gonzalez couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

Gov. JB Pritzker ordered all schools to mandate masks after many local school boards made masking optional.

He’s been adamant ISBE will punish schools that don’t comply. Pritzker says the move is meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.

Publicly listed through the ISBE website, 59 schools didn’t comply and were placed on probation or listed as not recognized, potentially threatening state funding for those schools. If they comply, the state can restore recognition.

As of Friday, 40 schools were listed as still on probation or not recognized.

On the list are two local districts: St. Anne CCSD 256, on probation as of Aug. 25; and Kankakee Trinity Academy, not recognized as of Aug. 30.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said Gonzalez’s bill signals to him that ISBE doesn’t have the authority to punish schools for not following the mandate.

“I think this is an admission, at least upon Rep. Gonzalez that the governor’s executive order doesn’t have the force of law when it comes to this particular thing,” Butler said. “If he’s introducing legislation to make it law, then the executive order doesn’t have the force of law. Look, these decisions need to be made locally in my opinion.”

ISBE didn’t return a message seeking comment about HB4135 or Butler’s comments.

Bond set at $3 million for gunman in last week's shooting

KANKAKEE — Miguel A. Andrade’s bond was set at $3 million during Saturday’s bond court following the shooting death of Antonio Hernandez in a gun battle south of the Kankakee County Courthouse.

The 23-year-old Andrade is charged with murder and possession of a stolen firearm.

At around 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Andrade, his cousin Victor Andrade and a 28-year-old man were ambushed by Hernandez as they walked to a parking lot south of the courthouse.

The shooting occurred following a court appearance by Victor on an unrelated case. Victor’s attorney, Bart Beals of Chicago, said Victor was not living in Kankakee and had some concerns about his safety with Thursday’s court appearance.

“It is my understanding that he warned law enforcement of the threats against him and asked for some security going to court to no avail,” Beals said.

“[Victor] never advised our department that he had safety concerns going to court on Thursday,” Kankakee Police Chief Robin Passwater said.

Victor was a former member of the Latin Kings, while Hernandez was a current member. Passwater said Victor was targeted as there have been internal issues with the gang, Passwater added.

Police said Hernandez had multiple weapons when he walked up to the trio and opened fire.

Victor was hit multiple times, according to Passwater. The third man was also shot.

Miguel Andrade ran to their vehicle, grabbed a rifle and ran after Hernandez in what Passwater said last week was a running gun battle between the men.

Miguel surrendered after he shot and bludgeoned Hernandez to death, police say.

Miguel will be in Kankakee County court Thursday for a hearing to reduce his bond.

Illinois Appellate Prosecutor Dave Neal, who has been named special prosecutor for the case, said on Monday that he could not comment on the case due to the ongoing investigation.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe made the motion to appoint a special prosecutor after members of his staff witnessed the gun battle from their third-floor offices on the south side of the courthouse. They also could be called as witnesses in the case.

KRMA board slashes its pay

KANKAKEE — It is not often someone willingly cuts their pay by more than half, but that is exactly what the seven-member Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency board has done.

At the board’s July meeting, commissioners voted 7-0 to reduce pay to $200 per monthly meeting.

In 2007, the board had increased members’ pay from $50 a meeting to $600 per meeting.

The just-approved pay reduction includes the chairman, who made a monthly stipend of $700; the board’s vice chairman, who received $650; and the board secretary, who received $625.

Chris Curtis became KRMA board chairman after defeating then-Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong in the city’s April municipal election. The board’s vice chairman is Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore and the board secretary is Aroma Park Mayor Brian Stump.

The four other board members are Bradley finance director Rob Romo, Kankakee 4th Ward Alderwoman Danita Grant Swanson, Kankakee 3rd Ward Alderman Larry Osenga, and Kankakee resident and former Kankakee City Council member Steven Hunter.

For the past year or so, Romo has taken his KRMA pay and given it to the village of Bradley. He had first attempted to not receive any stipend, but was informed he had to accept the pay.

“I’m glad it’s been reduced to a more reasonable number,” Romo said. “It’s a step in the right direction of regaining the public’s trust.”

The agency had been rocked by its former executive director, Richard Simms, who had fraudulently received some $768,000 of KRMA funds for computer software the board had never approved. Simms has pled guilty to the federal charges and is expected to be sentenced in federal court in September.

During his mayoral campaign, Curtis spoke of the KRMA pay and the need to scale it back.

“The public believes this is excessive and it is excessive,” Curtis said Monday. “We are trying to reduce costs where we can. I know this isn’t a lot of money, but it is a start.”

The board conducts its monthly meeting on the fourth Thursday morning of each month.

The monthly total board pay will go from $4,375 to $1,400. The $2,975 monthly savings — which translates to a yearly saving of $35,700 — represents a 68 percent savings to taxpayers.

While the board pay was criticized by the public, which stated the compensation was extreme for a one-hour monthly board meeting, Curtis said he understood the public’s issue.

He said the meetings are typically two to three hours long and that he and Schore often have additional meeting duties. But, he agreed with the public sentiment.

“It’s an honor to be on this board and serve,” he said.

To change the pay, the board had to have the organization’s bylaws altered regarding the compensation.