By Bob Balgemann

Mayor Clint Morris referred to it as “a boiler plate project, I believe.”

For City Attorney Mike Drella, it was “another unfunded mandate, but hopefully there’s no funds necessary.”

They were referring to a proposed policy protecting whistleblowers that came out of the state Legislature and had to be adopted by local municipalities.

The policy first appeared before the city’s committee of the whole at its Jan. 24, 2022, meeting, and was given final approval in a 7-0 vote of city council, with three absent, on Feb. 21. The council action came without discussion. But there was some conversation about the proposal in January.

“Somebody in Springfield thought it would be a good idea to make sure municipalities do not retaliate against their employees, when they make complaints about what they call improper governmental action,” Drella said. “We probably should have done this last summer, but things slip through the cracks, sometimes.”

He referred to the proposed policy as “a poorly drafted piece of legislation because, as drafted, it says they’re (state) worried about retaliation. But then they put in there that all complaints about any kind of action should be made to the court auditing official. And they assume every municipality has somebody whose job it is to investigate things, which of course is not true.

“So, what I’ve done is use our Home Rule authority to modify the draft policy somewhat. It adopts the policy; it does provide that the city clerk (Sarah Turnipseed) would be the auditing official, with the help of myself, and the chief of police (Shane Woody), or whoever she needs help from to do an investigation. It provides that any claim of retaliation should be made to her, not just any government official.

“It (policy) makes it clear that for employees that are governed by the fire and police commission, which is more than half our employees, any disciplinary action be taken by that body, not by us because we really can’t control them.”

He added that, unfortunately, his suggested motions were “in an incomplete sentence. It should be a motion to amend Chapter 43 of the city of Belvidere Municipal Code, to adopt a new article for the whistleblower policy, as set forth in the attached exhibit,” which had been provided for committee members.

The only comments came from Alderman Marsha Freeman, who said, “When I read this, what jumped out at me the most was that we are gonna saddle our city clerk with being the auditing official, who initiates an investigation of alleged improper actions, keeping records written of all investigations, interviews conducted … “I’m not sure that the city clerk has the experience or expertise to conduct such an investigation. I think the state’s attorney’s office has the kind of tools and the means to be able to do this. It seems to me that most of this would be like criminal activity, anyway.”

But Drella replied, “No, not necessarily. The majority of it problem would not be criminal activity. The clerk’s office is already saddled with these kinds of things.”

He added that he had put in the policy that the clerk could refer a situation to him, the police chief or whomever assisted with the investigative work.

A motion to adopt the motion suggested by the attorney was made by Alderman Dan Snow, seconded by Alderman Clayton Stevens. It passed in a unanimous voice vote and moved on to city council’s Feb. 21 meeting.

Some questions

Also at the Feb. 21 council meeting, when monthly bills were being paid, Alderpersons Freeman and Tom Porter had questions about some of the expenditures.

Freeman initially asked Public Works Director Brent Anderson about tort liability as it applied ground storage tanks. “I know what tort liability insurance is,” she said. “What’s confusing to me is the underground tank insurance.”

“That’s what we’re required to have through the state fire marshal’s office for our fuel system at the street department, and also the underground tanks we have at the waste water treatment plant,” the director replied.

Of Fire Chief Al Hyser, she asked about a physical examination and second opinion. “Is that something that wasn’t corrected under one of our firefighter’s insurance, that they want a second opinion?”

The chief explained, “There is a firefighter that was out for 9-10 months with a long-term injury, and he was okay to come back (to work) by one physician. However, we had a second opinion because of the nature of the injury.”

She returned to Anderson with a question about civil engineering for the recently completed Bellwood-Belvidere High School storm water retention pond project. “Is this an old thing that is just now showing up on our bills payable?” she asked.

“Actually, the Bellwood ponds we are awaiting final paperwork from the contractor, to complete that project,” he replied. “The work’s all done; paperwork is almost finished.”

There was another question for Anderson, regarding maintenance of fire hydrants and a bill for $8,052 from Ferguson Enterprises. “What kind of maintenance and repairs do we do to hydrants,” she asked.

“That’s actually a repair maintenance line item budget, and it’s (for) new hydrants,” he answered.

“Ok, do we maintenance our hydrants?” Freeman continued.

“We do maintenance our hydrants and when they break and stuff, or we have to replace them if they get hit or damaged, we need to replace them,” he said.

Her last question was for Hyser, about the recent roof improvements at downtown Fire Station No. 1.

“I think that you did the roof repair and with our current weather and rain in the forecast, hopefully it worked out and did you hear back how much we were reimbursed from the insurance?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “All in all, it’s worked out well. Everything’s just perfect up there. I think we ended up paying $2,800 altogether to have that roof redone.” The city council-approved proposal to do the work came to $31,145, from Freeport Industrial Roofing.

“That’s not like a temporary patch?” Freeman inquired further.

“That’s 15-plus years,” the chief said.

Porter asked Chief Woody about the expense connected to 16 tasers and 16 tasers acquired by the police department.

“Are we replacing the tasers, or are we adding to the ones we already have?” the alderman asked.

“However many years ago that was part of the yearly service agreement that we have to pay, and it was going to be $6-plus-thousand per year for five years,” the chief answered.

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