Dems halt hirings, truancy department gets go-ahead

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116361704921895.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Tim Simms (R-14) lobbies Democrats for votes to approve $600,000 for 13 employees to support recall judges.’);

Winnebago County Board Democrats blocked a vote Nov. 9 to approve $600,000 for the hiring of staff to support two recall judges. The state Supreme Court sent the retired judges to the 17th Circuit to help the court catch up on its backlog of cases.

A supermajority of 21 yeses was needed for the proposal to go up for a vote. The motion failed, garnering only 19. District 7 board member Angie Goral was the lone Democrat to vote yes.

Finance Committee Chairman Tim Simms (R-14) was forced to lay the matter over for the board’s Nov. 21 meeting.

This move by Democrats seems to add to the mounting pressure for African-American representation in the 17th Circuit. The two new recall judges are white.

“I’ve had some concerns with the way that we have been recruiting our judges,” George Anne Duckett (D-12) explained. “I have a problem with the absence of minorities in our courts.”

Race arguably became an issue in the Nov. 7 circuit judge race between white Republican Associate Judge Ed Prochaska and Democrat attorney Gwyn Gulley, who is black. Prochaska won the seat, but his election leaves an associate judgeship open.

Many are hoping the vacated associate judge seat will pave the way for the 17th Circuit Court’s first black appointee. Proponents argue the need for African-American representation in our courts.

During an Oct. 12 meeting, State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67) called on the county board to influence the court to appoint a black to the bench. Jefferson was also a strong supporter in Gulley’s campaign.

At the October meeting, Jefferson told The Rock River Times, “If you are African-American, and you come before an African-American judge, maybe someday you would aspire to be like that individual who you can relate to.”

Chairman Scott Christiansen was disappointed the vote to hire support staff was held up because the recall judges are already on the payroll.

In other county board business, a resolution authorizing an intergovernmental agreement to set up a truancy code hearing department in Rockford Public School District 205 was approved.

The Rockford City Council approved its resolution Oct. 30 and hired Kathryn Bischoff at the rate of $95 per hour for the hearing officer position.

Although the Winnebago County Board approved $25,000 for the hiring of a truancy code hearing officer Oct. 12, some still say truancy is none of the county’s business.

“We’re gonna be taking tax money from people that don’t live in District 205 to solve that problem, or address that problem,” argued Pete MacKay (R-5). “This is nothing more than a political promise made by [Rockford Mayor] Morrissey (I) when he was running for election.”

Rockford Education and Lifelong Learning Director Adam Smith believes the ripple effects of truancy are everybody’s problem.

George Anne Duckett (D-12) joined MacKay in voting against the execution of the agreement. Dorothy Redd (D-6) abstained.

Critics argued the City of Rockford isn’t chipping in any money. The city, however, has absorbed the cost of city attorney time and provides police for the program.

Truancy hearings are expected to begin in early December.

Gary Jury (R-3) was not present at the Nov. 9 meeting.

In federal judicial news, President Bush’s nominee for the U.S. District Court, State Appellate Judge Fred Kapala, is in flux after the Nov. 7 elections, which will shift power to the Democrats in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. His nomination passed the House, but not the Senate. Kapala is a Republican.

From the Nov. 15-21, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!