A Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department deputy stands monitoring commenters during a tense citizens’ comments portion of the County Board’s Thursday night special meeting. Photo by Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

KENOSHA ⸺ Thursday night, 18 members of the County Board held a special meeting to pass bonds for police body cameras and improvements to a veterans memorial park.

However, it was five board members not present Thursday night who created the situation, and stalled the bonding process.

The board members absent Thursday night were:

A virtual “Courageous Conversation” event on building diversity in local government listed Rodriguez as a panelist Thursday night. That event took place at the same time as the County Board meeting.

A representative for the Kenosha Coalition for Dismantling Racism, which co-hosted the “Courageous” event, said Rodriguez had been invited to be a panelist. However, Rodriguez did not participate Thursday night.

3 absences unexcused

Supervisor attendance during Thursday’s special meeting. Image courtesy of the Kenosha County Clerk’s office.

According to Kenosha County Clerk Regi Bachochin, three of the five absences were unexcused. In other words, the supervisors gave neither the clerk nor their colleagues any prior notice that they would not be attending.

Nudo, Rodriguez and Decker made up the three unexcused absences Thursday night.

County Executive Friday morning statement on approval

Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser praised the 18 board members present Thursday night for passing bonds to ensure body cameras and improvements for veterans.

Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser’s released statement Friday morning on the board’s approval of bonds. Image Courtesy of Kenosha County.

“Among the things we’ll now be able to fund are body cameras for our Sheriff’s Department personnel, highway projects (including the completion of the much-needed Highway S expansion), highway equipment, law enforcement vehicles, security improvements to our  facilities, and the first phase of development of the Kenosha County Veterans Memorial Park.

“I appreciate Supervisor Lon Wienke’s thoughtful reconsideration of his earlier vote, and his support for the bonding resolutions last night,” Kreuser continued. “His support means we can get these projects off the ground as planned, without incurring higher costs that would come with needless delays.”

He also thanked the “veterans from our community who have come out to support the Kenosha County Veterans Memorial Park.”

“I’m glad most of our County Board supervisors saw it fit to fund this and many other meaningful projects that will continue to move our county forward.”

Citizens’ comments moved

Before launching into the bonding issue, which had been delayed from the board’s last meeting, Supervisor Jeff Gentz made a motion to move citizens’ comments to after the first two agenda items.

Those items pertained specifically to the body camera bonding and bonding for a veterans memorial park, and the Highway S project to the tune of $15.24 million.

The rest of the board approved the motion.

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Critical of bonding delay

The board’s vote evoked an impassioned reaction from residents who had come to speak. And they made sure to let the board know during citizens’ comments later in the meeting.

Porche Bennett, a local activist, criticized the board for the delay in the vote for funding body cameras for the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department. 

“I didn’t understand why were you so against it,” Bennett said. “Why didn’t you want them at first when that will help both parties, not just the citizens, but officers as well. So my concern was, what is it that you’re trying to hide?”

Lack of funding for veterans

Bennett, a veteran, also launched an impassioned plea and reality check to County Board members when it came to the overall 2021 county budget. She specifically targeted its seeming lack of funding for services for veterans.

“You guys don’t give them much,” she said. “You could have given money for mental health to help them out and all types of stuff. Our veterans get nothing. I’m one of them. A lot of them get nothing. And you all sit there and sit in their face and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ But are you really showing them the thanks and gratitude that they really deserve? No, you’re not. 

“And I think it’s wrong.” 

Illinois officer: ‘I love the body camera.’

A Kenosha resident who also serves as a law enforcement officer in Illinois voiced his support of body cameras. 

“We have body cameras. The body camera supports both sides. I love the body camera. It keeps people in check. When you’re in the situation, just like (another citizen) was talking about in Waukegan, the officer failed to turn his body camera on before he started to shoot. That’s wrong. 

“We need to have before, beginning and after video so it can be transparent for everybody to see.”

He pressed further that the goal is transparency as a government and as law enforcement agencies.

“It’s not a privilege to have a body camera to protect the people. It’s a right. Okay? We have to do better,” he said.

‘Stop it before it begins’

In fact, had the city had body cameras on officers, it could have used the footage to mitigate some of the damage of the rioting that took place locally before it started, he said. 

“Here’s the thing, this last fall, if we would have had something before, during and after, you can expose that video to stop the rioting, stop the looting because now we’re transparent,” he said. “Stop it before it begins.

“That’s the goal for everything is so that we can have unity amongst the people here in Kenosha County, in Kenosha the city. That’s the main goal.”

Delay of comments seen as attempt to silence

For a moment, the County Board meeting Thursday night mirrored those that took place following the shooting of Jacob Blake at the end of August

Tensions were best summed up in the comments of local activist Diamond Hartwell, a constituent living in Gentz’s district.

Hartwell did not plan on speaking during the meeting; however, she found herself “very, very, very offended and irritated” that, on the day after Veterans Day, veterans were not allowed to speak before the board voted on issues affecting them.

“You have all of these veterans in here,” she said. “They’re wearing their hats, and they’re wearing their uniforms. And they came in here because you’re voting on something that affects them. And it’s great that the bonding passed, as it should have, as I expected it to. 

“But the fact that you tried to move citizens’ comments to after that vote is extremely appalling.” 

O’Day, activist go back and forth

Hartwell’s comments drew interjections from County Board Chairman John O’Day.

“Imagine if each and every one of them had something to say, something that could have affected that vote that you’re making,” Hartwell said. “You just silenced them.”

“We did not silence them,” O’Day interjected. “We moved them one half-hour, ma’am.”

“After what they are here to speak on,” Hartwell pushed through. “You are silencing them. Moving comments to after what they are here on, what you know they are here on and want to speak on, that is silencing them. 

“And I don’t care if you try to silence me, Mr. O’Day. You will not silence the veterans in this room the day after Veterans Day.”

“The veterans have been here every meeting talking about it,” O’Day responded. 

Former board member offers explanation of rush

Joseph Clark, a Pleasant Prairie man who served on the board for 10 years, drove to the meeting to offer an explanation board members present couldn’t for moving the comments.

According to Clark, the comments were moved so that Supervisor Lon Weinke, whose wife is currently very ill, could vote on the important bond issues and then return back home to his wife before the meeting ended. 

“If he was unable to vote on that issue in a short timeframe and get back to his wife who’s very ill, we wouldn’t have had this vote tonight that’s very important to the county, to the bonding, to the body cameras. The things that are important. 

“I’m just trying to help you understand because the board cannot explain that or respond back to you. There is a reason why the board changed citizens’ comments. … There was no malice towards listening.”

Berg, Gulley confirm Clark’s explanation

In separate interviews with the Observer following Thursday’s meeting, both Dist. 10 Supervisor Andy Berg and Dist. 16 Supervisor Jerry Gulley confirmed Clark’s explanation for the board moving citizens’ comments Thursday night. 

“One of the supervisor’s wife is quite ill. So comments were moved to the end so that we could vote on the budget and he could leave,” Gulley said in a Thursday night interview over Facebook Messenger.

Weinke, in fact, had voted with the five absent board members to stall the bonding at the board’s last regular meeting. However, according to Berg, he saw the bond’s importance and flipped his vote Thursday night.

“We wanted to get him back home. Knowing we had the 18 votes — it’s not that we were trying to shut people up — we just wanted to get it out of the way and over with so that Weinke can go home to his wife,” Berg added in a phone interview Thursday night. “Because he did the County Board a big favor by not being lock-and-step with the Decker clan.”

“As far as I know, everything was in order as far as Robert’s Rules; it just wasn’t explained well enough.”

‘We’re human beings; we get it’

Kenosha resident Kate Trudell had advice for the board, and specifically O’Day, following Thursday’s citizens’ comments. Photo by Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

Kenosha resident Kate Trudell had advice for the board, and specifically O’Day, following Thursday’s citizens’ comments and Clark’s explanation.

“When I was listening to the motion for (moving citizens’ comments), it sounded like what was said was that, ‘Maybe if we voted on the bonding resolution, it would change citizens’ comments,’” she said. “Which sounds a lot like, ‘We’re going to silence these people,’ or ‘We’re going to vote however we’re going to vote regardless of what you guys say.’”

However, at the end of the meeting, she understood that the board did not intend for that to be the impact of the motion.

“So what I would say to you, Mr. O’Day, as chairman of the board, have some transparency,” Trudell said. “We’re human beings; we get it. If my spouse is in the hospital, I wouldn’t want to be here any longer than I needed to be here.

“So say to us, ‘Hey guys, we have someone in the hospital. We need to vote on this.’ And go forward instead of making some veiled reason to do it like they’re going to change what they say based on how they vote.”

‘Just tell the truth’

In the end, she encouraged the board to simply tell constituents the truth ⸺ the whole truth. 

“Tell us what’s happening instead of what you think we want to hear,” she said. “That was silly because I was pissed at the way that went. But I would not be upset if a supervisor had to leave to be by his wife. That’s fine.” 

“So, just tell the truth. We can handle it.”

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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