VOSJ Has Questions Around Freedom Fest and the Police Department IT

By Benjamin Cox on August 18, 2021 at 2:54pm

Village of South Jacksonville Police Chief Eric Hansell has been back on the job for a week since his reinstatement. Hansell however has not had all of the tools he needs to do his job effectively.

Hansell revealed to the Village Board of Trustees last night that he was still locked out of his email and that the Freedom of Information Act designated officer at the Police Department had been removed by Mayor Tyson Manker back in May.

Hansell says currently he also doesn’t have access to the village’s civil asset forfeiture fund from drug busts: “For the drug fund, I can’t put any money into the bank. I can’t transfer any money out of the bank because I’m not a signatory on the account nor do I have authorization to create an account, which is something we need to do to remain in compliance with the Illinois State Police requirements for [asset] seizures. That situation comes up here and there when we seize money or assets, I have to be able to have access to those. Hopefully, we will be able to get that rectified.”

Hansell says he currently has to go through former interim chief Sergeant Brian Wilson to get his email: “I did end up getting, through a temporary password that had been provided to Sergeant Wilson, access to email; but I needed to get everything transferred over back into my name. I’m still getting and receiving emails but it ends up going out or coming in under someone else’s name instead of my actual name. We are kind of working through it. I’d just like to get things cleaned up and back to where they should be pretty quick.”

Hansell also revealed to the board during old business that the village currently isn’t in compliance with FBI mandates that any village employee or person handling the village police’s server information, emails, or information technology be certified with the FBI for special training. The FBI mandates that all people handling criminal justice matters be aware of certain disclosures and requirements when handling police reports and investigations. Hansell told the village board that Mayor Tyson Manker refused to sign on to compliance with Sergeant Wilson when Wilson presented Manker the affidavit from the FBI for compliance.

Hansell says that by being non-compliant the village’s police department faces dire consequences if they were to be audited: “We could lose our credentials as a department, and our access to any FBI information. It requires a contract being signed by the Village President or Mayor if he is going to administer the program. If he or she refuses to sign it, then they can’t administer the program. They cannot be ‘in the know’ or have access to the information that is sent and received through our email system. You have to sign a contract and you have to take a training, and depending upon your level of access to the system or administration of the system, you have to achieve either a Level One or a Level Two certification [with the FBI.] For an administrator, it would be a Level Two.”

Hansell says that his department also cannot access the FOIA system in the village through the new website to comply with FOIA requests through his department. Village Trustee Paula Belobradjic-Stewart asked Village Clerk Amy Scoggins to document the lack of access in the village’s minutes until Hansell’s access and compliance to the systems are restored.

Hansell was also instructed by a 4-2 vote by Village Trustees to restore keycode access to Village Hall. Mayor Manker had revoked the trustees’ entry into the building after hours on May 10th by executive order. Trustee Mike Broaddus voted against the measure citing past administrations’ malpractice at Village Hall. Trustee John Stewart also voted no but did not provide a reason. Broaddus eventually rescinded his no vote saying, he wished to not have access personally but understood that during Mayor Manker’s leave of absence that trustees should have access to conduct business after normal office hours.

In other business, the board voted to have Trustee Tom Jordan be the person to oversee day-to-day operations at Village Hall with Manker’s absence. Trustee Belobradjic-Stewart nominated Jordan because he was retired while the remaining trustees all still work. The motion passed 4-1, with Jordan abstaining and Trustee John Stewart voting ‘no’. Trustees also voted to restore various access and an office to Village Clerk Amy Scoggins, which all passed unanimously.

Trustees debated for about 30 minutes last night on the itinerary of proposed events for Freedom Fest’s 3-day schedule.

Several trustees were having a hard time reconciling the budget of the event solely to the village’s tourism funds, which they say must be an event that brings people to the Village of Jacksonville to use the village’s businesses and hotels. Over half of the board conceded that the event had been marketed as a fundraiser for the village’s police and fire departments and not as a tourist event to attract outside visitors.

The board took action on four of the five main events slated for the fest. The World War II Memorial, the 5K run/walk, the parade, and the Little Miss/Mister pageants were all approved to proceed. Police detail for the 5K and the Parade, which overlap in time, will have to be worked out in the coming weeks, according to Chief Hansell. Hansell says he only currently has 3 full-time officers on staff. The BBQ Cook off was officially cancelled after it was announced that no one had signed up. Village Treasurer Tiffanee Peters was instructed by the board to contact Jones Meat & Locker to cancel the meat order that was to be provided to participants for the cook off.

The final piece of Freedom Fest concerning live band entertainment has been tabled. The cost for Mason Light and Sound gave pause for concern, as the stage, sound, and lighting was potentially contracted for $9,000. Bands slated for the Saturday music line up have also been paid. However, village trustees were concerned about contracts. The board had never seen the contracts for the bands or the stage until approximately one week ago during a Village finance committee meeting.

Village Trustee Tom Jordan says there are also other concerns about the event: “We are still very concerned about the COVID [uptick], and if that would be a factor on whether we can hold these events. The cost, which we were not privy to a lot of the costs it entailed, also gives some reason for concern.”

Trustees conceded that more information on contracts with the scheduled bands and the stage company needed to be taken under advisement by Village Attorney Rob Cross. A possible finance committee meeting or special committee of the whole may be called to make a decision on the concerts within the next two weeks.