In the event that I am not allowed to deliver the full remarks below (I anticipate needing about seven minutes, rather than the usually allotted five), I have published them here for the public to review. – Colby
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board –
Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight and to present what is not going to be a popular opinion. I had hoped to avoid these comments, but I’ve waited long enough and don’t see anything that tells me I shouldn’t make them.
It has been nearly a year since April 2nd, 2015. On that date, this community awakened and finally – for the first time in years – spoke up about what was bothering it, as a collective. I stood at this podium and openly called for three different people to leave their posts as officials of this Village and point-blank told one more that they would be leaving their post after the following Tuesday’s election. He did and they did, not that long afterward. I thought on that night that things were finally going to move forward on the right track.
For the most part, they did… but there are glaring problems that still linger and can no longer be waved off as “the new administration just needs some time.”
President Waltrip, despite what I am about to say, please know that I have a lot of respect for you and the position into which you were placed last summer. I don’t envy you and would not have wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole, myself.
It is grossly disappointing, however, to continue to hear whispers from this building that the transparency so obviously desired by the residents of this community has not yet been achieved. It is disheartening to hear about decisions being made without bringing each member of this body into the know before those decisions are called for a vote at the next meeting (the A&W debacle, for example, and at least one Trustee being blindsided by the news of the development). It is exceedingly frustrating to have heard from multiple sources that at least one member of this body has said behind closed doors, “Oh, the public doesn’t know what they want” or – even more distressing – “I’m tired of hearing people bitch” (with apologies for the language, that was a direct quote).
It is even more disappointing – and, quite frankly, alarming – to hear stories of board members feeling that they are continually being disrespected by certain Village staff members who may – or may not – have uttered the words, “The Trustees are just bodies in a chair; they don’t make the decisions, we do.”
Perhaps I missed something (I do, admittedly, have a very short attention span and a lot of things bouncing around my head at any given time), but I seem to recall that we – the people – being entrusted by not only Village ordinance, but also the Illinois and United States Constitutions, to elect our leaders make to the decisions. I recall accusing former President Jumper of running this Village like it was his own little kingdom and we were nothing but peasants to him. How shameful must you feel, even when you won’t have the courage to admit it publicly, to know that that feeling is once again rising among at least a handful of your neighbors? The people who elected you did so believing that you were all honest people who were going to do the will of the people… not the will of Mike Elliott, Kem Wilson, Stacy Pinkerton, Steve Waltrip, John Gotschall, and Paula Stewart, independent of our thoughts. If you don’t like hearing our thoughts, our opinions, there is a very easy option for you to take – resign your seat. There are others who would very much like the opportunity to serve and would not take it for granted.
To certain Village employees, I would like to remind you that you do not serve an elected term – you serve an appointed one, at the will of the Village President and, by proxy, the residents of this Village. Your time in your public servant position can end just as quickly as it began. We demand respect, just as you demand it from us. When we call you, whether it is something as inane as checking a balance on our account with the water department or something as immediate as a crumbling wall alongside a Village sidewalk, we do not expect to be cursed once you are off the phone with us. We do not expect a passing of the buck, when it comes to getting something fixed. (How long has the gazebo project sat unfinished? How much of last summer went by with the open field alongside the pavilion being blocked off?)
Our community took a massive punch in the gut, twenty days ago. For the first time in its history –
and, according to a Trustee with whom I spoke on the way to Officer Fitzgerald’s graveside service, the first time in the history of Morgan, Scott, and Cass Counties (*EDIT* Please see below) – we lost one of our first responders in the line of duty. Chief Hallock, I can’t even begin to imagine or comprehend the grief that you, your officers, and other people close to Scot in his professional life went through and are still coping with. I can’t – and won’t – try to imagine what his family is dealing with. My heart continues to ache for everyone involved and I hope to do the best that I can to honor Scot when I wear his badge number as my bib number in next week’s Lincoln Presidential Half-Marathon in Springfield. As devastating as Officer Fitzgerald’s loss was, I saw great things come from it in the days afterward, in the way that our community and so many others responded. It is my hope and prayer that we continue to honor Scot with each day and give thanks for the interactions that we each had with him.
The allegations and uproar that have arisen from that day, however, are – once again – alarming. I know which member of the Board made the call about a non-Police Department employee driving a marked squad car. I understand the concern that was raised. In my opinion, it was – and still is – a valid one. I also do understand – and let me make that abundantly clear, before I’m accused of not supporting our police officers – I do understand the frustration and anger that you expressed in your letter to the board, Chief Hallock. Yes, the timing of the question could most certainly have been better. However, I am disappointed that you would choose to call into question the integrity and ability of that Trustee to serve as a leader over the concern they raised.
Simply stated, Chief, the actions of Richard Evans – approved or otherwise by former President Jumper – set a really bad precedent, in many instances. Public perception is a very real thing, particularly given the events investigated and reported upon by the Illinois State Police. While I will grant that the public would most likely not take any serious note or concern about the Village employee in question driving a marked squad car on March 9th, previous incidents must not be overlooked and, I believe, policies in this regard must be changed. There should be, at best, a limited list of less than a handful of people authorized to drive a Village of South Jacksonville police vehicle who are not sworn officers… and, frankly, those people are seated before me this evening.
A final note… in the course of my employment, I have regular contact with certain elected and appointed officials in the City of Springfield. Since Officer Fitzgerald’s passing, I have been approached by a number of alderman – Ralph Hanauer, Chuck Redpath, Kris Theilen, Herman Senor, and Jim Donelan immediately come to mind – as well as the city’s Corporation Council, Jim Zerkle (and his wife), and Mayor Jim Langfelder, expressing their condolences to our community. I thank you for the opportunity to pass along those condolences this evening.
*EDIT* It has been brought to my attention that the information given to me about area first responder deaths in the line of duty was not accurate. MCSD Deputy Craig Dowart was killed in the line of duty in 1994 (and, of course, has a section of Route 104 between Jacksonville and Waverly named in his honor), Cass County Sheriff’s Deputy Hazen Maltby died in a traffic accident while on duty in 1976, and Illinois Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Pete Lackey was also killed in the line of duty in 1972. I offer my sincere apologies to the families and friends of these men.