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Local
Kankakee looks to apply brakes to gaming cafes

KANKAKEE — The brakes are being applied when it comes to siting any more gaming cafes in Kankakee.

By a 4-1 vote, the Kankakee City Council’s Economic Development Committee instructed the city’s legal department to draft an ordinance halting the siting of any additional video gaming locations for a period of six months as they plan a deep dive into what is appropriate when it comes to locating any future video gaming businesses.

This moratorium would not include bars, restaurants or truck stops, but rather locations where the sole business plan is gambling.

Currently, the city has four such locations: Shelby’s, 4 Meadowview Center; Station Street Gaming Cafe, 150 E. Station St.; Lacey’s Place, 503 RiverStone Parkway; and the recently sited, but not yet in operation location at 1620 E. Maple St.

These gaming-only businesses are located in the city’s 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th wards.

“It’s money, but is it the right money?” Kankakee Mayor Chris Curtis said this week. “Our standards are to have a community that will thrive and grow.”

Will more gaming-exclusive locations help lead the city to that destination is a question many are beginning to ask.

“We are going to take a pause on gaming parlors. We have to answer what is that number that balances our best growth for our community,” he said.

Alderman David Baron, D-2, who appeared to be leading the call for a moratorium among council members, noted the city’s planning, economic development and mayor’s office are fielding numerous requests on a weekly basis for more gaming.

“We need to pause,” he said. “I’m not sold on gaming cafes as a viable thing for any community.”

One thing is for certain: Video gambling appears to be a growth industry. Regardless of the economy, pandemic or any other factor, video gaming seems to weather the storm.

The city’s budget this year projects for $540,000 to be collected through the city’s gaming tax. That accounts for tax revenue from both gambling exclusive locations and gaming centers within other businesses.

In the last fiscal year, the city collected $444,169 and that money was reaped even though gaming machines were turned off for four months by the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three operating gambling cafes in Kankakee have brought to the city’s budget through the first four months of the current budget year $44,360. Shelby’s alone has brought in $19,415 to the city coffers.

In all, there are 41 locations in Kankakee which have video gaming and a total of 223 machines.

These numbers would explain why companies have city hall phones ringing off the hook.

“I believe this can be described as a tax on the poor,” Baron said. “I believe that’s what this is.”

He said the simple question is can Kankakee base economic development on gaming?

“Is that how you bring about economic investment?” Baron asked. “I can’t ignore the problematic consequences. Is this what we want in the community? To what extent is the good and when does it become a problem?”

Baron acknowledged some may view game halls as “just another business.”

“The time has come to pause,” he said. “Let’s take a hard look at the data. Before we keep granting permits, let’s make sure they are a good thing.”

The only Economic Development Committee member who voted against a moratorium was 1st Ward Alderwoman Cherry Malone-Marshall. She said a location in the 1st Ward could help with economic development there.

She said each ward should be allowed to have a gaming cafe.

Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of Kankakee’s Economic & Community Development Agency, said a basic question is “are they truly economic development?”

“We don’t want just gaming cafes. We want other businesses,” she said.

At the same time, she noted, the city doesn’t want to turn away investment either.

“We’re just looking for some direction from the council,” she said.

Brewer-Watson said many communities are struggling with this very same issue.

“What is reasonable?” she asked, adding that she hopes a market analysis can help provide the answer.

“My job is to present data so we can make the best decision,” she said.


Crime
Search of murder site stirs emotions for victim's daughter

KANKAKEE — A search for clues in the disappearance and death of Jannette Johnson remains an emotional journey for her daughter Joretha Hampton 30 years later.

“It was heavy,” Hampton recalled of Sunday’s search in Pembroke Township, where previously found remains were ID’d recently as her mother. “One of our questions was answered — where it happened. We still need to learn the who, what, when and why.”

A 29-year-old Kankakee resident at the time, Johnson was reported missing on Aug. 3, 1985, by her family. Hampton was 11.

Last month, police said remains of a woman previously found in eastern Kankakee County were those of Johnson. The ID was made in November 2020 using DNA from family members.

The case is now a homicide investigation, according to police.

Sunday’s search was led by Kankakee Police Sgt. Logan Andersen with assistance from the Missing Person Awareness Network. Gia Wright is the founder of the organization.

“The search was successful in that it brought several volunteers out which were able to share different perspectives and new ideas on the case,” Andersen said. “It is always a reassuring sign of humanity when volunteers, who did not know Jannette Johnson, come out to participate in the hopes of finding evidence which can give the family closure.”

Members of Johnson’s family and 10 volunteers searched the area, Wright said. Disaster Dogs, a nonprofit organization, was part of the search effort as well.

“We had a good search, Wright said.

Hampton added, “The support was marvelous. It helped me deal with my emotions. It makes me sick knowing someone took her out here and murdered her. The person who did this has no soul.”

With God’s grace, Hampton said, the family is ready for the next step.

“At the end of the day, it is about our faith in God,” Hampton said. “He gives us strength there will be justice. There will be an arrest and the family will get closure.”


Local
Walters addresses Kankakee High School scheduling

KANKAKEE — Kankakee School District 111 Superintendent Genevra Walters was in attendance at this week’s Kankakee School Board meeting to discuss what she is doing to fix the scheduling issues at Kankakee High School.

Walters said she has been taking time off after having surgery for colon cancer. She has been absent from recent board meetings and working behind the scenes rather than in person due to her health concerns, she said.

At Monday’s meeting, Walters presented an “emergency schedule” for the 2021-22 year to the board with plans to implement it by January at the latest.

“I’m sure people will ask why didn’t I do it sooner,” she noted. “I have never done a schedule, so even this schedule is going to have flaws because I’ve never done one before. And it’s really not the responsibility of the superintendent to do a schedule.”

At the previous board meeting on Sept. 13, high school administrators said they were working to clear up the overlaps in students’ schedules by Sept. 20.

This has yet to be completed.

As of Wednesday, approximately 70 percent of overlaps have been addressed, Walters said. The unstructured time in students’ schedules is still being worked out as well, though no timeline was given.

What’s the plan?

Walters said she worked with the district’s IT supervisor Dan Dannenberg to get started on the emergency schedule using Skyward, a database system for schools. Neither of them had ever created a schedule before, she noted, though Dannenberg is familiar with the database system.

“The most important thing to get this schedule done quickly is that we have to use Skyward,” she said. “We have to use the database.”

The previous schedule was created both manually and with the use of a database, but the database needs to be centered in the process, particularly with the large number of students enrolled at the high school, Walters said.

Enrollment is currently about 1,500 students.

An administrative team is working through a list of tasks to get the emergency schedule in place; Walters said they are on track to complete it before January, pending completion of the tasks.

She said she will have a better idea of the timeline for implementation as the tasks are completed, including getting information about students’ course requests and entering the information into Skyward.

The proposed emergency schedule includes nine 40-minute class periods as well as one 20-minute “flex time” before school; two additional “flex times” are included at the end of the day, with the ninth class period having the option to be broken into two 20-minute periods.

Eight lunch times are scheduled from fifth through eighth period, with each period divided into two 20-minute lunches.

Walters also addressed what the district is doing about the loss in instructional time the scheduling problems have caused.

KHS will be open to all high school students every Monday through Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. for Twilight School, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Saturday School, during which time students can get instructional assistance from licensed teachers and use all available computer programs.

The district is also looking into providing tutoring through Paper, a company that provides one-on-one tutoring assistance 24/7 in all subjects in both English and Spanish.

Accountability?

John Coglan, a former board member for six years ending in 2017, used the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting to dismiss calls to fire the administration over the scheduling problems at KHS.

“You all apologized and the superintendent has returned to duty in spite of her health issues to personally create a schedule,” he said. “This is how adults deal with mistakes, you take responsibility, apologize, you do your best to fix it.”

While the administration and board have to answer for mistakes that led to these problems, the public should also look to their accomplishments and “unprecedented success,” Coglan said.

“There is much work to do, but I support this superintendent, and I support any board member that stands with her as you fix this mess and continue the thankless job of serving on this school board,” he said.

Amanda Carnes, the parent of a high school sophomore, also used public comment to address accountability, calling the schedule implementation “an absolute disaster.”

“What type of accountability is going to be taken by the administration for these mistakes?” Carnes asked. “At this point, the only people being punished are the students. Six weeks into school, students should be learning, not sitting around in hubs doing nothing.”

Board member Christopher Bohlen said that the issue of accountability must be dealt with, but the first priority should be to get students’ schedules fixed.

“I’ve been told by at least one person, ‘Well, everybody ought to be fired.’ My response is, ‘How quickly are you going to get your schedule then if you fire everybody?’” he said. “That’s not my goal here. My goal is, once we get the schedules in place, finally, then we will deal with whatever accountability, discipline, or whatever else is appropriate at that point in time.”

Walters said that accountability would be “based on mitigating and aggravating factors” and determined on an individual basis with the people involved.

Meeting with ISBE

Illinois State Board of Education representatives had a virtual meeting with Kankakee school officials on Sept. 16.

The representatives said that ISBE will be providing support for scheduling and increasing the quality of instruction at KHS, improving equity district-wide, and for competency-based education.

Walters said the support from ISBE will likely be offered through the end of the school year or longer.

One of the major concerns from ISBE was over the quality of instruction at KHS, Walters said. A parent reported that a high school teacher assigned students a coloring sheet, which turned out to be true.

One of the resources ISBE will be providing is a virtual course catalog offered by the state. Courses that can’t be offered at school because of low student interest could be offered online, and the district would be reimbursed for the costs.

Walters said there may be an in-person visit from ISBE next semester to assess the district’s progress.


Business
U.S. Chamber calls $3.5T spending bill an ‘existential threat’ to economy

One of the nation’s leading economic and business groups is warning that the $3.5 trillion spending bill before Congress is an “existential threat” to the nation’s economy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched a six-figure television ad campaign targeting the proposed tax hikes in the measure that would be “taking more hard-earned money from small businesses and working families.”

The initial ads will play in California, Minnesota, Virginia, New York and Iowa.

“This reconciliation bill is effectively 100 bills in one representing every big government idea that’s never been able to pass in Congress,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark said. “The bill is an existential threat to America’s fragile economic recovery and future prosperity. We will not find durable or practical solutions in one massive bill that is equivalent to more than twice the combined budgets of all 50 states. The success of the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations provides a much better model for how Congress should proceed in addressing America’s problems.”

The chamber also sent a letter to the House of Representatives last week warning members to not support the legislation.

“This ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to raising taxes and creating new government spending and regulatory programs is an existential threat to America’s fragile economic recovery and future prosperity, and will hamstring America as we work to compete globally, especially with China,” the letter said. “No member of Congress can achieve the support of the business community if they vote to pass this bill as currently constructed.”

But some lawmakers are threatening to sabotage a bipartisan infrastructure bill if the $3.5 trillion spending plan doesn’t pass. On Wednesday, 11 Democratic senators said they would kill the $1 trillion infrastructure bill without passage of the $3.5 trillion measure.

The senators, who released a joint statement, include Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kirsten Gillibrand D-N.Y., Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Tina Smith, D-Minn., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

“We voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the clear commitment that the two pieces of the package would move together along a dual track,” the senators said in the joint statement. “Abandoning the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act and passing the infrastructure bill first would be in violation of that agreement.

“Congress must not undercut the President’s proposals that will create new opportunities for America’s families and workers. The House of Representatives should wait to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the budget reconciliation bill, which enacts the rest of the President’s Build Back Better agenda, is sent to the president’s desk.

“We strongly support the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other members in the House who have said they intend to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill only once the Build Back Better Act is passed,” they added. “That is what we agreed to, it’s what the American people want, and it’s the only path forward for this Congress.”

This stance complicates things for Democratic leadership, especially after multiple Democratic senators have said they cannot support the larger bill because of its hefty price tag. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have both balked at voting for the $3.5 trillion bill.

“These are not indications of an economy that requires trillions in additional spending,” Manchin said. “Every elected leader is chosen to make difficult decisions. Adding trillions of dollars more to nearly $29 trillion of national debt, without any consideration of the negative effects on our children and grandchildren, is one of those decisions that has become far too easy in Washington.

“Given the current state of the economic recovery, it is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or Great Recession – not an economy that is on the verge of overheating.”


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