Column: Hiring ex-cons for village jobs may haunt Dolton mayor facing June 28 recall vote

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Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard’s practice of hiring felons to work for the village could determine whether she survives a recall referendum next month.

Village trustees have accused Henyard of ignoring an ordinance requiring background checks. Concerned citizens are reluctant to allow village employees into their homes for inspections, meter readings and other matters.

“The residents don’t really understand what’s going on,” said Kimberly Alston, a housing department worker, during public comments at Monday’s Village Board meeting. “It’s bad when I’m out there with the people and I don’t have an answer for them.”

The controversy erupted in September when Henyard hired registered child sex offender Lavelle Redmond to work as a code enforcement officer. Redmond served 24 years in prison for aggravated criminal sexual assault with a weapon.

Henyard said she believed in second chances. Voters may agree to an extent, but public comments and social media chatter indicate the politically toxic practice could cost Henyard one of her two high-profile jobs. She is also Thornton Township supervisor.

Henyard’s unapologetic stance on the practice may reveal a political naiveté. She has served a little more than a year as mayor of the community of nearly 23,000. The red-hot issue appears to touch on voter fears about safety.

“I have a past. I’m not proud of my past,” Jamilah Taylor, a public works foreman, said Monday during public comment.

Taylor was released from prison in 2017 after serving 20 years for murder, records showed. When he was 18 in 1997, he participated in the killing of a currency exchange owner on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

Audience members gather Monday at Dolton Village Hall. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

“I am not my past,” Taylor said. He said he came to address the board after a post about his conviction circulated on social media last week.

“I hope and pray that it wasn’t someone on the board playing politics,” Taylor said. “I bust my butt every day on the job with the opportunity I was given.”

Taylor said it was “deplorable” that his murder conviction was becoming an issue in Henyard’s recall referendum.

“They’re trying to use my past against her,” he said.

Taylor drove a getaway car during the fatal shooting, police said.

“That individual didn’t lose his life by my hands, but it was by my actions,” Taylor said. “I paid the price. I did 20 years in the penitentiary for it.”

Several people stood around Taylor as he addressed the board. They wore T-shirts bearing the letters ECCSC, an acronym for the group Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change.

Henyard introduced the group’s founder and director, Tyrone Muhammad, during a Jan. 3 board meeting. She told trustees he would head up a program to give offenders a second chance. She created the program by decree, bypassing trustee approval.

Second-chance programs addressed the sins of slavery, Muhammad told the board.

“You’re talking about men who served their debt to society,” he said. “We live in a whole country with our ancestors’ blood soaked in the soil.”

Members of the organization worked as community activists and counselors to prevent violence, he said.

“Ex-felons are the only class of individual that is perpetually discriminated by everybody,” Muhammad said. “Here’s a man that’s an example in your city of what real reformation looks like and that should be applauded and commended.”

Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard greets a guest during a break in a Village Board meeting Monday. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

Henyard filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recall but was unable to persuade a judge to order the county clerk to remove the referendum from ballots. Early voting begins Thursday.

Dolton voters will find three ballot questions. One asks whether the village should create a mechanism to recall the mayor. The second question asks whether Henyard should be recalled if the first question is successful. The third question addresses governmental cooperation.

If a majority of voters approve both questions, the mayor’s office would be declared vacant. A village board majority would appoint someone to fill the vacancy, unlike other methods in which voters select from candidates.

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I asked Henyard Monday her reaction to the recall referendum.

“It’s unconstitutional,” she said. “The residents should have a voice in it. I don’t think the Board of Trustees should be five people that dictate who gets recalled. If we’re going to play that game, add everybody in it.”

A board majority voted in December to place the referendum questions on ballots. The majority did not seek to create a mechanism for recalling trustees.

The bottom line is, Henyard faces a recall vote just 13 months into a four-year term as mayor. She has been at odds for months with the board majority over background checks for new hires, village finances and other issues.

The political reality is she has six weeks to show Dolton voters why she should be allowed to finish her first term as mayor. The board majority and other critics say her second chance jobs program is an example of how she acts without first getting sufficient input from others.

Ted Slowik is a columnist with the Daily Southtown.

tslowik@tribpub.com

via Chicago Tribune

May 18, 2022 at 07:15AM

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