Thomson Village Video Conference with Bureau of Prisons
Controversy Over Absent President’s Comments
By JOHN HUGGINS | For The Prairie Advocate News
THOMSON – Thomson village board members got a little high tech at their meeting Monday, February 4. Trustee Russ Geis called the meeting to order as President Pro Tem, filling in for the absent President Jerry “Duke” Hebeler. At the head of the table was a laptop computer. After a few formalities such as the consent agenda items and the reading of a thank you note from Nancy Whitney, Village Trustee Vicky Trager fired up the laptop.
She placed a video call via Skype to Cathi Litcher, Activation Coordinator for Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). She is the main point of contact for the activation of the Thomson facility. Litcher has been with the BOP for nearly 28 years. The video call was necessary because of budget constraints and no money for travel expenses from Butner, North Carolina, where she works. Litcher stated, “You can look at me as your information broker.”
Two representatives from Senator Dick Durbin’s Rock Island office, a member of the Morrison City Council, several contractors, the superintendent of the West Carroll School District, and members of the press were on hand for the Skype call.
And, speaking of budgets, Litcher announced there was no money at all in the fiscal year 2013 budget for the activation of the Thomson facility. The fiscal year ends on September 30. She has no information to provide at this time about the specific plans for the 2014 budget that begins October 1, 2013. But she did say that the BOP would be putting it in their budget.
When the BOP builds a new facility, it generally takes three and one half years until it is operational. “We are way ahead of the game with this facility,” said Litcher.
Currently, there are two staff members assigned to the facility that will be reporting to the site August 7. At the present time, there are no other positions open to the public for Thomson facility jobs.
“Once that happens, trust me, we will let you know,” stated Litcher. 100% of all vacancies will be posted on usajobs.gov once positions start to open up.
The BOP has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Illinois Department of Corrections to allow one member from the initial construction work at the facility to aid in the transition. The BOP has also contracted with a local security guard service that is on site 24/7.
She noted that there were no tours at this time and warned not to stop by the prison for an application or any other reason as there is no one there that can assist you.
Everyone in attendance at the meeting was given example wage rates and salary grades for BOP employees. Salary for a secretary, for instance, starts at $38,619. Everyone was also provided with a facts sheet. There are a wide range of positions throughout the facility. Some examples are accountants, auto mechanics, plumbers, dentists, teachers, food servers, and so on.
Anyone interested in descriptions of careers throughout the BOP system can find them at bop.gov. You can also find on the website videos of some different types of positions.
Fact Sheets Highlights
There are about 120 BOP locations nationwide housing approximately 218,000 Federal offenders and roughly 138,000 staff members.
The main requirements for being a staff member are that you must be a U.S. citizen and must be hired prior to your 37th birthday. There are some exceptions though, primarily within medical fields. The reason for the age cap is in order to participate in the law enforcement retirement plan. The maximum age within the BOP system is 57 years old and the person must have 20 years of service to collect their retirement benefits. Another exception is that veterans may be hired after their 37th birthday, as long as they get 20 years in by the age 57.
100% of the staff members are law enforcement officers. That means that at any given time anyone could be assigned to a custody job.
All applicants must pass certain physical requirements. Everyone goes through a background investigation.
Another eligibility requirement that knocks many applicants out of the running is that a credit report is run on all qualified candidates and if a person is behind in payments of loans, utilities, credit cards, etc. they will not be hired. The BOP has, in the past, helped applicants read their credit reports and educate them on how to fix any problems.
Everyone that is hired must pass law enforcement training. Every year every staff member must pass firearms training regardless of their position. All staff members must also pass a physical abilities test.
As long as a person retires with at least 20 years receives health insurance for the rest of their life.
Not all positions require a bachelor’s degree if the applicant has three and one half years of experience that is “like” a corrections officer. The BOP calls it “meeting and dealing with people.” That experience does not have to come from a paid position. An additional six months has to be in a supervisory capacity. That could be as simple as coaching a little league team.
Talent Team Partnership
According to Litcher, the BOP would like to hire 60% of the facility’s staff within a one and one half hour local commuting radius. It is their plan to contact each of the communities within that radius to educate them on what jobs will be available, how applicants qualify, etc.
During the last two activations of new BOP facilities they developed something called a Talent Team Partnership. Litcher defined the partnership as stakeholders within the local commuting area that got together and shared their resources including funding, staff members, and expertise to maximize the economic development and workforce development of the region.
Generally, before this program they were lucky to hire 32% of their employees within the local commuting area. With the new program they hired 72% of the staff locally. Another economic impact these areas have seen is that their young people now have a career opportunity in their rural community, instead of going off to college and moving away.
Trustee Art Donart asked what kind of facilities the community might need once the prison is open. Litcher said that it would be part of the stakeholder planning, as she is not familiar enough with the area yet. One thing she noted from past experience is a lack of rental property in the rural communities within the local commuting area.
Immediately following the video call, the board voted to join the Talent Team Partnership.
Village President Hebeler, as stated earlier, was absent from the board meeting. He was refereeing a basketball game instead. He did, however, supply two “items” for President Pro Tem Geis to read that could not wait until the March meeting. The items created quite a stir with both trustees and audience members.
The first item, as read by Geis, was that “effective immediately, he would appreciate it if all trustees would discuss with him first, before going off and getting something going without his knowledge.”
Trager questioned, “I’d like to know what he means by that. Because, I think it’s our job as trustees to have ideas and think of ways to help the Village. And if I have an idea, before I take it to anybody, like this thing with Cathi Litcher tonight, I’m going to do some homework. I’m going to do my due diligence. I’m going to do what I need to do. So, if that’s what this is about, I don’t think I did anything wrong here.”
Trustee Linda Foltz stated, “I think Duke should have been here before something like that was presented. What you just read tonight should have been out of his mouth. So that he’s here to answer questions, instead of just giving you a piece of paper to read. I mean, you were the scapegoat there.”
“I don’t appreciate the tone of [Hebeler’s] comment!” exclaimed Trager. “I work really hard on this board. And I don’t appreciate being taken to task, like I’ve done something wrong for working as hard as I work on behalf of the Village.”
“And personally,” added Foltz, “I appreciate the time and effort you put into everything I’ve seen you do.”
The second item, or order, as it were, concerned the Freedom of Information Act. Geis read, “We’ve all passed the test. There’s rules in there. One of the rules is that freedom of information is supposed to be run through a Freedom of Information Officer, who is Beth and Brian. So, as of today, which it should have been all along, all requests for information are to go through Beth or Brian.”
Geis stated, “As far as Duke’s concerned, all of (the trustees), and all of our employees, are to refrain from giving out information unless it goes through Brian or Beth.
Donart interjected, “I would like (Hebeler) to send that request to (Illinois Attorney General) Lisa Madigan, and have her approval on that.”
It’s what the law says, Art!” exclaimed Geis. Donart replied, “I know exactly what the law says!”
- Passed a resolution to approve the purchase agreement for the old melon grounds and baseball diamond.
- Appointed Attorney Betsy Shaulis as secondary legal counsel with no retainer and a rate of $150 per hour.
- Passed a policy regarding reporting employee injuries.
- Passed a resolution for Motor Fuel Tax in the amount of $23,000 for general maintenance.
- Tabled a Tax Abatement Ordinance.
- Considered changing the meeting time to 6:00 or 6:30, but no such change will be made.
- Agreed to allow Tri-County Economic Development Alliance (TCEDA) and Blackhawk Hills Regional Council address the board at the March meeting.
- Discussed zoning issues concerning property on Riverview Rd.