McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage is speaking out for the first time about a proposed ordinance to regulate protests and other demonstrations on county property, now that the plan appears to have stalled.
A recent email to some McLean County Board members reveals his frustration after the County Board’s property committee postponed a vote or any discussion.
The sheriff indicated seven of his officers have been injured while trying to control inmates during recent protests. None of the injuries required hospitalization, but Sandage said several have been shifted to light duty while they recover.
The jail goes on lockdown during these events because Sandage said the inmates become agitated.
“Enough is enough. Give us the ordinance we need to prevent such occurrences before staff, inmates or protesters get injured,” Sandage said in an email sent to members of the McLean County Board’s property committee and other county officials.
Sandage told WGLT the ordinance proposal has been in the works for about six months, but the recent racial justice protests further demonstrated the need. He said the ordinance is not intended to limit free speech, but county officials need to know how to reach organizers if issues arise.
“We certainly don’t want to limit anybody’s right to free speech, but there’s got to be a mechanism in place to make sure it’s done right,” Sandage said.
The ordinance would require 30 to 60 days advance notice before an event, and calls for fines of up $500 for organizers and $100 for participants.
Sandage said he's flexible on the notice time and fine amounts.
"I do think there needs to be some type of penalty if they don't comply," he said.
Sandage noted chalk was used during one rally to desecrate a memorial to drug abuse victims outside the McLean County Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.
He said the department also has spent close to $20,000 in overtime costs to provide security to the jail and Law and Justice Center during the events.
“When you are spending close to $20,000 of overtime and when you’ve got protests that are riling up inmates on the inside and causing injury to correctional officers, I believe those county board members have a duty to protect county property and county employees,” said Sandage, adding he was upset that few county board members have asked him about the proposal.
“I was going to let them do what they’ve been elected to do,” Sandage said. “It’s just aggravating when things get tabled and not even discussed.”
McLean County administration did not indicate previously the sheriff’s office’s role in advocating the plan. County administrator Camille Rodriguez said earlier the initiative came from administration and State’s Attorney Don Knapp in response to concerns that the county for too long lacked a formal process for staging events.
Sandage noted the ordinance Knapp drafted is less restrictive than Bloomington’s special events permit, which the county used as a template for its proposal.
The city of Bloomington calls for 60 days notice of an event, 90 days if it's downtown. However, city communications and external affairs manager Nora Dukowitz said the city typically waives the requirement for protests and similar demonstrations.
“These sometimes happen without a permit. So long as people don’t block sidewalks, are peaceful, etc., they typically proceed," she said. "When we are aware of a gathering/demonstration, we do try to put information out so people know what is happening in the area.”
The Town of Normal’s special events are handled by the police department. Police Chief Rick Bleichner said the department doesn’t have a specific time requirement, but it asks for an advance notice of one week to ensure there are no scheduling conflicts, especially if the events impacts traffic near Uptown Station.
“We want to make sure that individuals can have events, and if it’s an issue where they have a demonstration, a concern, a march, a rally, whatever, we want to make sure their voice can be heard in a safe and responsible manner,” Bleichner said.
Bleichner said the department doesn’t have any fines for staging an event without a permit, but the town has issued ordinance violations to groups that block streets without authorization.
Asked if he would accept similar relaxing of the rules in a county ordinance, Sandage said that would be up to the county board and the state’s attorney’s office.
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