Teacher’s class tours denied access to Public Safety Building

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Why is a Boone County high school teacher now refused permission to take his classes on a tour of Winnebago County government offices as he had previously? John Duerk says it is because of his activities and concerns on behalf of animals and his dissatisfaction with the county system.

Duerk, a government teacher at North Boone High School, documented his problems with a series of letters between him and Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli. Duerk is a member of the group Adopt Shelter Animals Please (ASAP), which has consistently disagreed with the policies of Winnebago County Animal Services (WCAS) and its director, Gary Longanecker.

Duerk shared his record of correspondence with Winnebago County, his frustration at being denied access to a public building and the chance to educate his students about county government.

Oct. 27, 2004, Duerk sent a letter to Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli, stating he had talked with one of the assistant attorneys, who told him he could not bring his U.S. Government classes to the county’s Public Safety Building for his semester field trip. Duerk said he was “shocked and disheartened, as I have been coming to your office for three years now. During this time I have acted in a professional manner, and my students have always been well-behaved. Moreover, I have always been very appreciative…

“I guess what bothers me about the fact that your office has distanced itself from me is that we both know your decision involves my activities in the Rockford area. While you might not share my views (and you are entitled to disagree with them), you have decided to use my personal life against me all because someone has made a complaint… I have not done anything to deserve this punishment—nor have my students, as you have ultimately taken an invaluable learning experience from them…

“I will not apologize for my beliefs, as I stand firmly committed to my principles…”

Second letter to Logli

Again, on Aug. 17, 2005, Duerk sent a second letter to Logli’s office. He said: “I am writing in regards to the suspension of my field trip privileges last fall. Over the last four and half years while employed at North Boone High School, I have visited the public safety building four times with my government students… Last October, I was informed by [an assistant state’s attorney] that I could not visit that semester. I would like a written explanation as to why this is the case; why I am not allowed to bring my students back. Moreover, I would like to know if your decision is permanent.

“I was informed that another teacher from my school can bring the students, but that is not possible because I am the only government teacher in my department.

“As a taxpaying citizen of this county, I deserve a better explanation from your office.”

Logli’s reply

State’s Attorney Paul Logli sent this reply on Sept. 8, 2005: “Dear Mr. Duerk: Thank you for your letter of Aug. 17, 2005. Our decision in this regard was based on the fact that you and others working with you engaged in a pattern of highly personal and unwarranted attacks against Animal Services Director Gary Longanecker. As you may or may not know, this office is legally obligated to provide prosecution support to the officers of the Animal Control Division. As corporation counsel for the county, we also represent that unit and its employees in all legal matters. The State’s Attorney has also appointed Director Longanecker and Inspector David Mace as special investigators with full police powers that can be exercised while conducting investigations into criminal violations involving animals.

“Apparently, you felt it was necessary to conduct personal attacks against Mr. Longanecker in order to advance what you perceive to be your advocacy for animals. Those attacks questioned the character and competence of Mr. Longanecker. You also questioned his personal regard for the interests of the people of Winnebago County and the welfare of animals that come under his control. While you are entitled to your opinions, we find it necessary to prevent you from having open access to this office which creates what can only be described as a hostile environment for members of county government and people who also hold the position of special investigator for the Office of State’s Attorney. We regret that this decision had to be made, but we believe that we have a primary obligation to protect the integrity of this office and the welfare of its members and associates.

“Yes, you are a taxpaying citizen of this county, but my obligation is to all the other taxpaying citizens of this county to whom services must be delivered by the individual members of this office, all of whom deserve a positive work environment free of a hostile presence. I suggest that your students at North Boone High School would be equally well-served by a visit to the Boone County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“Very truly yours, Paul A. Logli, State’s Attorney”

Duerk responds to Logli

Duerk wrote back on Sept. 30, 2005: “Dear State’s Attorney Logli: I take issue with your response to my inquiries about access to your office. You claim that I ‘engaged in a pattern of highly personal and unwarranted attacks against Animal Services Director Gary Longanecker’ and that I have created ‘a hostile environment for members of county government.’ I was manipulated and stonewalled, and therefore, presented the truth to the community. You, on the other hand, did not attend unproductive meetings with county officials who clearly do not have the animal’s best interests in mind. Moreover, Mr. Longanecker has never answered questions about his (lack of) qualifications, and I believe that is because he does not have the experience or education specified by the county’s own job description. Here it seems that your defensiveness is rooted in the fact you know this is true and yet you chose to employ him anyway. That, to me, is unconscionable; especially when informed, local citizens cared enough to develop a proposal to address problems like the euthanasia rate, and we were ignored by WCAS leaders who lack real ambition.

“All of this aside, it does not change the fact that you are an elected official, and you cannot deny me entrance to a public building on the basis that I criticized one of your employees. The argument that you have an ‘obligation… to all other taxpaying citizens of this county to whom services must be delivered’ is nothing more than an excuse. You are obviously upset with me for what I have said and done in regards to WCAS, and you are seeking to punish me. That is totally unprofessional. After all, I have not violated the law, and clearly WCAS brought ASAP’s campaign upon itself. Had the leadership acted more respectfully toward our membership, our actions would not have been necessary. Perhaps Animal Services needs a better manager—someone who will actually take local citizens seriously, make him (or herself) available, be more direct and genuine with the public, and save more animals from certain death. Sincerely, John A. Duerk”

Requirements of position

Winnebago County’s job description for “Animal Services Director” lists the following Position Requirements: “Education—Four-year degree in Business Management or minimum of 5 years experience in animal control and sheltering program. Experience—Minimum of three (3) years experience in animal control and sheltering program; requires knowledge of control of rabies; requires knowledge of County ordinance laws and regulations related to Animal Control Act; requires knowledge of safety practices concerning the handling of animals.” Under “Abilities” the job description calls for: “Requires ability to establish and maintain satisfactory working relationships with fellow workers and the general public; requires abilities to plan and supervise the work of others.” One of the “Illustrative Examples of Work” includes: “Develops and directs various programs aimed at improving service provided,” whi

ch the ASAP group says is a deficiency of the current director.

Longanecker’s previous work experience was with the Rockford Park District police before he was appointed to his present position. He does not have the educational degrees specified in the County’s job description.

From the Jan. 18-24, 2006, issue

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