Tensions run high during public comment at Thornton Township Board meeting

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Interruptions and criticisms rule the day amid approval of $1 million grant awarded to Township for at-risk youth

By Josh Bootsma

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (September 29, 2022) – The long-simmering pot of Thornton Township politics boiled over momentarily during Tuesday night’s Township Board meeting, as public commenters, gallery members, and township representatives struggled to keep the meeting orderly amid disagreements and accusations.

Public comment – Rucker Holdings

Public comment is held at the beginning of township meetings, and those giving a comment were told they would each have three minutes to do so. Commenters were also told that the time was “not a Q and A” by Township Clerk Loretta Wells.

Fifteen people made a comment during the meeting, 10 of whom were representatives of Rucker Holdings, a holding company in Chicago and the Southland that owns over 20 businesses.

All 10 of the speakers for Rucker Holdings asked a variation of this question: “If we bring business here, will we get the same treatment as we’re getting in Dolton?”

public comment
DeAandre Rucker, owner of Rucker Holdings, was among 10 public commenters to ask how they would be treated in other township municipalities besides Dolton. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

In a subsequent conversation with The Lansing Journal, owner of Rucker Holdings DeAandre Rucker described his company’s past experience in Dolton: “We were treated in Dolton unfairly. We received our permits and now [Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard] is revoking our permits because we won’t fire one of our employees. And that’s because one of our employees is a trustee in Dolton,” Rucker said, referring to Kiana Belcher, a Dolton Trustee and the CFO at Rucker Holdings. Tiffany Henyard is both the mayor of Dolton and Thornton Township Supervisor.

“My concern is if she has a say-so over some mayors, or has meetings with mayors to let them know not to do business with me and my company,” Rucker said.

Supervisor Henyard did not reply to any of the Rucker Holdings commenters.

Public comment – Questions and critique

The five remaining commenters are summarized below:

John Kraft

  • Kraft identified himself as being “with the Edgar County Watchdogs,” an investigative non-profit.
  • He critiqued Henyard for starting the board meeting late, as the meeting was scheduled to start at 6 p.m. but did not start until 6:20.
  • Kraft, looking at Henyard, said he believes an Illinois court will force the Township to hold their meetings in the large downstairs area in the township building, instead of the smaller meeting room in which they’ve been held since Henyard took office. “No judge is going to allow 11 chairs in a room when you’ve got 100 downstairs,” he said.
  • “You’re using road district money to purchase police cars and put municipal plates on them,” Kraft said. “I was the one that notified the Secretary of State Police Director. It wasn’t 48 hours and he had somebody up here taking the plates off your vehicles. And he told you not to use the lights again and you do it anyway with municipal plates on them. You use them when you’re going to and from the courthouse. It violates the law. You’re going to get arrested for that eventually.”
  • Kraft also critiqued the current payment structure for Township trustees, arguing all trustees should be paid the same, regardless of time served on the board.
  • Throughout the night, Kraft also frequently spoke from the back of the room when it wasn’t his turn for public comment.
public comment
John Kraft, of the Edgar County Watchdogs, critiqued Henyard and the Township on multiple issues. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Jim Giglio

  • Jim Giglio is a former Thornton Township Trustee.
  • Giglio criticized the March 2022 Township meeting in which Henyard was appointed supervisor, saying, “Miss Henyard, you’re sitting in a seat you don’t rightfully hold.” Specifically, he said the Township Clerk is legally unable to serve as chair for a meeting and call for votes, which occurred on March 3.
  • “I’ve seen nothing but graft, corruption, spending money for an inauguration. There’s people out there in a recession hungry, and you’re spending $15,000 to sit on a queen chair. That’s not your role. Your role is public assistance,” Giglio said.
  • Amid Giglio’s comment, Henyard said, “Let me caution you. Watch what you say, I will get you for defamation of character.” Giglio responded, “You’re an elected official, I can say whatever I want. Sue me.”
public comment
Former Thornton Township Trustee Jim Giglio criticizes Supervisor Tiffany Henyard during public comment. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Stephanie Wiedeman

  • Stephanie Wiedeman is a former township employee.
  • She asked for an update on a project Henyard has previously mentioned — renaming the Thornton Township Hall to honor the late Supervisor, Frank Zuccarelli.
  • “I asked last board meeting. I was told that someone would reach out to me, and of course nobody did. So I’ll just keep asking until there’s movement or an answer,” Wiedeman said.

Julie Pierce

  • Julie Pierce’s comment focused on why the Township is using a small room for its board meetings, and choosing to use the larger downstairs area as overflow.
  • “From my understanding, we have 168,800 people in Thornton Township. If two people from each community came, what would happen? They can’t fit here, so what is the protocol of having a meeting downstairs?” Pierce said.

Keith Price

  • Keith Price is a current Township employee, and the manager of the Township’s food pantry.
  • “One thing I’m shocked at is the behavior,” Price said, “It seems like this is a witch hunt. We’re at a township meeting, we should be discussing township business.”
  • Price referred to Rucker Holdings and suggested the company address the mayors of each municipality regarding their business ideas instead of the Township.

Disruptions

The atmosphere became argumentative as a public commenter wasn’t heard by some in the gallery, who expressed dissatisfaction that his microphone wasn’t turned on. Dolton Police officer Commander Lacey was present at the meeting and at one point spoke to Jim Giglio and another public commenter from Rucker Holdings. It is unclear what the officer said. Lacey was not in uniform and did not outwardly display his badge.

Some of the disruption can be seen in the video below:

Grant for employment

All bills were approved for the General, General Assistance, and Road and Bridge Funds.

The board voted to ratify a phone poll conducted on September 20 to accept a $1 million grant from the State of Illinois.

Without specifying the exact program the funds are going towards, Henyard said, “I hit the ground running when I became your supervisor, and I made sure that I brought in a million dollars to the township to make sure I can help with the the at-risk youth. That’s the second chance program that I’m really big on. … My goal is to make sure that we offer work and employment in any one of the 17 municipalities.”

Thornton Township
Tiffany Henyard shared brief information about the $1 million the Township received to benefit at-risk youth. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

She said the program will benefit individuals ages 16–24, and families are welcome to apply in the coming months.

Other business

New hire

The Township board voted unanimously to approve an engagement letter to hire Piper Sander. Henyard said because of funding shortages that existed before her tenure started as supervisor, the Township intends to hire someone to seek out funding sources.

“They do not get paid unless they basically find funding for the township,” Henyard said. “The goal is for them to bring back $5 million.”

Help for Dixmoor

Henyard urged residents to consider buying water to donate to the south suburban community of Dixmoor, which is part of Thornton Township. The Village has experienced extensive water main breaks recently.

“Dixmoor is really in need of water. If you’re in the store and you buy water for yourself, buy some extra water. Mayor Fitzgerald will gladly take it, you can take it to their village hall,” Henyard said.

Fighting against cancer

Henyard mentioned her mother’s battle with breast cancer as she encouraged local residents with cancer to consult her non-profit Tiffany A. Henyard Cares Foundation, for support.

“If you need help paying for chemo, radiation, medicine, wigs, prosthetics — even helping you with housing … I want to put that out to the public and to everybody that the help goes to any of [the Township’s] 17 communities.

She encouraged local residents to participate in a cancer walk on October 4 in Dolton.

Board meeting schedule changes

Trustee Joyce Washington said the Board is going to conduct only one board meeting per month in October, November, and December. Washington cited holiday-related busy-ness as the reason for the change. It is not clear what day these meetings will be scheduled for.

Thornton Township Hall is located at 333 E. 162nd Street in South Holland.

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