The fireworks began before Thursday night’s South Jacksonville special board meeting even started.
The meeting that ultimately resulted in the retirement announcement of Village President Gordon Jumper and resignation of former Village Clerk and current office manager and Treasurer Linda Douglass began with a shouting match between Jumper and village resident Colby Huff.
Huff, the administrator of the online site My Social Jacksonville, was one of the people that spoke at the previous board meeting earlier this month. Last night, Huff interrupted Jumper as he began the meeting, objecting to Jumper’s presence.
The meeting was initially called to form an ethics commission based on a citizens’ complaint filed on behalf of hundreds of residents who signed a petition calling for Jumper, Douglass and Police Chief Richard Evans to step down in the wake of findings in a 2014 Illinois State Police report.
Huff argued that because Jumper was named in the complaint, he shouldn’t have presided over last night’s meeting. Here’s some of the audio of the exchange:
“I’m going to ask one more time, Mr. Huff, that you be seated,” Jumper told Huff.
Moments, later, jumper asked Officer Michael Broaddus to remove Huff for disturbing the peace, which resulted in the people in attendance becoming extremely agitated.
“You do not have an ethical right, sir, to preside over this meeting. You are presiding over a meeting in which you are a subject of the commission that is being formed,” Huff stated.
Moments, later, he said, “May I finish my point, and I’ll allow you to proceed…”
“No! You do not have authority in this meeting!” exclaimed Jumper.
“You do not have authority either,” responded one of the people in attendance.
“Yes, I do,” Jumper shot back.
Huff said, “Not since this meeting is investigating you.”
Jumper responded, “Mr. Huff, this meeting is not investigating me.”
Ultimately, Huff sat down and the meeting continued.
Then, trustee Kem Wilson moved to suspend the rules and temporarily remove Jumper from his position for the meeting, but the motion failed to get a second. That resulted in this comment from the floor:
“I will remember this when I vote again, just to let you all know sitting up there,” the person said, to applause.
There was then controversy about whose agenda to use. The board voted to use the agenda that was issued by the village, not Kem Wilson’s, who said she had authority to submit an agenda because she had the backing of two other trustees
However, Wilson’s agenda failed as no one stood up to identify themselves as the trustee that supported it.
The difference between the two was action items. Wilson wanted the board to vote on setting up the ethics commission and hire legal counsel; no action was taken. Wilson doesn’t believe this will sit well with village residents.
“[It’s] probably going to make them madder, and I can’t say I blame them, because we should have done it tonight,” she says. “I was all for doing it tonight. Waiting a week was not my idea.”
It’s been over three weeks since the complaint was filed.
The board will continue the process of setting up an ethics commission and hiring special council next Thursday.
Board member Steve Waltrip says the board wants an attorney, even though resident Tyson Manker told trustees they don’t need one for the initial setup of the commission. Wilson said she has contacted a Springfield attorney who will represent the village.
As far as who will serve on the ethics committee, Wilson has recommended trustee-elect Stacy Pinkerton. However, fellow trustee Steve Waltrip doesn’t want any village board members on the commission.
“If we find people that are non-partisan, don’t have a big issue… if you cross over the line, yeah, you gotta pay the price,” Waltrip says. “As trustees, we gotta take care of taxpayer dollars. The taxpayers in the village have every right to be on [the commission] if they will accept the responsibility.”
Jumper called the board’s action to pursue the ethics commission despite the stepping down of three officials, including himself, “unfortunate.” He told media last night his retirement was so that the village could save itself from the expense of pursuing the issue further. Here are Wilson’s thoughts on that:
“That’s the right thing for them to do for them, that’s good, but I don’t think we should stop. I think we should pursue and follow up as elected officials to do our duty, and we need to do due diligence and follow through with this and see what we can find out,” Wilson says. “The sooner, the better.”
Manker, who filed the ethics complaint, did not express satisfaction with the retirements and resignations that have been announced. He stated plans to continue with his ethics complaint until he gets answers to the questions it poses.
“We’ve received literally no clarification on any of the allegations, and if anything, Richard Evans’ statement muddied the waters even further,” he says.
“If necessary, with the advice of counsel, if you determine that there is criminal behavior, you are to forward that to the state’s attorney. I know Mayor Jumper would like to put this to bed immediately. However, the conditions [of the complaint has] not been met, and if criminal activity occurred, a resignation is insufficient,” Manker adds.
One item from the agenda was removed regarding the appointment of a new Freedom of Information Act officer. Jumper announced Richard Evans and Linda Douglass would step down as FOIA officers when they step down from employment later this year.
Jumper says he hopes to have a recommendation for new FOIA officers next month.
During his allotted time to speak, Huff told Jumper he’s planning to introduce a recall ordinance for the village that he hopes the board will adopt.
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