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It was about two months ago that Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk stated at a City Council meeting there was a “war on police.” Sometimes, I guess, it just depends on your perspective. That was not one of the implications contained in an article of the September 7 issue of the USA Today news section. It’s a national newspaper with a national audience. The article was titled Behind the Blue Wall. The subject was regarding Joliet’s Police Department and the video of Eric Lurry’s arrest and ultimate death while in the custody of the Joliet police. The article was about the subsequent action taken by Sgt. Javier Esqueda releasing video of the arrest and that was unauthorized for public release by the police department. The subtitle of the article is “A police officer exposed a video showing a death in custody. Now he’s facing prison time”. For those who might think there is a “war on police” the article is a must read.
President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday coincided with the Chinese New Year known in many Asian countries, including China, as Tet. In Vietnam the new year is officially named Tet Nguyen Dan. Tet is considered one of the most important holidays in Asian culture with families gathering in their hometowns to celebrate, much in the same way families gather in the USA for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Before the Tet holiday begins Vietnamese try to get rid of any "bad fortune" by cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, resolving disputes, and paying their debts. The Vietnamese spend much of the holiday paying respect to family and friends. They also court lady luck because they believe that events occurring during Tet can determine what happens during the rest of the year. It seems almost ironic that the State of the Union address was held on the first day of the Tet holiday. Especially the idea of “resolving disputes” and “paying their debts.” Good advice. The Tet holiday also holds an indelible memory for the United States, particularly for those who served in the military during the Tet offensive in 1968 Vietnam. The occasion that year was supposed to begin a cease-fire in the shooting war that would last several days. Instead, the government of North Vietnam used the event to begin an offensive that turned out to be a turning point in the war that eventually ended Americans popular support of the war.
Next Thursday, November 11, is Veterans Day. The day is set aside to honor all military veterans who have served in the military and includes those currently in the military serving all over the globe. The current number of U.S. veterans is estimated to be around 19 million as of this year, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, representing just over 7% of the total U.S. adult population. The veteran population has been declining for the last decade or so due to aging and a reduction in military personnel. According to a recent Pew Research Center article published this year, 72% of Americans view veterans’ benefits and services as a priority. In fact, that majority contains equal shares of support among Democrats and Republicans. The vast majority support an increase in spending for veterans’ benefits and services. Those in elected office and those campaigning for government office would be well advised to support spending increases where veterans’ needs are concerned.
Curious. That’s another word for peculiar. Odd, strange and unusual are also words that are derivative meanings of “curious.” What am I talking about? Leadership at City Hall. The City of Joliet continues its administration without a fulltime, permanent City Manager. The current part-time, Interim City Manager Steve Jones, who is also a non-resident, has a new status. Beginning March 1, according to Jones’ new arrangement with the City of Joliet, he is an independent contractor under the terms and conditions of an Employee Leasing Agreement with GovTempsUSA, LLC. The compensation payable to the leasing company is $135.10 per hour. The Assigned Employee, Steven Jones, will be paid only for hours worked. The maximum number of hours that can be invoiced is 40 per week. It is unclear if that means there is no 24/7 on the job or if he has to show up for 40 hours per week. It is also unclear who determines the number of hours actually worked. Jones?
Tuesday, March 17 is primary election day in Illinois. Early voting began this last Monday. Voters in Will County should have received a sample ballot for both the Democratic and the Republican Primary races. You have to pick one or the other and declare the party ballot you wish to use for your vote. Other than the presidential race, there are not many races providing an array of selections. As of this week the Democratic Party has four choices for President: in ballot order, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard. There are four other races on the ballot that are contested. The contest for the 11th Congressional District is between Bill Foster and Rachel Ventura. The 49th State Senate race is between Meg Loughran Cappel, Larry Hug and Michael Crowner. The Will County Board Chief Executive contest is between Jennifer Bertino-Tarant and Nick Palmer. The Coroner race is between Laurie Summers and Sean Talbot.
It is not a great stretch of imagination to understand we humans face a worldwide crisis that threatens all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated almost all aspects of our lives for the past six months and that is unlikely to change very soon regardless of who is doing the talking. We have witnessed peaceful protests, partisan quarreling and unwavering stances on some of the simplest of things such as wearing a mask in public places. With all of the serious business going on in the world, Joliet managed to make headlines by paying four city employees overtime wages on a holiday for providing a porta-potty for nurses on strike at Amita St. Joe’s hospital. Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk ordered up the portable facility by directly calling the public works department to set-up the city-owned property. The part-time interim City Manager Steve Jones, who has resigned but not gone, was not happy over the incident and let it be known Mayor O’Dekirk has no authority to do that.
The Joliet city budget for fiscal year 2021 has had very little, if any, public mention by City Council Members. The reason may be the realization that the 2020 budget could miss its expected bottom-line result by as much as $20 million. The biggest hole in the budget will come from the loss of approximately $10 million of gaming revenues. Based on current projections, gaming revenues may not reach a $6 million total for the year. Revenues were projected to be over $17 million for budget year 2020. One of the current mayor’s long-term objectives when he was elected for mayor was to wean the city budget from a dependence on gaming revenue to achieve annual budget goals. This year’s budget result is probably not what he or any of the Council Members had in mind.
It was just about eight weeks ago that voters in 14 States voted in Primary Elections to select Republican and Democratic candidates for National, State and County offices that will be voted for on November 3, 2020. Just two weeks later, the Illinois primary was held. That was March 17. Since then, COVID-19 has dominated just about every aspect of our lives. The one exception in the Joliet area has been the Northpoint issue and even that has quieted down in the last two weeks. This next week, the City Council meets on Tuesday and no doubt discussion on how Joliet will confront the impending financial crisis facing city government operations will be on the agenda. City revenues have been greatly impacted in at least two of the city’s major revenue sources: gaming and sales taxes. Assuming a modest decrease in sales taxes and the complete loss of gaming revenue in the last six to eight weeks losses could exceed as much as $5 million year to date. There are few possibilities that revenue can be recovered. That only leaves the option of what expenses can be cut.
Major League Baseball teams ended the regular season this last Sunday. If you are a Cubs fan the season wasn’t what is always hoped for, the play-offs, and it’s “wait ‘til next year,” again. The White Sox fans have more games to look forward to and maybe even a World Series victory. We’ll see. Since attendance at the ballpark is one measure of a successful season, how did the two Chicago teams due this year? Better, certainly, than the 2020 season, when attendance records were not kept, although they did play an abbreviated season.
Early Fall is the time of the year when all of the major professional sports are being played simultaneously. Professional and college football dominate the airways, but basketball, hockey, and soccer are also being played and of course baseball is winding up their season. It’s questionable if baseball is still America’s pastime, but the World Series begins this week and that usually generates some interest even if the hometown team (Chicago) isn’t in it this year. A few weeks back our Joliet hometown baseball organization made its annual report to the city, and touted a successful season. Not on the baseball field mind you, but attendance was up and, apparently, they had many more events, besides baseball, that took place in the stadium than in previous years. That’s because the owners of the baseball stadium, Joliet taxpayers, spent a few million dollars in upgrades to the stadium in order to provide a better experience and allow more diversified events.
It’s been just a little over two weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared a national emergency by President Trump and the Illinois Primary squeaked by with a dismal voter turnout for a Presidential Primary. Turn-out this year was just over 25 percent. The last Presidential Primary in 2016 netted slightly less than a 45 percent turnout. The official results of the 2020 primary will be posted on April 7. Provisional and mail-in ballots were added as of March 31. There are no changes in the outcome of any race. There have been no Presidential Primaries held in the U.S. since March 17.
This past Wednesday was Veterans Day. In past years there were many public celebrations in and around the Joliet and Will County area honoring veterans and their military service. That didn’t happen this year but you can always thank a vet for their service anytime of the year. Most vets don’t give a lot of thought to their military service once they return to civilian life. The veteran population has been declining in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs the vet population is about 19.5 million. The Gulf War era makes up about 50 percent of all war veterans. The World War II vets now total less than 325,000. More than 50 percent of all veterans are age 65 or older. The veteran population is expected to decrease by 30 percent over the next 20 years or so.
The Consolidated Election is less than three weeks away. There is very little evidence that an election is on the horizon, save for a few candidate signs scattered around in various locations in the county. This election has all the makings for a low turnout on April 6. Having just come through one of the most contentious national elections in recent history, I doubt there is much appetite for another election in less than three weeks. But there is one and it’s time for a little campaigning background.
This time next week the presidential election will be over, but at this moment it is obviously unknown who will be sitting in the White House on January 20,2021. Speculating on the outcome from this vantage point seems unnecessary and pointless. I can live with that and, instead, choose to shed a little light on the local elections that will take place next April 6. Currently, there are 16 people who have requested nominating petitions for one of the three At-Large City Council positions. That doesn’t mean they will necessarily be on the ballot. That’s only the first step to become a candidate. Lots of time remains before ballot names are assured. The next step for the petitioner is to find a minimum of 95 qualified signatures on the nominating petitions. That’s one percent of the total votes cast two years ago at the last Consolidated Election. That’s a small turnout in a city of 147,000+ people. Most likely there will not be long lines of voters casting their choice for a candidate on election day next April.
Joliet decided last week how it plans to access Lake Michigan as the sustainable source of drinking water for the next 100 years for Joliet residents. They have partnered with the City of Chicago for the solution. What could possibly go wrong?
Overtime pay at 135% over budget?
No decision has been made about Joliet’s next permanent City Manager as was implied at a recent Special City Council meeting. City management leadership in Joliet will have to wait at least another couple of weeks. Officially the current part-time Interim City Manager Steve Jones, who is also a non-resident, will continue in the role. That is until he takes some time off this week and next. According to sources, Jones is appointing City Clerk Christa Desiderio as Acting Interim City Manager during his absence. She will be the fifth person to fill in at the manager role, at least temporarily, since Jim Hock left the City Manager position in May of 2017.
The role of leadership in Joliet seems to be very muddled in the minds of many of its citizens. It is no wonder. The City Manager is leased from a third party, the Mayor wants to play policeman and the city council is split on most items that are not routine. Coverage of the incident has been widespread in the local media, including The Times Weekly. There has even been mention of the incident in other media locations around the nation. In light of Mayor Bob O’Dekirk’s altercation last week with two protesters, perhaps it is time for those elected and appointed officials to review their roles.
This past Monday was Vietnam Veterans Day. The day was noted in this column a couple of weeks ago. The day was established by Presidential Proclamation in 2012. The day is for recognition of all living veterans who served on active duty in the Armed Services, regardless of location, during the time period November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975. During that time span approximately 10 Million served in the military. The memory of Vietnam has faded somewhat for most Americans since the time period marks a span that was 50 years ago. How have Vietnam veterans fared since then?
The pandemic caused by COVID-19 continues to alter the way we conduct our lives. The first three-day holiday since the shelter-in-place began back in March will be the Memorial Day weekend that starts on Saturday the 23rd and ends with Monday the 25th. Connecting dates to the days of the week is important because it’s getting harder to separate when the weekend starts and the work-week begins, or is it the other way around?
The first order of business for the City Council meeting this week was a proclamation recognizing the work of the Environmental Commission. The Proclamation stated in part the Commission “exceeded expectations and provided for a thorough, unbiased and transparent study process for the benefit of all City of Joliet water customers and potential regional water partners.” As a member of the Environmental Commission, I can confirm that is a true statement. That objective guided the study from the beginning. The fact that Lake Michigan was the final choice for Joliet’s alternative water source should come as no surprise. Approximately 83 percent of communities in the Chicago region, which includes seven counties, use Lake Michigan as their drinking water supply. The Great Lakes Region contains more than 20 percent of the world’s surface drinking water.