18th District Democratic candidate quarreling with Menard Co. officials over town hall meeting

By Gary Scott on July 27, 2018 at 7:17am

The Democratic candidate for Illinois’ 18th Congressional District is curious as to why Menard County officials are reneging on a decision to allow for the use of their courthouse for the candidate’s scheduled town hall meeting.

According to an article in the State Journal Register, Junius Rodriguez, the Democratic challenger to Congressman Darin LaHood for yet another election year, is claiming shenanigans by officials in both Menard County and its county headquarters, Petersburg. Rodriguez’s concerns stem from a series of conversations that candidate claims to have had with Menard County Sheriff Mark Oller regarding the use of the county courthouse for a town hall meeting scheduled for August 10th. This town hall is one in a series of similar meetings scheduled by Rodriguez over the coming few weeks – two of which fall in Scott and Morgan Counties…more on those later.

According to the Springfield-based paper, a pair of phone conversations between Rodriguez and Oller on July 19th seem to be the origin of all the confusion and contention. In the first of those two phone calls, Rodriguez contacted Sheriff Oller to confirm the Menard County Courthouse as the location for his town hall, and, after agreeing to pay a $40 charge to the campaign for cost of security, Oller granted permission for Rodriguez to utilize the courthouse. However, a little more than an hour later, Rodriguez received a voicemail from Oller, saying he’d become troubled by the idea of the courthouse playing host to a one-party event, eventually rescinding his previous offer for Rodriguez to use the courthouse.

Perplexed by the sheriff’s reneging, Rodriguez first sent Oller an email reminding him of First Amendment Rights of free speech and assembly in public places, then reached out to the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association for legal advice. He was advised to seek a meeting permit from the Menard County clerk, who then passed along that request to State’s Attorney Gabe Grosboll. According to the SJR, Grosboll is seeking council from the United Counties Council of Illinois and the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office regarding the matter.

As for the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association, spokesperson Toby Trimmer says the situation “feels like a very partisan manipulation by this county,” and that “it seems to have a very pathetically political appearance to (it).”

At the crux of the issue, according to the responses given by Menard County officials, seem to relate to either one of two concerns: electioneering ethics or bipartisan inclusion. However, according to the SJR, Trimmer isn’t buying either excuse, and says that he is not aware of any state statute or legal precedent that would preclude Rodriguez from hosting a town hall at the courthouse.

On the issue of bipartisanship, Rodriguez has said he’s more than willing, and in fact plans on sending a personal invitation, to the incumbent, the Peoria-based Republican LaHood. According to Campaign Director Jim Reis however, LaHood will not be attending any such meeting. Reis told SJR that town halls hosted by “hyper-partisan and left-wing radicals…do little to promote civil discourse, bipartisan problem solving, or uniting our communities to move forward together.”

As for the final decision regarding the location of the town hall, Grosboll says he plans on presenting his research to the Menard County Board at their next meeting on Tuesday. Sheriff Oller says he expects the board to vote on whether or not to allow the town hall.

Rodriguez also has town halls scheduled at the American Legion Post 442 in Winchester on Wednesday, August 8th at 7 p.m. The following night, August 9th, he plans on speaking at the Jacksonville Municipal Building at 7 o’clock.