County board hears criticism

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Monday’s meeting of the Monroe County Board featured some testy exchanges between county officials and local residents that resulted in a stricter time limit for public comment going forward. 

Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing responded to a request from county commissioners to provide costs incurred by his department in connection with the June 13 protest in Waterloo against racial inequality and police misconduct.  

Rohlfing said personnel overtime, having law enforcement officers available from outside jurisdictions and equipment costs came to $14,635.59 for the county. He did not yet have final costs from the City of Waterloo for the protest.

Rohlfing justified this expenditure by saying there was credible information that one protestor from outside the area had told people they wanted to incite protestors to set fire to Waterloo City Hall. He said law enforcement was also concerned counterprotesting might result in violence and it was prudent to be prepared for those scenarios.

Rohlfing went on to cite the large number of deaths in Chicago over the Father’s Day and Fourth of July weekends – 104 and 89, respectively – with little national media coverage and the recent deaths of three black police officers, also with virtually no coverage.  

He added that a new survey of current law enforcement officers asking if they wanted their children to continue the family tradition in law enforcement showed only seven percent saying yes.

Public comments that followed were heated. 

Local citizen Andy Paulissen, while recognizing that law enforcement is a difficult line of work, criticized the sheriff for not being sensitive to those protesting.

Paulissen was told by Monroe County Board Chairman Bob Elmore to stop or risk being removed from the session. 

“This was the first public meeting I’ve ever attended in Monroe County,” Paulissen told the Republic-Times afterward. “I really value kindness and respect when having hard discussions and was interested to see what the county commissioner meeting was like. After raising my hand to address some harmful language and suggest a better way to communicate, I was interrupted by Bob Elmore, the chairman of the board. Bob misgendered and referred to me as ‘ma’am’ after I asked him not to. He threatened to have me removed if I continued to speak. When the board chose to address me disrespectfully, they probably didn’t realize they were addressing an empowered person who doesn’t respond to intimidation. 

“These meetings are open to the public and we all have the right to hold our elected officials accountable. There should be an online broadcast like Facebook Live so people can really see what’s going on. Regardless of political position, truly compassionate members of the community would be concerned to see how these meetings are being carried out. It’s alarming. See for yourself and attend.”

Frequent meeting attendee Pat Kelly asked why anti-Gov. JB Pritzker signs were being permitted to remain displayed in local yards. Fellow resident Jason Jones said the governor was not being credited properly for his leadership.  

Commissioner Dennis Knobloch responded that the county had followed Gov. Pritzker’s rulings meticulously, but in the example of the recent protest, the number of people gathering in one place far exceeded the governor’s guidance.  

Restrictions hurting local businesses and civic groups that support local charities while allowing large protest gatherings are not equal enforcement, Knobloch noted. 

At the end of Monday’s meeting, commissioners discussed the growing volume of criticisms during public comments and their impact on conducting the meetings. It was decided to limit public comments to two minutes for each person at the start of each meeting.  

Similar speaking limits for city council meetings in Columbia and Waterloo are three and five minutes, respectively.

Slight tax cut

In other news from the meeting, Commissioners discussed and agreed to cut the property tax line item that supports Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Center personnel costs for the coming tax year.  

The one-year cut would be from $900,000 to $600,000. Knobloch said the reduction would be small, but would at least be an effort to lower the burden on property owners this year.  

The original tax levy was approved by voters years ago. He noted the nursing home’s financial posture is good and new director Brian Koontz concurred with the one-year reduction to help people in this difficult time.

Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean added his office is working on a resolution to delay interest and penalties for people unable to pay real estate taxes on time this year and would present it at the next board meeting on July 20.

Property confusion

A property maintenance issue south of Rose Lane on the northwest side of Waterloo came up, with McLean saying he had been informed by the City of Waterloo that a person there had complained about a lack of maintenance on a plot, citing tall grass and weeds. 

Research by Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger determined the property was common ground developed to serve as a water detention area for homes in the area.  The developer had cited a homeowners association as being responsible for maintenance, but there is no such group.  When no taxes were collected, the property was put up for tax sale but was not bought. 

It therefore is now owned by the county due to the tax default.  Commissioner Vicki Koerber advised that the city and county should review their regulations on such plots to prevent them from falling from their original stated purposes and responsibilities and becoming government burdens.

Other matters 

Appointment of election judges was addressed by McLean, who said the situation is in flux. He said a list has been provided to the state in accordance with law, but that many names will change. 

The county has maintained some 200 judges at polling places in past elections, paying them $200 for a long election day plus $25 for training. 

He said the COVID-19 threat is causing some to pull their names and keeping others from applying.

McLean said polling places will see reduced numbers of judges this season, down from five to three each.  He said mail-in voting will reduce the needed numbers. 

He added that letters will soon be sent out to all registered voters telling them how to vote by mail.  A website is being developed that will enable citizens to track their application and ballot through the process.  

McLean said he expects 6,000-8,000 mail-in votes this fall.  

Also, Joiner Sheet Metal and Roofing of Highland was selected as the low bidder in the amount of $119,884 for roofing work on the courthouse. Work should start in September and will provide a roof with a 30-year warranty, eliminating future repair costs.  The design will also improve roof contour to enhance drainage and the replacement roof will be white versus black, cutting energy costs.

Several resolutions of reappointment were approved.  Metzger was reappointed to the Southwestern Illinois Metropolitan and Regional Planning Commission.  James Lansing of Columbia, Don Gergen of Edwardsville and  Kevin Koenigstein of Columbia were reappointed as a trustees to the Palmier Hill Cemetery Board.  

The next county board meeting is set for 8:15 a.m. Monday, July 20, at the courthouse. 

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