Police reform bill a topic at county board

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The Monroe County Board met the morning of March 1 at the courthouse in Waterloo, with the state’s recent passage of a criminal justice and police reform bill among the key topics.

Frequent meeting attendee Pat Kelly commented on House Bill 3653, saying he did not think it eliminated qualified immunity for law enforcement officers because that is a matter of federal constitutional law.

Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing provided his and other law enforcement opinions on the recently signed 700-page bill. He said it was pushed through a January late-night  lame duck session by the state legislature without considering input from law enforcement groups.

Rohlfing cited several provisions of the bill that will increase the costs of law enforcement, reduce the ability of officers to deal with certain crime situations and in general reduce public safety in Illinois.  

Rohlfing cited several sources of serious concerns with the legislation – including the Illinois Municipal League, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, and Illinois Fraternal Order of Police. The latter group surveyed 1,500 of its members – all active law enforcement officers, and 83 percent said the bill will diminish their ability to respond to calls for help, 99 percent said it will embolden criminals, 97 percent said the bill physically and financially threatens them, 66 percent are considering early retirement and 46 percent said they are considering moving out of Illinois for other work, including one-fourth who said they would leave police work entirely.  

The sheriff agreed completely with an opinion stated in a Feb. 17 letter from FOP head Chris Southwood that “the legislation prevents officers from taking immediate, potentially life-saving action in critical situations.”  

In other news from the meeting, Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger received approval for a joint Monroe County, Road District 6, state and federal agreement to improve safety issues on the HH Road S-curve starting .15 miles west of Waterloo city limits and extending west for .3 miles. Federal funds of $569,085 will pay for most of the total cost projected at $673,370.  

Metzger also got approval for contracts for the purchase of aggregate gravel for use by the county and several road districts from two low bidders, Columbia Quarry and Mississippi Lime.  

Monroe County Public Safety Director Kevin Scheibe received approval of an updated Monroe County Emergency Operation Plan.  It is required to be reviewed and updated every two years.  

Scheibe also reported Monroe County has received federal funds of $618,408.25 for COVID-related costs and expects to receive an additional $572,275.58 for costs already submitted. 

Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail Coalition member Jim Hill of Fults, told commissioners that the coalition is completing work on a five-year strategic plan to identify priorities and serve as an orderly plan to preserve the region’s history and promote tourism. 

The plan seeks to strengthen the group and its resources, as well as to focus them where they are needed most. It calls for closer collaboration with other groups like the Prairie du Rocher French Capital Historic District and Les Amis du Fort de Chartres.

It will offer ideas for enhancing public access to and understanding of historic sites along the trail.  Among ideas being explored is coordinating with local, state and federal agencies to pursue Federal National Scenic Byway designation for the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail.  

Commissioners told Hill they had recently signed a commitment letter for another year’s participation in the 22-county ILLINOISouth Tourism group that promotes tourist activity and spending in the region that stretches from the Mississippi River to the Indiana border and includes Monroe County. 

Jesica Gentry Schlimme received support for the Monroe Randolph Transit District’s line of credit with State Bank of Waterloo. The transit district has a line of credit of $135,000 to fund operating costs between receipt of grants.  

Commissioner Dennis Knobloch said MRTD has been excellent in meeting costs, but needs the credit line in case grant funds do not arrive on schedule.  

Schlimme also updated commissioners on a cooperative agreement with the St. Clair County Transit District to merge two routes to enable riders to go seamlessly from Waterloo to Dupo during the work week, with two vans each way each day.  

Monroe County Ambulance Director Carla Heise said the new ambulance ordered from Demers Ambulances in Van Wert, Ohio, is running late in production and will not be started by its manufacturer until May, with delivery being likely 60-90 days later.

Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein and HR Director Missy Whittington discussed current and future health insurance costs for Monroe County employees, and Whittington was directed to explore other possible options for future consideration. She will contact counties using different insurance sources to learn about their experiences and the matter will be revisited in a future session.

John Steingruby of Maeystown spoke from his perspectives as a citizen who loves Monroe County and an aerospace engineer who understands how people can be brought to bear on correcting problems.  

The issue he addressed was the growing amount of trash on county roads.  

He said many of the discarded items are beer cans, noting this indicates two problems: drinking while driving and littering. He support in finding ways to make people aware of the magnitude of the issue and to seek ways to correct it – to clean up the roads. 

Ideas he posed included a “Clean Up Monroe County Day” and seeking financial support from the breweries to improve their images as concerned corporations.  

Steingruby said he is reaching out to neighbors and other citizens to start the process and said he would return to the board in a few weeks.

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner updated Commissioners on COVID-19 issues and vaccinations. He said most nursing home residents have been vaccinated and almost all staff and teachers have started in the process.

Oak Hill Administrator Brian Koontz said he had good news. He said Oak Hill conducted a third and final COVID vaccination Feb. 18 and that as of now, 98 percent of residents have been vaccinated and 70 percent of the staff. He said that while Walgreens did an outstanding job of vaccinating residents and staff, they did not have a plan to handle needs of new residents and staff  members.  

He said the Monroe County Health Department has come to their aid on this issue. He said census rebuilding is a top priority once COVID is declared inactive.  

Finally, resolutions reappointed Kevin Scheibe as Monroe County Public Safety Coordinator for a one-year term and appointed Waterloo Police Chief Jeff Prosise to replace Mike Morgan on the 9-1-1 Emergency Telephone System Board for a four-year term.  

The next Monroe County Board meeting will be  8:15 a.m. March 15. 

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