KANKAKEE — There will be not be an independent investigation into campaign donations for Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong.

At Wednesday’s special Kankakee City Council meeting, the 14-member council voted by a 8-6 margin to deny five provisions on the meeting agenda dealing with the need for an independent investigation. The measure came after the mayor’s Democratic Party primary election opponent, Angela Shea, alleged violations of the city’s municipal ethics codes regarding political donations from individuals and businesses which have contracts with the city.

Voting against the investigation were Carl Brown and Fred Tetter, D-7; Mike Cobb, D-6; Carmen Lewis, D-5; Danita Grant Swanson, R-4; Stacy Gall, D-2; and Cherry Malone-Marshall and Mike Prude, D-1.

Voting in favor of the investigation were Chris Curtis, R-6; Tyler Tall Sr., D-5; Jim Faford, R-4; Larry Osenga and David Crawford, R-3; and Mike O’Brien, D-2.

Only moments after the council was set to begin its discussion on the motions which could have resulted in an investigation, appointment of a special counsel and other legal issues, there was a move to go into closed session.

By an 8-7 vote, with Wells-Armstrong casting the deciding vote, the council when into executive session. When the approximate hour-long, closed session ended, city counsel Burt Odelson explained the city ordinance dealing with campaign contributions no longer existed.

He said the city’s existing law had been rewritten in 2003 by the Illinois General Assembly, which basically meant the law — per Kankakee’s municipal code — no longer existed.

ELECTION DAY LOOMS

The issue came at a unique point in time. The primary election is set for Tuesday. The winner of the Democratic Party primary between Wells-Armstrong and Angela Shea will face the winner of the Republican primary between Curtis and J.J. Hollis in the April 6 municipal election.

After the meeting, Wells-Armstrong said the matter likely benefited her re-election campaign as it mobilized her base.

“It exposes the challenges I’ve had to deal with as the first black mayor of Kankakee,” she said.

Shea did not back away from her claim. She also did not back away from her charge that the mayor should not be taking money from those engaging in city contracts.

“This is not about being political. It’s about right and wrong,” she said.

‘UNCONSTITUTIONAL, OUTDATED’

In a four-page memorandum distributed to the council members only minutes before the 5:30 p.m. meeting began, Odelson wrote the city’s ordinance, as it exists, is “unconstitutional, outdated, rescinded by its own terms, and grossly ambiguous on its face.”

Odelson said the old law may have been put in place with good intentions, but the courts believed otherwise.

“There is absolutely no doubt the ordinance is unconstitutional,” he said.

Following Odelson’s summary, Councilman Brown motioned to deny the agenda items seeking to look into the campaign funding issues. Councilman Tetter seconded the motion.

After the meeting, Odelson said simply put, the law, made part of the city’s ordinances in June 1999, should have been off of the city’s books in 2003.

The law he was referencing dealt with allowable limits of campaign contributions to those seeking city office.

‘FOLLOW OUR DUTY’

At the conclusion of the meeting, as is customary, council members are asked if they have any comments.

Each council member took advantage of the opportunity.

Basically, those voting against the investigation attacked those who support it. They charged the allegation into mayoral wrongdoing was simply a political maneuver to damage the mayor’s re-election campaign.

The six who voted in favor of moving forward with an investigation said they were simply attempting to determine if things were being done according to the law.

O’Brien said he would like to have an independent, outside law firm review this issue to verify Odelson’s assessment.

Others took a different approach.

“This is not a witch hunt,” said Osenga. “We have a duty, and we follow our duty.”

Tetter stated many people have not gotten over the fact that a black woman is mayor.

“This is a political stunt. This had no merit from its very origin,” he said.

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.