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Outgoing Kankakee mayor gives farewell address, won't attend final meeting

KANKAKEE — Two weeks earlier than expected, outgoing Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong said goodbye to the Kankakee City Council, department leadership and citizens.

The mayor, reading from a prepared statement, presented her reflections — “sharing from my heart,” as she described it — at the conclusion of Monday night’s city council meeting.

The address caught at least some council members off guard as they were expecting her to be on hand for the May 3 council meeting and were going to make their comments then. The mayor, however, stated that she would not be able to attend the May 3 meeting. She will continue work as mayor until the end of her term. 

During the “mayor comments” portion of the council meeting — which is the final matter of every city council agenda — the mayor launched into her statement as she reflected on the past four years.

She described the four-year tenure as something akin to “an abusive relationship,” meaning she felt attacked from all sides.

As the first black person elected as Kankakee mayor, Wells-Armstrong certainly had obstacles, but she said her heart was always for all the people of Kankakee.

Wells-Armstrong was soundly defeated in the April 6 municipal election by 6th Ward Republican Alderman Chris Curtis. Curtis will be sworn in as the city’s new mayor in two weeks.

“There are many broken people in this community,” Wells-Armstrong said. “... I pray our community heals.”

She stated people who refuse of open their eyes are destined to remain in the darkness.

Every council member thanked Wells-Armstrong for her service and her leadership, even if they failed to agree on the direction she was taking on a particular issue.

Every council member also wished Curtis well as he will take the leadership role. Some, however, said they will be watching to make sure the entire city is represented in a fair matter.

Wells-Armstrong stated she planted “many seeds” during her four years, chief among them the proposed Kankakee Riverwalk along the banks of the Kankakee River. The plan intends to take full advantage of the river as a backdrop for commercial, retail and recreational development.

“The city is better for the vision of this administration. A lot of seeds were planted,” she said. She encouraged the community and the council to hold the incoming administration accountable from making sure the riverfront project continues to move ahead.

“Build the riverfront. It will improve the quality of life,” she said.

She also told residents to stop being fearful when in comes to addressing leadership.

“Make sure your voices are heard. ... Stop being silent to lies, hate and abuse,” she said. “Work to make life better for those around you.”

The mayor said she has not lost faith in Kankakee.

“I still believe in Kankakee, but there is still much work to do,” she said.

She said the work which is ahead will require courage and compassion as well as people not being fearful to step outside of their personal comfort zone.

She then recalled herself as a little girl who grew up on the city’s east side. She never could have imagined that little being mayor of this city. She said others now know they can become a mayor of a community if that is something they truly desire.

“I believe in the potential of Kankakee to be great,” she said. "We gave the city a bold vision. Work to bring results here.”

LoveALatte runs on kindness and caffeine

As LoveALatte prepares to enter its third season at the Kankakee Farmers’ Market, the organization has been hosting pop-ups to provide coffee and a smile around the county.

LoveALatte Coffee was established as a nonprofit pop-up coffee shop in 2018. The organization is a job-training opportunity for young adults with disabilities in Kankakee County. The interns receive hands-on training in customer service, money management and beverage preparation, among other skills related to future successful employment.

At a pop-up last Friday at the Kankakee Sheriff’s Department, founders Jennifer Carroll and Lori Grzelak worked with intern Brandon Merrill to prepare coffee, from cold brews to lattes, for those who work in the building. Carroll and Grzelak both work in special education in the area, and created LoveALatte with the tagline “Coffee, treats and sweet eats prepared by special people.”

“Lori and I have taught together in Manteno and Kankakee, and we realized that when our students got out of high school, there’s some but not a lot of diversity and opportunities for our students,” said Carroll, who got the ball rolling with former students and children of friends to create the first group of interns.

Rather than use a basic coffee maker, the interns use a pour-over method which Carroll explained enhances their abilities. Grzelak shared the training manual that the interns use that is broken down with visual steps to help interns learn each task required for making the drinks.

“What is precious is when we get a new volunteer — which would be a neurotypical adult or teen — and when our interns say ‘no, no, no’ and they correct them on the instructions,” shared Grzelak.

LoveALatte currently works with 11 interns. Most of the interns are 18 and over and have graduated from high school. Some are participants in transition programs.

Merrill, one of the original interns, showcased his coffee-making skills while preparing drinks for customers. This is his third season with LoveALatte and he said he enjoys meeting people in the community and making the hand-crafted beverages.

LoveALatte secured a red trailer that it uses at outdoor pop-ups and at the Kankakee Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

“The first year at the market was a good year, the next year at the market was a fabulous year,” Carroll said, adding that the long-term goal of the organization is to one day have a permanent storefront.

At both pop-ups and the farmers market, they have coffee grounds (both regular and decaf) for sale, as well as LoveALatte merch, including shirts and ball caps. Also on display are a poster board including photos of the organization from over the years with information on its mission.

“We believe everyone can learn, everyone can work [and] everyone is an important member of our society,” the board reads.

LoveALatte’s next pop up will be 9 a.m. Saturday at Cranky Mike’s Popcorn in Momence. For more information, visit lovealatteecoffee.com.

Appointments, walk-ups open for National Guard vaccinations in Kankakee

KANKAKEE — More than 1,600 first-dose appointments of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are available at Illinois National Guard clinics today, Wednesday and Thursday in Kankakee.

There were 411 appointments scheduled out of 2,100 total midday Monday, according to Kankakee County Health Department Administrator John Bevis.

“It can’t be any easier than the next few days” to find an opening, Bevis said.

The clinics are open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day at Kankakee First Church of the Nazarene, 1000 N. Entrance Ave., Kankakee.

Registration can be completed online at bit.ly/KankakeeMay18-20. Walk-ups are also welcome, especially on Wednesday and Thursday because fewer slots are taken.

These clinics are happening after weeks of gently rising COVID-19 cases in Kankakee County and Illinois.

“If you know anyone in your family who’s on the fence, try to convince them this is a good opportunity,” Bevis said.

Because Moderna requires two doses, people signing up must be available for both first and second dose dates, which will be May 18, 19 and 20 at the same location.

Bevis said that the two-dose requirement might be a reason why the appointments are not filling up as quickly as they did for the National Guard clinics on April 5-7 that used the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“When it was the Johnson & Johnson, people were willing to drive from far distances for one shot, but they might not be willing to drive far distances for two,” Bevis said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health paused use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week while six cases of rare and severe blood clots that occurred in women after vaccination are investigated.

Most Illinois National Guard clinics previously used Johnson & Johnson because it only required making one set of appointments per community at a time. Mass vaccination clinics using Moderna this week are like experiments to see if they draw the same interest, Bevis said.

The clinics’ link was not shared statewide until Sunday night, which could also affect the amount of people signing up, Bevis said.

The county has not yet met its limit of people interested in getting vaccinated, he said.

“I still feel that there are a lot of individuals that are very interested in receiving the shot but maybe accessibility or not being able to get to the locations or needing a clinic closer to where they are could be part of this,” Bevis said.

The Kankakee County Health Department, National Guard and FEMA chose to hold the clinics in central Kankakee because the health department heard many city residents wanted to be vaccinated and it would be easy to access. When the Guardsmen ran two days of clinics at Kankakee Community College earlier this month, the time slots filled in a few hours.

The health department put out word on Facebook and its website and emailed local organizations and people on its vaccine waiting list. Bevis said he hopes the three days of vaccinations can be used by people who have waited a while for the vaccine.

“I know some of the complaints earlier were from individuals who called us up and got on the health department’s list and then they don’t get called,” he said. “But here’s an opportunity where there are plenty of appointments.”

If some of the allotted doses are not used, the county will keep them and use them at other local clinics. Bevis said that if remainder is excessive, the county will use them in replacement of next week’s normal allotment or potentially share them with other counties.

Kankakee County sheriff: State not taking inmates after sentencing

KANKAKEE — Inmates not being transferred as expected to Illinois Department of Corrections’ facilities after being sentenced to prison has cost the taxpayers of Kankakee County $648,000 in seven months, says Sheriff Mike Downey.

Downey discussed the problem at a recent Kankakee County Board criminal justice committee meeting. He said the county is currently waiting for IDOC to take 33 inmates into state custody.

While they wait, the county is paying the tab for housing and medical, Downey said, adding that the state does not reimburse.

Using the $90 per diem the county receives for housing federal prisoners, Downey said that between Aug. 1, 2020, and March 3, the cost of housing state inmates was $648,000.

“The burden on the taxpayers is significant. This is affecting our general fund,” Downey said.

“We have had one of these individuals in our custody since December who is still in our custody. He has not been transferred to the Department of Corrections and the problem with that is liability,” he said. “If something happens to that individual while he is in our custody, regardless if he has been sentenced or not, falls on the county.”

Downey said he has had conversations with some DOC officials but can’t seem to reach the head of the organization.

“I have not got to the top person in DOC, acting director Rob Jeffreys,” he said. “He won’t call me back. He has others call me back.

“They know my position. They know our frustration,” he continued. “I get COVID. We have all been affected by it, and we are all dealing with it.”

But, he said, “This burden that has been laid on our taxpayers is significant.”

In the past three weeks, five inmates had served more time than their sentences and then been transported to DOC, Downey said.

“They had all served their time. That is a blatant violation of civil rights,” Downey said. “I don’t know if those individuals know that. We’ve been upfront with them and told them, ‘[Your] out date is here. You have to go to DOC first. We cannot release you.’”

The state is, however, taking the inmates who are set to be released, he said.

“Once we notify the DOC, all of a sudden they take those guys,” he said. “They go to the intake center at Stateville. They walk in and get processed and they walk back out. It’s still not costing DOC anything other than they have to process them.”

Kankakee County Public Defender Ed Pentuic told committee members the county’s corrections department is doing its job.

“I’ve got a list of all the people who have completed most of their sentence. I’ve been reaching out to DOC and gotten a little bit of traction,” Pentuic explained.

“More importantly, the corrections department here has been doing a great job of prioritizing and reaching out to the Department of Corrections to be sure they get released.”

Kankakee County is not alone, Downey said. This affects the state’s other 101 counties.

Last year, the Illinois Sheriffs Association sued Gov. JB Pritzker in an effort to make the state take these inmates.

The organization has since dropped the suit.