South Jacksonville Clears the Air About ABATE Billboard

By Benjamin Cox on March 12, 2020 at 11:35am

The Village of South Jacksonville spoke at length on one action item concerning a billboard in a special meeting called by the board last night. Former Tri-County ABATE President and current public Relations Officer Bob Stambaugh was personally invited to come speak to the board last night because of artwork that was not placed on the village’s southern billboard last year for Motorcycle Awareness Month in April. Trustee Paula Belobradjic-Stewart explains why she believed Stambaugh needed to tell his side of the story on why there was no artwork up last year: “I personally called Mr. Stambaugh and asked him to come to the meeting, because we had asked him to come to a previous meeting but he was not told. This issue goes back a couple of years. It actually has nothing to do with the artwork in my mind, or approving that art. What it was is letting the board know – and we have 3 new board members since this happened a couple years ago – what took place between our village president and Mr. Stambaugh, and they needed to know. I like things to be transparent. We have a village president that likes to sweep things under the carpet if he doesn’t want people to know about it. That’s not the way this board works.”

Stewart is referring to discussions that happened between Stambaugh and Village President Harry Jennings about including pictures of Leonnardo Alfano and Morgan McKinnon who died in a motorcycle accident in South Jacksonville in 2013. ABATE had approved the graphic for placement on the billboard last year. Jennings and City Attorney Rob Cross said that an Illinois statute made it illegal to include them on the billboard. Stambaugh asked what specific statute Jennings was referring to; and the statute, according to Stambaugh, was never produced. Stambaugh said that he and Jennings also met one evening at Jenning’s village office and had a heated discussion about including Landes Trucking’s name or image on the billboard as a thank you for sponsoring the artwork. Jennings said he was concerned about promoting a private business on a publicly owned billboard. Stambaugh said that due to issues and other work he had to perform, he dropped getting the billboard put up last year.

Stewart said that she wanted the information to be on public record for the new board members and other non-profits to hear. “A lot of things were said that the board did not know about, and that is disappointing to me. If the Village of South Jacksonville is going to be shown in a light where we don’t support ABATE or any non-profit being on our billboard, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re not going to play those politics. We’re going to be transparent, and we want them to know that we weren’t aware of some of the things that Mr. Stambaugh was told a couple of years ago. That’s all been put out on the table now, and so everyone was happy to approve the artwork; and we can move forward. We don’t ignore things, so I don’t care if it takes 2 years, I want it to be made public eventually and that’s what we were able to do tonight.”

Jennings said he was just trying to make sure that the village was following the law: “I had no issues with the past images, myself, if they would have been on private billboards. I even offered to pay out of my own pocket in the past. I just want to make sure that if we are going to put it on a public billboard that we’re making sure that we are following the law and not using any public resources for private use. The Tri-County ABATE chapter has put an image up for use, and we have approved it so that’s what’s going up.”

Stewart said the trustees have come to a consensus that an ordinance will be written to dictate use of the billboard for the future. “I’ve been talking about getting this in an ordinance form for a year or two now for this reason. We cannot micromanage what goes on our billboard. It’s supposed to be a public use. It’s supposed to be for non-profits. It’s supposed to show that we work for our community. We can’t have the village president or trustees using personal interests or their personal feelings to decide what goes on the billboard. When you put things in writing, no matter who is sitting [in office], it’s always going to be the same. That’s what we want – transparency and consistency. We are definitely going to push to get an ordinance going for the billboard.”

Stambaugh did not want to comment on record but said that he was happy a resolution was reached and that the current graphics will be up this year for Motorcycle Awareness Month in April.