By Bob Balgemann


There was a larger than usual turnout of residents at the July 15 Boone County Board meeting, with the vast majority of them commending three employees of the County Animal Services Department, and wondering why they suddenly walked off the job Friday afternoon, July 10.

Each had praise for the operations supervisor, his lead field officer, and office manager, for their worth as people, the level of care they showed various animals brought to the relatively new Squaw Prairie Road shelter, their knowledge of all facets of their career employment choice, and their value to the county as a whole.

But before those speakers approached the microphone, the meeting room had to be partially cleared. That was because the number of those in attendance exceeded the 50 who were allowed by the state to be present at any gathering, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

County Health Department Administrator Amanda Mehl was at the meeting and saw the violation of the state-permitted capacity. She instructed behind the scenes that some of the attendees be asked to voluntarily leave the room before the meeting could continue.

Board Chairman Karl Johnson made the announcement and a short time later, after an orderly exodus, the meeting did resume. But he had another announcement, before the speakers made their way to the microphone. That had to do with their comments being limited to three minutes each, and not repeating what already had been said.

ATC project

Before the onslaught of comments about the Animal Services Dept. employee resignations, Greg Brown led off by thanking the county board for its support of Rock Valley College’s Advanced Technology Center project, which wound up being approved for the Big Thunder Mall in Belvidere. Brown is Chief Financial Officer for Belvidere Community Unit School District 100.

Board member Marshall Newhouse thanked Brown for his work in that endeavor.

Chairman Johnson thanked Brown for his time and leadership, and everything he did to bring this major project to Boone County. “We’re excited about the update and a bright future,” he said.

Animal Services

Eleven speakers focused on the departed county Animal Services Dept. employees, each saying how valuable they were in the work they did for residents and animals.

David Garris, who lives in Garden Prairie, said during his four years there, those employees had proven to be valuable to him, personally. “While I don’t know all the parameters of what’s going on, I just want to state my support for them,” he said.

He was greeted by a hearty round of applause, which prompted Chairman Johnson to ask that not be done any more. “This is not a cheerleading section,” he said.

The Village of Poplar Grove had a problem with feral cats and Sarah Oberheim, who lives there, said she implemented a trap, neuter, and return program, which is the only way to control such a problem. She was only able to do that, she said, with the help and knowledge of those Animal Services employees.

East Lincoln Ave. resident Cheryl Rehvick said she has lived in Belvidere for 27 years and had been a foster parent for 99 dogs during her lengthy time of involvement with animal issues. “I know what I’m talking about when I say these are good people and do an excellent job,” she said. “I don’t know what happened, but usually when three people walk out the door at the same time, it’s an administration problem,” she said.

There was more applause, though not as loud as the first round.

Belvidere Alderman Wendy Frank said she helped out at the animal service department when it had been located in a dilapidated building off S. Appleton Road. And more recently she had helped out in the new building at 4546 Squaw Prairie Road. “I can’t say enough good about them,” she said of the departed employees.

Rockford resident Kayla Peterson, a business owner in Belvidere, said, “They’re really kind people; they love their job, you can tell.”

More comments

Linda Kelley of Autumn Drive said she had known the Animal Services employees for about 10 years. “I can’t think of a more compassionate group of people,” she stressed. “They work 365 days a year, 24/7, in the cold, in the hot, in the rain, in the snow. They crawl into window wells; they get taken away from family doings. I feel they should be allowed to do what they do best. I can’t think of a better group of three people.”

Misty Eisenbraun said she was speaking on behalf of the relatively new Boone County Animal Services Auxiliary, which was formed to benefit dogs, cats, and other stray animals in the community. “It was a shock to learn all three employees left the way they did,” she said. “It’s pretty devastating to lose these three fine employees. It would be a huge loss if they were not able to return to work.”

Locust St. resident Patricia Sigh, a new volunteer for animal services, said, “You have the three finest people on God’s green earth. They need to be back on the job immediately.”

The employees’ union representative, Joe Adrian, said he had never seen the work ethic that those three people have. “That’s not including the love they have for those animals,” he added.

Not being ignored

At the end of this agenda item Chairman Johnson explained why neither he nor any board member responded to the public comments made earlier that night. He said, in part, that the board “does not debate the subject of public comments or take immediate action on such comments.” He added that as a “deliberative body,” the board does not act immediately on the requests from speakers, but the information received during that portion of the agenda will be reviewed later.

“I just don’t want you to feel that we are deliberately ignoring your questions and comments,” he said.

He reminded residents that his statement, in its entirety, appeared at the beginning of that night’s meeting agenda.


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