South Jacksonville Hears From Public on Police Chief Termination, Budget Questions

By Benjamin Cox on August 6, 2021 at 10:02am

The Village of South Jacksonville’s business meeting was wrought with emotion last night as the Trustees and Mayor dealt with recent fall out from the termination of their Police Chief.

Over 60 people, including local and county police, filled Village Hall for both the village finance committee budget hearing and the regular business meeting.

After the village budget was at a stalemate, the board entered into business and voted to table action items on approving the upcoming budget and salary increases and amended the agenda with two executive sessions during agenda approval, one to cover personnel and the other to cover outstanding litigation.

Mayor Tyson Manker opened the meeting after approval of the agenda saying that personnel matters would not be commented on publicly.

Under the direction of Village Attorney Rob Cross, comments from the floor was moved to individual comments before the board under executive session to discuss personnel matters. Cross said that comments from the public on the Police Chief’s termination should be heard under executive session instead of in an open meeting.

The board spent over two hours under executive session hearing from 4 members of the public, Village Treasurer Tiffanee Peters, and Village Water Clerk Jackie Kennedy. When the board returned to open session, Trustee Paula Belobradjic-Stewart opened by clarifying the next steps at the meeting: “There will be one action item after we meet in executive session Monday night [for a special meeting]. Then, there will be one action item for the board to consider overturning the termination of Police Chief Eric Hansell.” The crowd then erupted in a thunderous applause at the announcement.

The meeting will be held Monday at 6PM to finalize the board’s possible rescinding action of Hansell’s termination. Most of the board wished to not comment directly after the meeting was over on the issue due to it being a personnel matter. Trustee Stacy Pinkerton said after the meeting that she’s optimistic the public will understand the board’s final decision on Monday night: “I mean, we were really impressed that everybody showed up to voice their opinion about what has happened this past week with the police chief. Their voices were heard and they should have been. I think Monday night we have a meeting and we’ll be making our decisions then. I think everybody will be pleased with our decisions, but that’s just my opinion.”

Emotions spilled over when Trustee Tom Jordan then questioned why Mayor Tyson Manker had never opened a public meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance, which Jordan says was mentioned in the record of the July meeting minutes. Fiery exchanges then erupted between Manker and various members of the public. Manker also fired back at Jordan asking why Jordan had never brought up the issue until now, accusing Jordan of attempting to “score points” politically to make Manker look bad. Trustee Pinkerton then rebutted Manker’s comments saying she has asked Manker multiple times why he has not included the Pledge at meetings. Manker said the Pledge had been omitted due to creating expedience in the village’s meetings and he did not appreciate having his patriotism questioned.

Multiple members of the public shot back questions and statements directed at Manker for his firing of Hansell, Manker’s service record in the Marines, his discharge record from military service, his alleged blocking of members of the public from the Village’s Facebook Page, and they asked about an alleged active Order of Protection against Manker in the State of Virginia.

After the meeting settled, Jordan voted against all for 4 sets of session minutes from the month of July.

During July payables, Trustee Megan Davidson noticed that a bill on the village’s credit card for for a room in Washington D.C. was listed. Davidson said that Manker had stated on July 29th’s special session that he had paid for the entire Washington D.C. trip himself, one in which he met 18th District Congressman Darin LaHood to discuss the village’s cellular connectivity issues. The cost for the hotel room was a little over $160. Davidson asked why prior approval wasn’t given by the board for the expenditure.

After the meeting, Trustee Stacy Pinkerton who had questioned Manker about the mayor’s budget expenses at the previous meeting and his trip to Washington D.C. says that Manker admitted to her he had paid for it himself: “Yes, that was said. He did say that last Thursday that he had paid for everything on his own, because I had made the question about the $12,000 that was on the line item [for his office in the budget], and he at that time said that he had paid for it all himself. This is surprising now that we are hearing that the hotel is paid for [on the village credit card].”

The hotel charge and Freedom Fest expenses were pulled from the July payables because Davidson, Belobradjic-Stewart, and Pinkerton all requested a budget for the event and there hasn’t been one produced to them. Stewart even went so far as to tender her resignation as co-chair of the event because she says she had not been given any input or information on the events, budget, or contracts surrounding it. Belobradjic-Stewart brought up her experiences serving on committees for the Concert In the Cornfield and the former Little Miss/Mister Pageant as a precedent, saying both events, which were paid through the village’s tourism funds, always produced a budget to the Village Board, saying that it was out of transparency and to always have an answer on how the money was spent if village residents had questions.

The village’s finance committee is set to meet on Wednesday at 6PM to continue discussions and outstanding questions surrounding salaries and line items in the FY22 budget.

Mayor Manker alerted the board of the $421,000 coming to the village for the American Rescue Plan in the coming months, saying the money is restricted for COVID-related expenses. He updated the board on the continued clean up efforts of Dewey Park and the recent resurfacing of the Village Hall parking lot. Manker says that the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund will be conducting a teleconference audit on August 12th. Manker reported late last month that the village had self-reported IMRF fraud that had occurred previously. Manker says that due to the self-reporting that the village may incur less penalties.

Village Clerk Amy Scoggins says that the upcoming Little Miss/Mister pageant has 10 participants: 7 girls and 3 boys with rehearsals and information meetings coming up in the next few weeks.

The lone action item to ratify the July 1st Motor Fuel Tax vote passed unanimously.

The second executive session about litigation was adjourned without action by the board, with the village adjourning the full meeting shortly after 9:30PM.