By Bob Balgemann

Two of the most recent issues to command attention from the Boone County Board, and the Belvidere City Council, made their way to a county board meeting on May 19.

The first, having to do with animal shows such as rodeos, focused on the unincorporated community of Garden Prairie and was brought to the meeting by Spring Road resident Richard Wolf. He spoke during the public comments portion of the agenda.

County board Chairman Karl Johnson raised the second issue, relating to how much money local government allocates each year to Growth Dimensions. That’s the public-private organization serving as the marketing arm of the county, city and four villages.

Wolf has appeared at county board meetings before. He opened by saying this is a complaint-driven county when it comes to enforcement issues. In Garden Prairie, which has about 300 residents, he said there are two rodeo and concert arenas, about one mile apart.

“When one is playing one weekend and the other another weekend, we are getting blasted,” he said.

He also addressed the behavior of those attending board meetings.

“In my opinion, a board member (recently) seemed to be intimidated by a member of the audience and he (board member) told them to stop, or he will have them removed,” Wolf recalled. “Last Tuesday, I was at the ad-hoc committee (on animal shows) and an audience member yelled at a public speaker her three minutes is up.”

Typically, those addressing the board or the Committee of the Whole during public comments must limit their remarks to three minutes. Johnson usually makes that announcement any time speakers have indicated ahead of time that they want to address the board.

Wolf said, in his opinion, the behaviors he mentioned were forms of intimidation.

He continued: “Another public speaker has said a drone was seen at an event in Ogle County. What if someone at one of these large events, that are trying to police themselves, pulls out a gun and tries to shoot it (drone) down? My best friend is a police officer and he is scheduled for training for this exact scenario next month. Several other rodeo events are going to do what they want, with or without permits, and they are already doing that.”

He did not provide any specifics.

Wolf concluded by asking the board to protect Garden Prairie’s heritage as a place of peace and quiet, whose residents enjoy living in the country.

“Please don’t be intimidated into something that isn’t right, or fair, to the others who are neighbors next to these events,” he said.

Some ‘abuse’

Later in the meeting board Johnson revisited the recent matter of how much money the county and city of Belvidere allocate each year for Growth Dimensions.

The county’s annual budget is in effect from Dec. 1 to Nov. 30 of each year. It voted to decrease the Growth Dimensions contribution for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which Johnson said occurred over his objections.

He made that comment and others at a recent city council meeting, when he urged Belvidere not to lessen its allocation for Growth Dimensions from $55,000 to $30,000 or $35,000, as was being proposed.

What prompted Johnson to revisit that issue May 19 was a letter the county received from Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, concerning that organization’s status as a non-profit. Before going further, the chairman said, “There have been a lot of questions and concerns about the status of Growth Dimensions as a charitable organization.”

He read from the letter that stated the organization was registered with the Attorney General’s Charitable Trust and Solicitations Bureau, and as of April 11, 2022, was in good standing. It filed its financial report for the period ending Dec. 31, 2020, and remained in good standing as of April 26, 2022.

The letter was signed by Jamalia Evans, compliance manager of the Charitable Trust Bureau, Chicago.

So, he said, that can be read into the record for Growth Dimensions as “they’ve taken some abuse here, recently.”

Board member Cherie Bartelt said she wanted to comment on “what you just said.”

Johnson invited her to do so, at the end of the meeting under the relatively new agenda item, Board Member Comments.

“I certainly will,” she replied. And when the meeting drew to a close, and that agenda item came up, she began her response by saying Growth Dimensions records at one time were not current.

“Hopefully, they will not have problems in the future,” she said.

She continued that looking into Growth Dimensions was appropriate since taxpayers’ money is being contributed to the organization.

“I feel that we the people of this board have the right to question when somebody is not doing something correctly, and maybe bringing it forward to whoever is in charge of that type of board at that time. That is our responsibility. If we are giving out taxpayer money, we want to know that the group that is getting it is doing everything correctly.”

Board member Dave Wiltse said the organization’s executive director, Pam Lopez-Fettes, reported they thought the paperwork had been filled out and sent in, but that the state had a backlog of updating its computer.

“Look at the attachment to the letter,” he added. “The tax return is dated Aug. 26, 2021. She had indicated it had been sent in many, many, many months earlier.”

He concluded by saying Bartelt was correct that the board had the right and an obligation to inquire into that matter. “But in this particular case, it wasn’t delinquent,” he said. “It was slow processing by the state.”

Board Vice-Chair Sherry Giesecke said, as a point of perspective, “There is a lot of money that is put into Growth Dimensions from private entities, too, from private corporations. It’s not just our tax dollars.”

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