Tuesday morning County Board meeting was packed with lots of maybes, few specifics, and minimal details.
Also, it may cost more, and that’s being kind as an overcapacity crowd met the full county board in force to have their voices heard.
“I don’t know that it will,” Chairman Wheeler said when asked how the move would save the County money, “That’s not the point. We need to change management of Animal Control to solidify what we’re trying to do here in the County. That’s my opinion.”
Over 90 minutes passed including a 30-minute public forum and half-hour closed before the County Board voted in favor of a resolution to move Animal Control to the Sheriff’s Department, passing 21-4.
A resolution came minutes after County Board member Robert Ellington-Snipes called for a motion to table the vote till October 8th so more research could be done on the plan presented by the Board. “I think anything that’s brought to us today to vote upon, without having thoroughly researched and looked at the pros and cons, either way, would be a discredit to the integrity of this particular Board,” Snipes said.
That motion was defeated 7-18.
Among those on hand early this morning to voice concerns for reorganization included a local Veterinarian, current and former members of Animal Control members, former politicians and private citizens. Former County Board Member David Merkle, who discussed his role initially in reorganizing Animal Control, particularly with the County tag program. “We were able to put this money into a fund,” Merkle said, “There was $185,000 falling through the cracks, that was 20 years ago. As of this year, there was $389,000 to be working with. The budget that came from no taxpayer money at all. This was all funded by the people that own pets in Kankakee County.”
The Board seemed to pay little to no attention to any public remarks during the full half-hour trot to the podium. A parade that could have lasted hours had time allotted.
“the Sheriff’s Office responded to 253 Animal Control calls  and so far this year, as of a week ago, we’ve responded to 193 animal calls. So we are out there responding as well when other people aren’t available.-Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey
Sheriff Downey was also in attendance to take questions from the Board late in the meeting.
When asked if the Sheriff’s Department could handle the burden of Animal Control, Sheriff Downey said, “In 2018 alone, the Sheriff’s Office responded to 253 Animal Control calls and so far this year, as of a week ago, we’ve responded to 193 animal calls. So we are out there responding as well when other people aren’t available. Our Office is very familiar with some of the things, now am I going to stand up here and tell you I’m familiar with every bit of law that’s out there? No. I’m not. But I can tell you that I’m familiar with resources that we have, with the resources of Animal Control, that we would be able to handle virtually anything.”
Before the vote, Chairman Wheeler cited ‘gross misinformation’ for the uproar over the vote at hand. Since addressing the Animal Control staff two weeks ago of the Shelter’s closure between now and June 2020, Wheeler has since attempted to put distance between himself and those remarks. Stating before a full County Board today, “There’s no immediate plan to shut down the Shelter.”
“Whatever our future is, it’s blue sky.” Wheeler said during today’s County Board meeting, “Nothing’s changing until everybody agrees this is a path we want to go on.” One County Board member asked how they could partner with shelters that are full on any given day. Wheeler replied, “Tell your constituents that the Shelter’s not closing. How could it? Where would all of these animals go? There’s no capacity. That’s not even possible.”
Without a written plan or feasibility study, the Board voted to approve the transition.
A far cry from words last month during an Executive Committee meeting, when the Chairman stated he wants the County to get out of the housing of animals business and adopt a structure similar to the one used in Will County. “We predict we probably won’t be out of the housing business until mid-year, maybe it could even take us a year to be out of that. We’re not just doing it to stop immediately. We want to focus on enforcement while we transition out of housing and adopting animals.”
As a result of today’s vote, as of December 1st, 2019, Animal Control will fall under the umbrella of the Sheriff’s Department. Animal Control Director Julie Boudreau will step down from her duties that day and a new administrator will be appointed by the Sheriff’s Department and County Board.
Boudreau was one of many who voice their opinions prior to today’s vote, “I’ve been working towards a goal that was thought to have been a shared vision of the future of our County. The last two weeks have been a maelstrom of misinformation perpetuated by a lack of planning and poor communication. It also shows a deviation from the work put in motion by this Board over 20 years ago.”