KANKAKEE — Four candidates in two state races squared off Tuesday evening in the first of two candidate forums for the Nov. 3 general election hosted by the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP’s political action committee.
Tuesday’s night forum was held in two sessions. First was the Illinois House of Representatives’ 79th district race between Jackie Haas, a Republican from Bourbonnais, and Charlene Eads, a Democrat from Bradley. In the second session, candidates for state senator for the 40th district, incumbent Democrat Patrick Joyce, of Essex, faced Republican challenger Eric Wallace, of Flossmoor.
Haas, a current Kankakee County Board member, and Eads agreed on some of the issues brought up by questions from the panel and the audience, but they differed on a few principles.
Haas said the two biggest issues facing voters is the district is recovering from the COVID shutdown and taxes.
“I believe that the impact on small business and the economy are incredibly significant right now,” she said. “What we’re hearing from our constituents is the impact on taxes is extremely great. We’re losing too many people in communities going to other areas and from our state to other states.
“The impact is too great, and people are losing too much money from their paychecks. They’re being taxed too much on everything, and folks are tired of being taxed on everything.”
Eads also said that trying to recover from the COVID impact is a challenge, as well as the increase in mental health issues.
“We need to advocate for more mental health funding,” she said.
Eads said the state has done its best responding to the COVID crisis in mitigating the spread of the disease but small businesses need more support. Haas said the state’s measures have hurt some businesses.
“I recognize that protecting the public’s health is really our first priority, but there has been a significant amount of government overreach,” she said. “The continual executive orders have given the big box stores a great advantage over our small, local business which are really the backbone of our economy and the driving force behind job creation in our communities. We need to get these businesses back in operation.”
On the subject of police reform, Eads said there’s room for change and to use more community-based policing.
“Everyone needs law enforcement to protect and serve, but right now there are problems within law enforcement agencies that needs change,” she said. “As a Black person myself, law enforcement doesn’t work for Black people right now. ... Most people who are Black and brown like me encounter problems and we need to address it. We can’t push it aside. ... Illinois has to address police reform. We need to introduce deescalation training with law enforcement.”
Haas said local law enforcement has been proactive in partnering in developing relationships in the community and is in favor of body cams.
“Most of our public safety personnel have gone through extensive mental health training,” she said. “... Every department in our county has crisis-intervention trained personnel. People can request a crisis-intervention trained officer to respond. ... I know the NAACP has been involved in advancing the 10 Principles and 8CantWait with our law enforcement personnel, and I think those are great advancements.”
Both candidates said they support the Black Lives Matter movement and that systemic racism needs to be addressed. Eads supports the Fair Tax proposal, while Haas is not in favor of the measure.
To attract an influx of people into the area, both felt improved recreation can be a driver.
“We have beautiful river that runs through Kankakee, so I will support recreational services that will help investors coming into the 79th district,” said Eads, who added infrastructure needs improvement.
“One of the things that we don’t think about when we talk about the industries here, is making sure that the folks that are working here are living here,” Haas said. “We’re losing some of the business and the taxes of the people who are commuting into work but not staying here. We need to think about attracting them back here, too. This is a great place to live and raise a family as well.”
Wallace and Joyce also agreed on some of the pressing issues, but differed on others based mostly on party platforms.
“There are tough decisions in front of us for sure, but making the correct decisions now under the cloud of a pandemic need to be thoughtful,” Joyce said.
Wallace made note how he’s hoping to be the first Black to be elected to the state senate as a Republican since 1939.
“That would shake up both parties,” he said. “It’s been 81 years. Can you imagine that? ... It will signal to both that you’re tired of the status quo and will demand something different from the Republicans and from the Democrats.”
Wallace said there’s a number of issues that state needs to tackle to bring viability back to the district, including eliminating corruption, reducing property tax and promoting individuals to start new businesses. He said raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour is a hindrance for small businesses on hiring young workers because it can’t afford to pay them.
“Again, we can’t allow the state to continue to stay on lock down,” he said. “We’ve got to open up and allow people, those who do have money, to go out and support the business that are still here. ... There are a lot of Black businesses that are going under because they don’t have reserves and they can’t work from home.”
Joyce said businesses are hurting for sure, and educating community leaders how to attain grant money can help revitalize cities and towns.
“We have an untapped resource here in the Kankakee River that is underutilized,” he said. “... We are watching our river be choked with sand, and it has so many opportunities along the banks of it, just recreation wise.”
Both Wallace and Joyce said some hard decisions are going to have to made when it comes to cutting programs on future state budgets.
“It’s just figuring out what that is because we’re going to have to tighten our belt,” Wallace said. “We lost a lot of money through COVID, and it’s just not going to fall out of the sky. We’re going to have to cut something. What it is? I’m not down in Springfield. Other may have a better idea as to what can be cut.”
Joyce said it’s going to take a thoughtful process.
“Those department heads have a better gauge on where those monies could be possibly come from in each of their departments,” he said. “The governor has asked each agency to hold 5 percent of their current budget for FY21 and in FY22 come up with 10% cuts. It’s coming. We have to pay for COVID, but the easy way is our national leadership has to step up to the plate.”
Joyce said state education funding has been maintained from the previous year, but COVID has thrown the state a curve ball and it will take a couple of years to get out of it.
“The current administration is dedicated to increase funding to higher education as well as K through 12 for years to come,” he said.
KANKAKEE — Dawn Botensten, food services director for Kankakee School District 111, began tearing up while reciting the mission of the district’s new food truck during a recent Kankakee School Board meeting.
The mission is “to bring delicious, healthy foods to all corners of our community,” and “to give students opportunities to learn and lead through the culinary arts.”
“I’m surprised I’m not crying even more,” Botensten said. “It’s just such a great opportunity for our community to be able to hit all different corners of our [community]. I have a plethora of ideas of how we can utilize this with our students.”
The district recently purchased a food truck from Chatterbox Food Truck Manufacturing in Syracuse, Ind., for $57,000 using grants provided by No Kid Hungry and the Head Start program.
The unofficial name of the district’s new food truck is Kay’s Kitchen.
Botensten said she spent six months researching features the district would need to operate its own food truck, and the company fully customized it to her specifications.
“It’s been a labor of love,” she said.
The truck includes a full, functioning mobile kitchen with generator, electricity, hand-washing sink and “anything that the health department would want us to have to keep our food safe,” Botensten said. The truck also features a flat grill, char grill, pizza oven, salad and sandwich station, cooler, and freezer.
“Literally one of my dreams is to have a food truck,” Botensten said. “And the beauty of it is, the food service department will be able to go to community areas and deliver food to students that can’t get to schools.”
She said the district plans to have the truck up and running as soon as the Kankakee County Health Department approves the district’s application and completes a final walk-through inspection.
Food service staff will operate the truck for a to-be-determined window of time during school hours Monday through Friday.
All students in the district are eligible to receive free breakfast and lunch due to the high percentage of students that qualify, so these meals will be free as well.
The truck will stop in communal areas such as parks or church parking lots for students and parents to come get meals; it will not be delivering meals door-to-door.
When planning for the 2020-2021 school year, the district expected families might have difficulties getting to school to pick up grab-and-go meals, as hybrid learning would be the primary mode of instruction while some would be fully remote.
“We felt that we could capture more of our students in the district and provide them a nutritious meal with the food truck,” Botensten said. “A lot of parents have trouble getting to the individual school, so we are going to bring the food to them.”
Daily menus will mimic the regular lunch menus at school and will likely include a sandwich, salad and hot food item.
The food service department must adhere to the same nutritional guidelines they follow for in-school lunches while operating the truck.
However, Botensten said she is willing to take requests.
“I still have to make sure that it fits the guidelines, but I’m willing to work with that,” she said. “I’ve taken restaurant-quality items and made it into food service.”
The district is also planning to bring the food truck to community events and farmers markets, where the menu would be more flexible.
If it gets health department approval in time, the district’s goal is to bring the truck to the final Kankakee Farmers Market of the season Oct. 31.
The truck could also make its way to the city’s Sandwich With a Side of Jam series.
Kankakee High School’s culinary arts program will also be involved in bringing the truck out for community for events, using it as a culinary and business learning opportunity for students, Botensten said.
The district is currently finalizing a logo to paint on the food truck; its design will be inspired by student-submitted artwork.
BRADLEY — After calling its location along Blatt Boulevard in Bradley home for more than 40 years, the Illinois Secretary of State is set to pack up the driver’s license testing facility and head northeast.
Jesse White’s office is targeting the now-vacant Premier Rental Purchase site, 111 Village Square Shopping Plaza in Bradley, as its new home. The office has been in discussions with the shopping center ownership for more than a year.
The move was approved by the Bradley Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday. The matter will head to the Bradley Village Board on Monday for its approval.
If all goes as planned, the facility — which will be in 6,000 square feet rather than the 3,700 square feet in its current home — could be in its new location by as early as Dec. 1, said Greg Leutloff, of McColly Bennett Commercial Real Estate, who is representing the Village Square ownership, Langham Creek Partners, of West Lake, Calif.
On many occasions, people seeking service there are forced to wait outside because space is so limited within the building.
White’s office is planning to sign a 10-year lease with a 10-year option with Langham. Terms of the lease were not available. Douglas Wiggs, director of the department of property management for the secretary of state’s office, did not attend the meeting.
The location would also include area within the parking lot east of the proposed site for truck and motorcycle driving examinations.
The new office will be located just south of Joann Fabrics and north of Cosmo Prof, United Liquor and Dollar Tree.
The shopping center needs the approval of the village because in this business district only government buildings associated with municipal government or a post office can be located in the district without needing the zoning approval.
The driver’s facility is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Leutloff said shopping center ownership believes the facility will help drive retail to the complex as the facility will bring more people to the area.
Planning board members had concern as to how truck and motorcycle testing would fit in the parking lot which for years has lacked an organized traffic pattern. Members pushed for some type of barrier to help limit vehicle traffic away from the testing driver testing area. Leutloff said state officials note on average only 8-10 truck license driving exams are completed weekly.
The Bradley facility, immediately west of the Burger King restaurant along Kennedy Drive, is extremely cramped and when truck exams take place parking lot space becomes limited. It is believed staffing levels will be increased as well.
BOURBONNAIS — Trustees are moving forward with the creation of a second business district in the village.
The proposed North Convent Business District would be along North Convent Street (U.S. 45/52), running from William Latham Sr. Drive north to Hilltop Drive. The district would encompass 93 parcels on 143 acres. In that area are 75 buildings, including residential and commercial properties.
Prior to the board’s regular Monday meeting, a public hearing was held on the proposed district.
Trustees will vote whether to adopt the ordinance at their next regular meeting scheduled for Oct. 19.
The district would be funded by a 1 percent sales tax, making it 7.25 percent for the businesses located inside the district.
If passed, the ordinance would take effect April 2021.
The sales tax of 1 percent excludes grocery items such as food as well as vehicle titles or registrations in the state, Gene Norber said during Monday’s meeting. Norber works with Economic Development Resources (EDR) out of St. Louis. The company was hired to work with the village on creation of the district.
State law allows for municipalities to create such zones.
According to state guidelines, a study must find the current area is blighted by such things as inadequate or antiquated infrastructure, inadequate street layout, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, impedes the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability, an economic under-utilization of the area, or a menace to the public health, safety, morals or welfare.
The village currently has one business district. The Bourbonnais Business District encompasses an area north of Larry Power Road to the Bourbonnais Parkway and around the 318 exit of Interstate 57. The ordinance creating the district was adopted in July 2018.
The Convent District’s projected costs are anticipated to be $18 million, according to a report prepared by Economic Development Resources (EDR) of St. Louis. They were hired to work with the village on the Bourbonnais Business District. Of that total, $400,000 is to cover the cost of studies, surveys, development of plans and specifications, plan administration and other professional services. The remainder will be used for the projects that will make improvements to infrastructure and businesses.