On July 30, 2018, a special meeting of the Benld City Council was held at the Benld Civic Center which was well advertised and thus well-attended by the citizens of Benld. The purpose of the meeting was Benld Mayor Jim Kelly’s proposal that the Benld Police Department be dissolved and police services be contracted to the City of Gillespie, who also had Mayor John Hicks, Gillespie Aldermen, Gillespie Treasurer Dan Fischer, and Gillespie Police Chief Jared DePoppe and military/tactically dressed Gillespie Police Officers in attendance.
The overwhelming consensus of the Benld citizens in attendance was a resounding NO to the dissolution of the Benld Police Department. Mayor Kelly’s justification for this proposal was lack of funds, although a $50,000 plus surplus appeared in the budget that year. Benld City Clerk Terri Koyne claimed this surplus was correct because it was not yet subject to final audit, but the final audit did, in fact, prove it to be correct.
As a result of this meeting, an Ad Hoc Committee of Benld citizens was formed to work with the city council to analyze funds and identify cost-saving measures. This was effective in proving that Benld, in fact, had adequate funds to support their own police department. Further support for maintaining the independence of the Benld Police Department was also offered by my letter published on August 8, 2018:
Dear Editor, I am writing in regard to the proposed dissolution of the Benld Police Department and the contractual hiring of the Gillespie Police Department to provide police services to the citizens of Benld. In that the voters of Benld elect absolutely no municipal officials within the City of Gillespie, this proposal amounts to the privatization of police services and public safety within the City of Benld. The complete transfer of control and accountability of public safety priorities and decisions to another governmental body entirely outside the recourse of the voters of Benld is fundamentally flawed and destined for failure. Regardless of any so-called liaison or complaint committee to be organized to supposedly oversee Gillespie Police Department actions within the City of Benld, the fact is the Mayor, City Council, Police Commission and Police Department of Gillespie are entirely unaccountable to the voters and citizens of Benld. Authority is what matters in law enforcement, not opinions and oversight committees without the ability to implement change. In attempt to appease these concerns at a public hearing in Benld on this matter on Monday, July 30th, Gillespie City Treasurer Dan Fisher compared this proposal to the past consolidations of school districts and fire districts. However, the flaw with this argument is that Benld residents vote for school board members and county board members who oversee these districts, and their complaints may be made to public officials with the authority to implement change. Mr. Fisher also stated “There if no profit in this for us”. However, adding $215,000 to his stated Gillespie Police Budget of $515,000 will total $730,000. This, at face value, reduces per capital Gillespie Police services to their residents from $161.44 to $156.38 annually (at published populations of Gillespie at 3,196 residents and Benld at 1,478 residents). Although seemingly inconsequential, this does not include revenues generated by traffic tickets, ordinance citations, grants, vehicle impound fees and other police protection incomes. Hardly a not-for-profit situation as Mr. Fisher contends. Furthermore, while trying to convince the citizens of Benld of the advantage of this contract, Chief Jared DePoppe stated that “In an emergency, all three (3) cars might be in Benld”. However, he added, “That’s no different than what would happen now”. This is because mutual aid is the law in Illinois mandates that neighboring jurisdictions respond to emergencies in other venues at no cost. The municipalities of Gillespie and Benld are both subject to this, as well as the Macoupin County Sheriff’s Department and the Illinois State Police. Therefore, I ask the citizens of Benld how they will actually benefit from giving up their public safety authority and funds to the citizens of Gillespie? Kenneth D. Snider/Resident of Benld, Illinois
The proposal was thus tabled with the promise by Mayor Kelly to myself and other members of the Ad Hoc Committee that we would be informed of any future need to dissolve the Benld Police Department so that we might be given the opportunity to help find solutions. I was therefore surprised to hear “down the grapevine” several weeks ago that the issue of the dissolution of the Benld Police Department had again arisen and it was a “done deal” that Benld was buying police services from Gillespie within the next several weeks.
I called another Ad Hoc Committee member who said he had heard nothing of it but would check. Upon going to city hall, Mayor Kelly informed this person that this was in fact true. This time the premise was that Benld was unable to find any officers to replace the officer who was hired away from them by the Gillespie Police Department.
I, therefore, went to Benld City Hall and saw that the posted Monday, April 6, 2020, committee meetings that would address such issues was canceled. Benld City Clerk Terri Koyne actually came to the door while I was there and said this and all future meetings have been canceled “because of the coronavirus”. I joked with her that I just wanted to make sure they were not having “any secret meetings”.
The following day I met with the IDOT resident engineer in Benld regarding a public works project adjacent to a property I own and I included Mayor Kelly in this conversation. After it was over and I went to my vehicle, Mayor Kelly turned and waved me back over to him. He immediately made a statement to the effect of “I guess I can tell you now since it is already out there but we are pursuing hiring Gillespie to patrol us again”.
I asked him why and his response was that they have been trying to hire a replacement officer for the past couple of months and have been unable to do so, and there was, therefore, no choice. I asked Mayor Kelly when the meeting for this was going to be and he said he would be calling a special meeting within the next couple weeks. I asked if myself and other interested people could help him find replacement officers prior to this meeting and his response was that it was too late and that “look, this is going to happen….as a matter of fact, I told the council that it needed to be unanimous because I won’t call the meeting if I have to vote on it”.
I inquired of Mayor Kelly as to how such a meeting would be held due to the COVID-19 virus meeting guidelines and he responded that it will be an online internet video meeting. I further inquired as to how I would know when the meeting was. Mayor Kelly replied that “it’ll be published in the local newspaper (The Coal Country Times) like it always is”. When pressed as to when exactly when it was going to be in the paper, Mayor Kelly responded either this week (4/10/20) or next week (4/17/20). Other statements made by Mayor Kelly will be detailed later.
The meeting was in fact held unbeknownst to most Benld citizens by internet on Friday, April 17, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. and the council in fact hired the City of Gillespie to administer Benld police services. The meeting was plagued by bad audio and the participants were unable to hear each other, as well as council members, clearly if at all. This resulted in City Attorney Rick Verticchio taking responsibility for paraphrasing the statements of participants.
I for one was misquoted. I cannot say if others were because we really couldn’t hear each other very well due to technical difficulties on the part of the City of Benld. Regardless, other false information provided to me by Mayor Kelly was that Benld could opt/buy out of the contract “anytime” for a sum of “I think $2,100”. In fact, it is only after 3 years that the contract can be nullified thus binding the next mayor and city council of Benld to be ruled by the last council and mayor.
Furthermore, the buy out is closer to $21,000 than $2,100. The effect of this is to permanently dissolve the Benld Police Department and subject the citizens of Benld to the policies and whims of the Mayor of Gillespie and City Council. This has already begun with Mayor John Hick declaring in last week’s Coal Country Times that “We will be policing Benld like any other town, getting them 24/7 protection which is what they need”. I do not believe Gillespie Mayor Hicks is an authority on what the citizens of Benld need, but I do know Mayor Hicks needs our $1.08 MILLION DOLLARS plus all the other “little goodies” over five years to sustain his police department, which cannot afford their excessive spending on salaries and their new police department building.
To rush this through during the COVID-19 crisis with no public input absent a true public safety emergency is disingenuous at best. To supposedly comply with the Illinois Open Meetings Act, City Clerk Terri Koyne claims to have posted it on the front door on Benld City Hall, which access was prohibited and the sidewalk leading to it was closed off and inaccessible by my observation at least from the morning of Tuesday, April 14 through the afternoon of Sunday, April 19, 2020. This in fact prohibited anyone from viewing any public notices placed upon the front door of Benld City Hall during this time period.
Kenneth D. Snider
Resident and Taxpayer