Wesley Township board's handling of park closing violates legal, moral codes, watchdog says
Edgar County Watchdog Kirk Allen argues that by trying to enact camping fees at Rivals Lookout Park in Wilmington as a way to discourage public use, the Wesley Township board is in violation of more than just common decency.
“You've got a group of township officials dead set on doing something the way they want that’s contrary to law,” Allen told the Will County Gazette. “If they would just follow the law, we wouldn’t have this problem. The township code specifically spells out that a park is to be for the free use of the public. They have taken the path for wanting to charge for certain things that people want to do at the park.”
Allen believes the reasoning has a sinister nature because it was reported earlier this week that former Wesley Township trustee Debbie Sorensen Tennant wrote private messages where she talked about a plan to limit minority usage of the park by charging camping fees.
"I know the park is supposed to be free and for everyone," Tennant wrote in a private Facebook message earlier this month. "But our thoughts were by charging [a] small amount and [not having a road] sign on [Illinois Route] 102, we could try to keep this park from being overrun by blacks and Mexicans, because the Wilmington Islands are . . . we wanted it for us . . . the township.”
Township officials have since closed the campground, citing vandalism as the primary reason behind the move.
“We’re getting indications that it all started back when they felt they were going to protect themselves for whatever reason from blacks and Hispanics,” Allen said, adding that board members haven’t exactly been apologetic about their actions. “Their position is they have a legal opinion from their attorneys that says they can do what they’re doing. That’s not what their legal opinion says. They have the power to charge for recreational programs, but they’re not offering any programs. They’re not even following what the attorneys told them.”
While Tennant has insisted that her words were not meant to be racist and that she would have never made them in public, Allen said he thinks all current board members will pay a price for the way they handled things.
"I think long-term, you’re going to find at the ballot box every one of them will be voted out of office,” he said.