Friday, October 28, 2011
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Local leaders, community members, tell COGFA panel why Logan is important

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[October 28, 2011]  Wednesday evening after hearing from David Vaught, director of the governor's Office of Management and Budget, and several Illinois Department of Corrections officials -- S.A. Godinez, director; Bryan Gleckler, chief financial officer; and Anne McElroy, chief of labor relations -- the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability heard testimony from elected officials, both state and local, regarding the closure of Logan Correctional Center. 

Those who spoke included state Reps. Raymond Poe, Rich Brauer and Bill Mitchell; Sens. Larry Bomke and Bill Brady; along with Lincoln Mayor Keith Snyder, Atlanta Mayor Fred Finchum, Logan County Board members Bob Farmer and Pat O'Neill; John Aylesworth, representing Mount Pulaski; and Tiffany Tebben, representing U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock. 

The state legislators took the opportunity to voice concerns they had already brought out in the questioning of the state budget director and DOC officials. Bomke reiterated that it made no sense to pick on Logan Correctional Center, and Brady expressed that the state could not afford to close Logan. He said keeping the facility open was the right thing to do. 

Brauer again expressed concern for the safety of prisoners and staff when eliminating a prison where there is already a serious issue with overcrowding. Mitchell said placing inmates in gymnasiums was not reasonable. He also said the community had already suffered wrongs at the hands of the state. Referring to Lincoln Developmental Center, he said "it was wrong with LDC, and it is wrong now."

Tebben read a letter from Schock, the 18th Congressional District representative, that also supported keeping Logan open. In his letter, the congressman said he was very concerned about the state's plans "or lack thereof." 

Snyder, the Lincoln mayor, talked about the savings versus loss, telling the panel that every dollar saved by the state would cost the local economy $8. He said what was happening felt like a punch in the gut to Lincoln and Logan County, and not at the hands of some evil corporation, but at the hands of its own government. 

He finished by saying the people of Lincoln and Logan County understand what it is to not have enough and to have to get by with less. "They get that," he said. "What they don't get is broken promises." 

Finchum, the Atlanta mayor, spoke about the losses of families in his town, the empty houses where families once lived and the prospects of seeing more of the same with the closing of Logan. He said those who could commute would also suffer. He said it would be "devastating to family values" with more latchkey kids and less parent participation in children's lives. He concluded by saying, "And you can't place a dollar value on that." 

Dr. Robert Kidd, president of the District 27 school board, spoke on the effects of poverty on children in their education. He spoke about the rise in poverty levels in the public schools and the challenges it presents to administrators and teachers. He predicted larger numbers of poverty-level children in the school system if Logan closes. 

Aylesworth is the chief of the Mount Pulaski Fire Department. He talked about his community and the businesses that will be affected by the loss of jobs and perhaps population in Mount Pulaski. 

He also spoke as a husband and father, saying it was hard to tell children they can have a good future if they work for it, when daddy is unemployed. He ended by saying: "You cannot imagine what this feels like, and I hope you never have to experience it. I wouldn't wish this on anyone." 

Farmer, the county board chairman, also addressed the panel, reinforcing much of what had already been said. He told the panel the impact of closing Logan would be far-reaching and devastating. 

Robert Bagby, superintendent of Lincoln Community High School, spoke about the blows the school has suffered through in recent years. He talked about a drop in enrollment after the closure of LDC and a cut in state funding at the hands of Quinn. He said the school has struggled and is on the road to recovery, but this closure would deliver yet another blow. 

County board member Pat O'Neill asked the panel to do what they could to keep the prison open. He commented, "This is not just about numbers; it's about friends, family and neighbors." 

Henry Bayer, executive director of the AFSCME Council 31 union, told the panel there has already been a great deal of damage done to employees of the Logan Correctional Center in that they have suffered through sleepless nights of worrying. 

As he spoke, panel co-chair Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg told Bayer that when it had been proposed that the Pontiac prison be closed, the COGFA panel had voted against it, and their recommendation had been upheld. Bayer responded by saying, "Keep up the good work." 

Shannon Kelly, the newly appointed president of AFSCME 2073 at Logan Correctional Center, also spoke about the need to keep the prison open. He told the panel that he was very proud to be a part of the Logan County community -- so proud, in fact, he named his son Logan. Everyone enjoyed a lighter moment in an intense evening when, from the back of the room, a little voice called out to his daddy on the stage. 

Earlier in the evening, when the state budget director and director of the state Department of Corrections had been in front of the panel, it was stated that one reason for choosing to close Logan was because there are two prisons in the county, located in very close proximity to each other. 

Dale Ridgeway, the president of AFSCME 501 at Lincoln Correctional Center, said having the two prisons close to each other was an asset. He spoke about the violent tendencies of his female inmates and the comfort he has had in knowing Logan is just a short distance away and available to help in times of trouble. 

Robin Best, a registered nurse and staff specialist at Logan, talked about the recent investments in a top-notch health care unit and a new dietary unit. She cited the state would be abandoning a facility it had just invested $12 million in. 

Allan Mills, the legal director of Uptown People's Law Center in Chicago, told the panel he is the one who is usually suing the Department of Corrections. He said there would indeed be legal issues from housing prisoners in gymnasiums. 

When Dave Schonauer of Illinois American Water went over his speaking time limit, he was stopped by a member of the panel. From the audience there was one person who criticized the panel, heckling them. The person was not a Logan employee, and her actions were ignored by the panel and the audience. 

Others who spoke included Michael Maniscalco of the Lincoln & Logan County Development Partnership, Geoff Ladd of the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County, and Andi Hake of the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce. 

Hake delivered to the panel petitions with 8,943 signatures of Logan County residents.

Maniscalco echoed many of the comments he's made over the last few weeks on the closing of Logan. He said: "The state should run effectively and efficiently. Closing Logan does the exact opposite." He also drew on the Eighth Amendment, saying housing prisoners in gyms is cruel and unusual punishment. 

Ladd drew from Lincoln's own connection with a beloved president, saying President Lincoln would not be proud of what is going on in his namesake community. 

Hake also spoke, saying that the hearing gave faces to the problem, which she wanted the panel to see. The people who are involved are real, with their own stories. 

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Local business people who addressed the panel included Chris Coyne, a local State Farm insurance agent; Glenda Allison, an agent with ME Realty; Shawn Taylor, owner of Logan Lanes; and Chris Graue, general manager of Graue Chevrolet. 

Each gave their own accounts of how local businesses will suffer if the prison is closed. Coyne spoke about the pride of the people in Logan County and how it hurts them to not be able to pay their bills.

Allison drew attention to the deflated home values in the area, the large number of homes for sale and how the closure will keep real estate values on a downward spin. 

Taylor noted a number of his patrons are Logan employees and wondered if he'd even be able to keep his doors open if they leave. Graue noted a 58-year history in Lincoln, saying the company has done all right, but he, too, is worried for the future if Logan closes. 


Seth Goodman said he was there representing Main Street Lincoln but also representing young college-educated adults who have come home to live and work. He said at 26 years of age, he'd chosen to stay in Lincoln because he saw the community as having abundant opportunities. He asked the panel not to sacrifice the future of his small-town community. 

Logan Correctional employees also took their turn in front of the panel, including Lisa Lercher, who talked about the facility and its assets. She ended her statements by saying, "Please, stop this nightmare." 

Employee Tom Boesdorfer told the panel he is fighting stage 3 cancer. He talked about not knowing if he could make a 90-mile commute to work each day, not knowing if he could keep up his chemotherapy and the result if he couldn't. He told the panel, "This is life and death to me." 

Tyler Fishel, a corrections officer at the prison, talked about the locations where he has been in the system. He said he thought when he arrived at Logan, he was in a good place with a good job and secure future. He accented it by saying, "I guess I was wrong." 

Logan employee Derrick McCray told the panel he'd had a good year. He got a job at Logan, got married and has a baby on the way. He and his wife found a home to purchase, had signed all the paperwork and put out money; then Quinn dropped a bomb on his life. 

Sherry Jennings, a contracted nurse at Logan, said the 356 jobs lost figure cited by so many was not correct, because it didn't include people such as the contracted nurses. She asked the panel to do "what is ethically and morally right." 

Pastor Chuck Olander of Zion Lutheran Church in New Holland, Larry Crawford of the Open Arms Fellowship Christian Church, Dustin Fulton of Jefferson Street Church and Henry Johnson, retired chaplain of Logan Correctional Center, all addressed the panel. 

Fulton recounted the effect closing LDC had on its employees. He noted their emotional suffering because they were no longer able to care for their charges. He told the panel, "People here care and love unconditionally." 

Johnson spoke of his life devoted to the spiritual well-being of Logan inmates and staff. He told the panel, "I have married staff, I have buried staff." He ended his statements by saying, "I ask you to do no harm." 

Crawford spoke about the ministerial association and the needs of the community that the organization works to help fill. He said the cost of closing Logan could not be weighed in money. He concluded: "I challenge you to ask Quinn to keep his word. This is your hour, your opportunity. The citizens of Logan County are counting on you." 

Angela Stoltzenburg of the Community Action Partnership of Central Illinois, Bill Overton of the Lincoln/Logan Food Pantry and Lois Leonard of the local chapter of the United Way addressed the panel regarding their services to low-income families and organizations that serve those families. 

Leonard noted United Way funds 14 agencies in the community, including Community Action. Her agency receives cash donations through payroll deductions from several employers, not the least of which is Logan Correctional. 

Stoltzenburg and Overton both spoke about the increased need for their services after the closing of LDC and the anticipation of future increased needs if Logan closes.  

Stoltzenburg noted funding cuts her agency has had to deal with and the effect it has had on their ability to serve those in need. She said if the needs get to be any greater, she fears they will have to turn people away. 

Overton talked about the generosity of this community in that those who have, give. But he worries that the time is coming when those who have will not have enough to support the rising needs. 

The last two people to address the panel were Dan Fulscher of the Logan County Emergency Management Agency and Logan County Board member Jan Schumacher. 

Fulscher talked primarily about the experiences he has had with the Logan staff. He recounted a recent training event at the prison and commended the staff on their abilities. He also commented on the idea of closing the prison and shipping inmates to gymnasiums, saying, "Failing to plan is planning to fail." 

Schumacher said that as a county board member she understood the struggles of budget and money, but she told the panel, "In this case the numbers do not add up." She also told the panel in her closing statement that what is being proposed will increase the burden on Lincoln and Logan County. 

After just over three hours, the testimony concluded in the COGFA hearing. This concludes this step of the fight to keep the Logan Correctional Center from closure, come the end of the year. 

The COGFA panel will review all the information they took in and will offer a recommendation to the governor and legislators. 

At the end of the evening, there was very little "tell" in the faces of the panel. With the exception of Rep. Michael Tryon, who ended the evening saying he would be voting to keep Logan open, the panel offered no indication of how they felt about the decision ahead of them. 


Previous report on the hearing: Legislators grill DOC officials; closing Logan makes no sense

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