By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — City Council members have appointed the inaugural members of a new Civilian Oversight Board, which will be tasked with reviewing completed police internal investigations and certain use-of-force incidents.
The seven members represent a diverse cross-section of the city with experience ranging from behavioral health to law and nonprofit work. The also all live in different geographic areas of the city, Mayor Tom McNamara said.
“A huge thank-you to those individuals who are willing to serve … during really contentious times and do so as objectively as humanly possible,” McNamara said.
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The members were selected from approximately 50 resumes sent to the city. Those were whittled down by a selection committee comprised of city staff before the seven were presented to the council for approval.
Council members voted 13-1 on Monday to approve the members. Alderman Tim Durkee was the lone dissenting vote. He was not objecting to the candidates themselves but to the formation of the board, which he said was “a solution in search of a problem” because the current system of oversight works.
“We’ve noted in the recent past the ability of our police department and city to effectively identify and address the rare police officer that has had some deficiencies,” he said.
“What’s magical about trusting this committee, the members of this board, that they will be without bias as opposed to the current review that’s in place,” said Durkee, a Republican who represents the 1st Ward. “Where does doubt end and trust begin?”
Durkee’s comments came at the start of a nearly 40-minute debate that largely relitigated arguments for and against the formation of the group, which was previously approved in January in a 10-4 vote along party lines.
Supporters say the new board will ensure police accountability and provide transparency to a process that often happens behind closed doors.
“I think that it’s really important that we are listening to our citizens when they’re saying that this is what they need to feel the transparency and trust,” said Alderwoman Gina Meeks, a Democrat who represents the 12th Ward. “I believe that this is a step toward creating that for this community.”
The board will be responsible for issuing a written report of its findings after each case is reviewed, and that report will be made available to the public. It will also make an annual report detailing its activities and recommendations for improvements.
A closer look at the board
We examined the resumes of all seven members selected to the board and reached out to each member for comment. Six of the members responded in time for publication and provided photos upon our request.
The terms for each member were staggered so that all seven members’ tenures don’t end at the same time.
Here are the seven members listed in alphabetical order by last name:
Reginald Alexander is the owner and president of Blackprint, which operates Xsquisities Bar and Grill, 1201 Broadway.
Alexander, an Auburn High School graduate who has been a resident here for more than 30 years, previously served as vice president of the 100 Strong Community Safe House. He also formerly worked at the Belvidere Assembly Plant, where he served on the Civil Rights Committee that focused on creating an inclusive culture for minorities in the workplace.
He has also been a commissioner on the city’s Community Relations Commission.
“I have a passion for creating change within the community and making it a better place for my family and yours,” Alexander wrote in his cover letter to the city when applying for the role. “I believe that I can help bridge the gap and be a voice for our community members and enhance transparency, accountability, and help develop a plan to further improve community relations by fostering communication between the community and police agencies.”
Alexander was appointed to a two-year term.
Jillisa Bondurant has served as the executive director of Children’s Safe Harbor since March.
She previously worked in various roles at Winnebago County Court Appointed Special Advocates, including serving as its interim executive director.
“I have a strong passion for Rockford. I was born and raised here. I love the city,” she said in a phone interview. “I didn’t want to be like that person who was going to complain or see something wrong, but (then) I’m not taking the initiative to try and be part of the solution.”
She said she got her “heart of service” from her father, Jonathan Benton Sr., who served in the Marines for 13 years.
“I hear my dad’s words in my head when I get ready to tackle a project,” she said. “He reminded me if we all did our own part, and took care of the 10 feet in front of us, to each side and behind us we would definitely have a better community.”
She is a member of the Winnebago County Action Team, Rockford Chamber’s Lead 360, Family Violence Coordinating Council, Maternal Child Health Steering Committee, Domestic and Community Violence Prevention Task Force, and Victim Safety and Security Committee.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology, as well as a bachelor’s degree in psychology, from Western Illinois University.
Bondurant was appointed to a three-year term.
Sonji Collins is the pastor of House of God Church, 840 Brooke Road. She is also a member of the pastoral advisory board for One Body Collaboratives, a coalition of faith leaders working to tackle issues of mental health, racial justice and other problems the city faces.
“I saw the need to take a deeper dive into the process of law enforcement as it pertains to citizens and their complaints and concerns,” Collins said in a phone interview. “I was hoping that this board could bridge the relationship between law enforcement and the citizens, and any way that I can help to mediate that and eradicate claims of misconduct, that was my purpose.”
Collins has also worked as a payroll analyst for roughly two decades, according to her resume.
She has a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Moody Bible Institute, another bachelor’s degree in economics from Northeastern Illinois University and is pursuing a master’s of leadership from Judson University.
She was appointed to a one-year term.
Earl Curry is the director of behavioral health at Horizon Health Corporation in Dixon. He was the former clinical director of behavioral health at Alden Debes and Alden Park Strathmoor. He was previously a substance abuse counselor at Rosecrance, where he would teach, counsel and mentor at-risk youths and adults, and a substance abuse counselor at Remedies Renewing Lives.
Curry has more than 15 years experience working with people struggling with significant mental illness.
He holds a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Rasmussen College, as well as two master’s degrees from Judson University: one in business administration and one in human services administration.
Curry could not be reached for comment. We’ll update this story if possible when we hear back from him.
He was appointed to a three-year term.
Bill Hatfield is the founder and president of LEHP Management, a company formed in 2007 to provide food-safety inspections, well and septic evaluations, indoor air quality review and other inspections for real estate sales.
“I’ve seen public confidence in law enforcement being eroded all over the country, as well as in Rockford,” Hatfield said in a phone interview.
“I think there’s been a stigma for a long time that internal investigations are totally non-transparent, behind the wall, nobody knows what’s going on except for law enforcement and then comes a conclusion that nobody really knows how they got there,” he said. “I thought I would like to be involved in that and help with some transparency.”
He was previously director of environmental health for the Boone County Health Department and worked at the government agency until retiring at the end of 2016. He also worked as an environmental scientist and geologist and in farm equipment sales.
The U.S. Air Force veteran holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and is an Illinois Licensed Professional Geologist and Illinois Licensed Environmental Health Practitioner.
Hatfield was appointed to a two-year term.
Jonathan Medina is an associate attorney at Hoffman Immigration Law. He speaks both English and Spanish, and is active in the community through the Rockford Park District, St. Edward’s Youth Group, St. Bridgette’s Youth Group and St. Bernadette’s Sunday School.
“A lot of the major cities around the country have their own oversight committees, so I was really interested in getting on board with that,” he said of joining the committee.
“In Rockford, there’s always an opportunity to grow in every facet, not just in this,” he said in a phone interview. “I don’t see it as a long road or a difficult road. I think we just take it a step at a time and hopefully we get some positive results out of it.”
He’s a Rockford native and a 2012 Boylan Catholic High School graduate. He earned an associate’s degree from Rock Valley College, a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from Roosevelt University and a juris doctor degree from The John Marshall Law School.
Medina was appointed to a one-year term.
Aaron Vaiden is a project team leader for Field Fastener, a family-owned global supplier of fasteners and other commodities. He previously served as strategic program manager at OSF HealthCare and was Six Sigma Black Belt project manager at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center.
“The Civilian Oversight Board will be a great way for the city of Rockford to show a commitment to transparency, as it relates to citizen complaints and police use of force,” Vaiden said. “I am looking forward to serving on this board and I take the responsibility seriously.”
Vaiden holds a master of business administration from Liberty University in Lychburg, Virginia, and a master of public administration from the University of Illinois at Springfield, where his studies were focused on local government.
“I’m sure there will be challenges, but I think we’re fortunate to live in a city where – regardless of what you think about crime – we have a good police force,” he said.
Vaiden was appointed to a three-year term.