With a budget still not passed, Springfield is a mess

Sen. Linda Holmes

Sen. Linda Holmes was disappointed with the creation of SB 1229, known as the AFSCME bill, which forfeits the right for members to strike, and forbids a lockout of workers by the governor. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley

NAPERVILLE — Compared with the federal government, Sen. Linda Holmes used to think Springfield had its head on its shoulders. But now, with an impasse on the state budget and Illinois heading for a possible shutdown, Holmes feels Springfield has become as equally dysfunctional as Washington.

During the Aug. 28 Naperville Township Democratic Organization’s (NTDO) meeting in Naperville, Holmes fielded questions from members and guests, trying to keep everyone abreast of what is going on in Springfield.

With 82 percent of the budget passed, all that’s left if 18 percent, and that 18 percent is really, really important.

“What needs to be voted on are bills for social services, plans to take care of our veterans and our seniors, along with funding for autism — issues that affect our communities. The situation is simply horrendous,” Holmes explained.

Aug. 27, attorneys for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration and comptroller Leslie Munger complied with U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman’s order, which was issued after attorneys for the people with disabilities asked her to hold state officials in contempt of court.

“As of Aug. 28, the Department of Human Services has processed all vouchers for community-based services . . . that would have been provided in July and August 2015, on the same schedule as in previous years,” the lawyers for the state said, and “as of Aug. 28, the comptroller has paid all of the vouchers.”

As the Senate Labor Committee Vice-Chair, Holmes is outraged about SB 1229, also known as the AFSCME bill, which states if an impasse is reached in negotiations, instead of striking, or the governor being able to lock out workers, it will go to binding arbitration.

“When I first heard about this bill, I didn’t get it. AFSCME wanted this bill passed, but why would you want to give up the most powerful tool in your toolbox, which is the ability to strike in order to achieve a fair negotiation?” she questioned.

You only have to look to what Rauner said on the campaign trail, which was cite what President Ronald Reagan did in the 80’s with the striking air traffic controllers — he fired them all.

“This is what he wants — to force AFSCME to strike, so he can fire them, and start all over,” Holmes said.

Rep. Bill Foster backs Iran nuclear agreement

Congressman Bill Foster

Congressman Bill Foster, pictured at a recent Naperville Township Democratic Organization’s meeting, announced Sept. 8 he is supporting the Iran nuclear agreement and will vote in favor of it. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

Jennifer Rice Managing Editor

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015
Email Jennifer Rice at: jen@foxvalley

NAPERVILLE — Indicating no arms control deal is ever perfect, Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) publicly announced Sept. 8 he is putting support behind the Iran nuclear agreement and will be voting in favor of it.

“I am here today to add my name to that list of 29 scientists and engineers who have endorsed the deal and the growing number of members of Congress who will be voting in favor of it,” Foster said during a press conference in Washington, D.C., also attended by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Richard Garwin, a physicist who helped develop the first hydrogen bomb.

He indicated his support for the agreement was determined by science, not trust. Foster, the only physicist in Congress, was a high-energy physicist and particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for more than 20 years.

The House is expected to vote this week to disapprove the Iran nuclear agreement.

During his remarks, Foster stressed that Congress’ overriding objective must be to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. “After carefully weighing all the options and possible outcomes, I do believe voting for this deal will make it less likely Iran will develop nuclear weapons. Voting against this deal, with no better options in sight, makes the potential for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon more likely,” the Congressman explained.

Many of Foster’s comments said during the Washington, D.C. press conference were echoed from discussions Foster made Aug. 28 at the Naperville Township Democratic Organization’s (NTDO) meeting in Naperville, where, at that time, he indicated he, “was undecided on his vote.”

He told NTDO members and guests the Iran nuclear agreement was the first treaty he knew of that had technical operating parameters for nuclear reactors, which was an important part of the deal. “There has been a lot of very wise input to our negotiating stance, and one thing that I am really impressed with, is the technical competence of our team in these negotiations,” Foster explained at the NTDO meeting.

At both appearances, Foster made it known voting for or against the agreement is not an easy vote. At the Washington, D.C. press conference, Foster indicated that if Iran walks away from the negotiating table, there will be no guarantee of any inspections at all, which Foster called, “the worst-case scenario for the security of the United States and Israel.”

“I am supporting this deal because I believe that it sets us on the path to the most secure future for the United States, for Israel, and for the world,” he explained.

If world leaders want to get serious about stopping nuclear activities in Iran, the Mideast and around the world, Foster would like to see the treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons strengthened, including key enforcement and inspection provisions.

The black & white of behind the badge

Behind the Badge

In order for police officers to protect themselves, William Powell, right, uses Willie Mayes Sr. as an example, showing there needs to be a safe distance between officers and suspects. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

>By Jennifer RiceManaging EditorThursday, July 16,2015Email Jennifer Rice at jen@foxvalleylabornews.com

By Jennifer Rice
Managing Editor
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Email Jennifer Rice at jen@foxvalleylabornews.com

NAPERVILLE — “Unarmed man killed by police,” “Police shooting leaves a trail of questions,” “Man killed by police was waiving an umbrella.”

The public can’t escape these headlines, which seem to be popping up with more frequency.

National and local incidents have raised the question if police officers are too quick to draw and shoot their guns.

In Aurora July 11, an Aurora police officer discharged his gun after he and another officer saw two males alongside a house with handguns. At that point, both males raised their handguns and pointed them in the direction of the officers. According to a statement, one of the officers, fearing for his safety and the safety of his partner, discharged his weapon in the direction of the two males. No one was shot.

During the June meeting of the Naperville Township Democratic Organization (NTDO), retired Aurora Police Chief William Powell and Willie Mayes Sr., who works for the Kane County Sheriff’s Department, had a candid discussion with guests about what it’s like to be behind the badge when confronting suspects. Powell wanted to make it clear he was going to defend what police officers do, rather than defend individuals.

“We have bad police officers out there. I had to fire a few. But what’s happening in our country is nothing new. It has come to the forefront because of [cell phone] cameras and social media.”

For officers, the need for compliance from suspects is extremely important. Compliance ensures safety measures are taking place. It ranges from asking a suspect for his name, to asking a suspect to remove his hands from his pockets.

“When you’re dealing with police in the streets, their main goal is safety. When they ask you something, and you reply to them in the appropriate manner, you will see they become comfortable,” Mayes explained.

Behind the Badge

In order for police officers to protect themselves, William Powell, right, uses Willie Mayes Sr. as an example, showing there needs to be a safe distance between officers and suspects. Jennifer Rice/staff photographer

But when that doesn’t happen, an officer’s threat level starts to elevate. “When a person’s hands finally come out of their pockets — do they have anything? What if you see something shiny? Is it a cell phone or a gun? As officers, we have to make split-second decisions that often times take a life,” Powell said.

Officers are always considering the level of force they may take next to get compliance. It may be to use their ASP — their expandable batons, or a stun gun. “These are all things we are trained to do,” Powell said.

Mayes explained further saying, “the amount of force an officers uses, is always going to be a step above what the suspect is giving. We use the amount of force that is necessary to get them to comply.”

Deadly force comes only when an officer feels a threat of bodily harm to himself or others.

Finding solutions are difficult, but the NTDO discussion was a first step in giving civilians a perspective from the police officer. Mayes indicated an issue on both sides, was accountability. “We all need to see each other as human beings.”

Education is key for jailed inmates success

Dr. Susan Neustrom

Dr. Susan Neustrom had an opportunity to create an educational outreach model for inmates of the DuPage County Jail. Unfortunately, before the model could move forward, the plug was pulled. Pat Barcas/staff photographer


By Pat Barcas
Staff Writer
Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at pat@foxvalleylabornews.com

NAPERVILLE — Dr. Susan Neustrom went down the rabbit hole of the prison system when she spent three years at the DuPage County Jail as executive director of JUST of DuPage (Justice, Understanding, Service, Teaching), a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce recidivism rates through education and other programs.

What she found while working there bothered her — and she shared the hopeless feeling of many of the inmates as her feasibility study on how to educate them for a brighter future was scrapped without warning in August of 2013.

“I never thought I’d be talking about this, but now I can’t stop talking about it,” she said as she shared information Sept. 25 at the Naperville Township Democratic Organization meeting. “My study was outlined clearly, it was approved, I had a start day. Then it was canceled.”

As she interacted with inmates, guards and administration, she designed a model of adult education services with the goal of having inmates exit the correctional system, increase job prospects, and positively contribute to society.

What she found was a lack of education, unstructured programs, numerous limitations, challenges, and obstacles, an inconsistency of program delivery, and very little communication with jail administration. The existing programs on the inside, she found, were just busy work, and not connected to the outside world.

“Jail is the most dismal place you’ve ever seen. Many days, I wondered who was incarcerated,” she said.

Neustrom said she was able to penetrate the mysteries of the jail while working there and got some very difficult to obtain statistics during 2012.

The turnover rate in one month can be as much as half of those entering and leaving a state or federal prison annually. About 35 inmates are booked daily, and nearly as many are released. Once sentenced, an inmate can only stay for 364 days, but can await sentencing for months or even years — one inmate was there for six years while Neustrom worked there, awaiting trial.

“The female population is rising, and the recidivism rates in DuPage are also rising. It’s alarming,” she said. “Formerly incarcerated fathers are less likely to provide for their families because they can’t find employment. How can they change their pattern if jobs are not available? This breeds marital strain, aggression, and depression, which leads to more crime. Incarceration is not the problem, it’s a symptom of a much larger problem. Most inmates are victims and have been most of their lives.”

To turn this around, she said the only answer is education.

“It’s a life changer. It changes individuals, families, and communities. Inmates are darn smart, they want to better their lives, their situation. They want an education and job training,” said Neustrom.

Dr. Susan Neustrom's

Members of Naperville Township Democratic Organization and guest discuss Dr. Susan Neustrom’s conclusions after she spent three years observing the workings at the DuPage County Jail. Pat Barcas/staff photographer

Her pilot program was to be a very small scale, six month study to collect data on an effective way to educate inmates, with the goal of decreasing recidivism and creating a positive learning environment. It was fully funded and approved.

As she was about to begin her work as a contractor at the prison, the sheriff stopped it without a hint of warning.

“There was no reason, no answers, and no feedback. I’m not surprised,” she said.

Tony Michelassi, district 5 DuPage County Board member, attended Thursday night’s meeting and expressed anger that the pilot program never before the DuPage County Board.

“I’m outraged that this didn’t even see the light of day at the county board. I never heard about it. It never got a hearing in front of the Judicial Public Safety Committee. This is something that we should have been apprised of, because I’m pretty sure there would be an attitude on the county board that would support it,” said Michelassi, who started on the County Board in 2008.

He said in his first year of service, he received numerous memos from the sheriff’s department saying the jail was running at or near capacity, and more funding needed to be approved.

“Instead of trying to lobby us for more money to construct an additional portion to our jail, I think the sheriff should be lobbying us for more money for education programs to lower the incarceration rate in the first place,” said Michelassi.

Neustrom said a senior jail administrator had told her before that DuPage County used to be innovative, but now smaller counties were passing the jail up.

“We had begun a solution, which was important, but it was stopped. As of this day, it sits there, and it’s sad,” she said.

Lisa Madigan going after student lending industry

Illinois Attorney General Lisa

Running for her fourth term in office for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has fought fraudulent mortgage lending and provided $2.8 billion in relief for Illinois homeowners, communities and pension systems. Pat Barcas/staff photographer

By Pat Barcas
Staff writer
Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at pat@foxvalleylabornews.com

NAPERVILLE — Election season means politicians are out in force, stumping around the state, and one of the key messages this fall is, if Democrats get out and vote, they win. Plain and simple.

“We’re all doing the work. We can’t do it without your support. You get to take credit for the good things that happen, in this state and at the federal level as well,” said Attorney General Lisa Madigan Sept. 21 at a Naperville Township Democratic Organization fundraiser in Naperville.

Madigan is running against Republican challenger Paul Schimpf for her fourth term in office. She touted her recent efforts in fighting fraudulent mortgage lending and servicing, providing $2.8 billion in relief for Illinois homeowners, communities and pension systems so far.

She said she was the first attorney general in the country to bring a lawsuit against mortgage lender Countrywide for predatory lending practices.

“I am so proud of the fact, we saw what was taking place, when people started coming to my office, and they were having problems with their mortgages — we went and did the investigations. We found out about their discrimination in lending, and brought lawsuits — not just against Countrywide, but against Wells Fargo,” she said.

Madigan said she found out that African-Americans earning more than $100,000 per year were still more likely to be put into a high cost sub prime loan than a Caucasian earning less than $35,000 per year.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, center, was the guest of honor at the annual Naperville Township Democratic Organization fundraiser. Madigan has established a track record of protecting consumers and homeowners. Pat Barcas/staff photographer

“I took them to the Department of Justice, to the civil rights division, because if it’s happening in Illinois it’s happening all across the country. And that’s exactly what they found as well,” she said.

Her actions resulted in one of the largest fair lending settlements in American history, and she says the next hurdle is tackling the same problems in student loans.

“Now we’re seeing all those horrible practices that were taking place in the mortgage lending industry, are taking place in the student lending industry,” she said.

She said she’s leading a multi-state investigation into Sallie Mae, and have already sued two companies that offer student loan debt relief.

“They are advertising on the radio now. They say they offer student loan debt relief for free, but when you call, they want a huge payment. People need to know there’s nothing these companies can do for you that isn’t already offered through for a free program with the U.S. Department of Education.”

Madigan said she wanted to thank everyone for their support in the weeks leading up to the election.

“I’m out there on the forefront fighting for people. I’m proud to be able to protect kids, older people, homeowners, and folks dealing with their debt. But I only get to do that with the support of all of you and millions of other people in our state. We have a really tough six weeks in front of us. It’s going to be a lot of work,” she added.

Boys II Men provide sense

Aurora's Boys II Men
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
Hector Velazquez, a senior at Aurora University and Boys II Men member, said he owes his success to Clayton Muhammad.

By Pat Barcas
Staff writer
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Email Pat Barcas at pat@foxvalleylabornews.com

NAPERVILLE — Instead of further incarceration, which would only add to the problem of gang violence in Aurora, Boys II Men Founder Clayton Muhammad decided to tackle the gang violence problem of Aurora at the root more than 10 years ago.

Young men needed mentors they could trust, and hope they could one day succeed instead of waste their lives in gangs or in prison.

“You can’t just tell people not to go to gangs. You must provide an alternative,” said Muhammad during a June 19 meeting of the Naperville Township Democratic Organization, which hosted Muhammad as their June speaker.

He said gang violence was at an all time high in 2002, with 26 young people killed in Aurora. Through the hard work of Boys II Men and the Aurora Police Department, shootings have been basically eliminated.

“We have fundamentally a different Aurora. It’s a different downtown than 10 years ago,” said Muhammad, who shared success stories throughout the years, highlighting young men who have gone on to achieve great success in the face of adversity.

“I can tell these stories over and over again,” he said.

One young well dressed man, Isaac Palma, joined Boys II Men in ninth grade. Dressing in saggy jeans, he needed a makeover in his confidence, something the organization provided in spades.

Aurora's Boys II Men
Pat Barcas/staff photographer
Boys II Men Founder Clayton Muhammad decided that young Aurora men needed mentors they could trust and hope they could one day succeed.

“It gives you an outlet to go forward in life, and provides you a mentor you can talk to,” said Palma. “You’re not always able to talk to your parents.”

Hector Velazquez, a senior at Aurora University and Boys II Men member, said he owes his success to Muhammad.

“His leadership has shown young men how to establish themselves in this community,” said Velazquez. “We can always count on Clayton.

Muhammad stressed that Boys II Men provides a sense of family for the young men, encouraging them to succeed by any means.

“Not attending college is not an option in our world,” he said. “These boys are coming here to connect with something bigger than themselves. Our community is now one of hope, empowerment, and safety.”