Alderman, CityCouncil, Fire, Jim Stokes

Kankakee stalling on back pay owed to Firefighter Stokes

Posted byJoanie Liesenfelt, Publisher/Managing Editor 2-3-2013
City of Kankakee fire engine
Jim Stokes at City Council
James Stokes at Kankakee City Council 6-4-2012
According to Arbitrator Amedeo Greco in his report dated August 27, 2012, the City of Kankakee shall immediately make:

an offer of reinstatement to grievant James H. Stokes, Jr. and payment to him of a possible back pay award calculated in the manner described above.”

As of this report, Firefighter Stokes said he has not received the back pay award from the City of Kankakee. He has been reinstated to his job and his benefits and seniority have been returned.

But the City of Kankakee has not returned to Mr. Stokes the sum of money he would haved earned (minus any money received by way of mitigation) had the City of Kankakee not violated the just cause standard under which all Kankakee Firefighters are employed.

In reading the Arbitrator’s report, it appears that the City of Kankakee’s main justification for terminating Firefighter Stokes seemed to rest on Mr. Stokes having falsified his complaint to the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR), setting up a possible pattern of dishonest behavior.

According to the Arbitrator’s report:

Left then is the City’s claim that Firefighter Stokes violated Section 2200.01(1) by engaging in “Conduct unbecoming a member or employee of the Fire Department” because he supposedly perjured himself when he falsely claimed under oath that he was made to wait until the end of his shift which ended at 7:00 a.m. on the next day when, in fact, he waited about 30 seconds…”*

Nevertheless, his false statement was preposterous on its face because it claimed that he was required to wait in that office from about 1:30 p.m. on June 22 to 7:00a.m. on June 23 when his “shift ended,” about 17 hours later. Surely, hardly anyone would ever take such a claim seriously.

But “hardly anyone” is the City of Kankakee who did take this seriously. So why would some of our elected and appointed officials in the City of Kankakee risk looking foolish using this nonsense to terminate Firefighter Stokes? The arbitrator considered Firefighter Stokes disciplinary record and had this to say about it:

There thus is no merit to the City’s claim that termination is appropriate because Firefighter Stokes has a “history of substantial transgressions and a progressive discipline for those transgressions”

So, what’s the deal here?

Oddly, Firefighter Stokes termination on August 5, 2011, after 30 years work with the Kankakee Fire Department, occurred within three months of his swearing in as a City of Kankakee Alderman.

Even odder, on another front two months later, Mayor Epstein said that Alderman Stokes had violated the City officials code of conduct by asking the library if they really needed new carpet. She said she would be discussing with City Attorney Bohlen about whether to make a formal complaint against Alderman Stokes.

The Sunnnyside Neighborhood Association members had the same question (as did many people in the community) and exercised their constitutional right to ask the clerks if they thought they needed new carpet. We had no idea at the time that in the City of Kankakee, that right might not be protected. We all love our library and felt it was a reasonable question to ask.

According to a Kankakee Daily Journal editorial October 13, 2011, the City of Kankakee code of conduct sets restrictions on Aldermen’s freedom of speech to ask questions regarding local issues. Is that even legal? The reason we pay aldermen is to think for themselves and investigate issues and statutes on their own as their duty to their wards.

The Kankakee Daily Journal editorial was in support of Alderman Stokes’ right to freedom of speech.

Stokes, no doubt, is an unusual person, with his “Mr. Action” persona. He rubs some people the wrong way, but if we have arrived at the point where asking questions and holding a conversation needs to be “investigated,” that’s wrong, too.

I felt proud to read this article in our daily newspaper. If you missed it, you might want to check out the full article online or in the library.

*K3G note: Firefighter Stokes said he did not notice the earlier date of June 22 instead of June 23 in the IDHR typed statement which he reviewed and signed under oath. He contacted IDHR to correct this error on his report. Read the details about this error in the Arbitrator’s report.

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Small Town
When you do not stand up
when government and power
retaliate to shut you up,
when you cower under cover,
never speaking up,
you become the attacker,
you give government power
to attack another and another.
You are attacked because
the person before you cowered.
The next is attacked because of you.
So on your feet!
Do not whisper,
do not hide pretending
you do not see,
speak out, loud, here, now,
like you live in America,
before it’s gone.
Joanie Liesenfelt
October 3, 2013
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