This story by Quinton R. Arthur originally was published in the Lansing Journal on April 13.
Thornton Township held its Annual Township Meeting on Tuesday, April 11. Residents within the township were invited to participate in the meeting, and roughly 100 people filled the basement of Thornton Township’s South Holland headquarters for the annual gathering.
Public participation and protocol
Thornton Township residents shared their address for verification, and received a copy of the agenda for the evening and a pink elector card to be used for voting during the meeting.
After the call to order and the Pledge of Allegiance, protocol was established limiting active participation in the meeting to registered voters residing in Thornton Township. Residents had the right to make and second motions. When a vote was presented, residents raised their cards voting in favor or against the motion.
When residents approached the podium, they were required to share their name and address to verify they were residents of the township.
Election of moderator
Next, the election of the moderator took place. Michael Smith (Riverdale) nominated Stan Brown, and Demarkus Criggley (Dolton) seconded the motion. Stan Brown leads HAP (Henyard Assistance Program), which is a continuation of ZAP (Zuccarelli Assistance Program). Brown is also a trustee-elect for the Dolton Village Board.
Trustee Joyce Washington (Dolton) nominated Ruby Donahue (Harvey) to moderate the Thornton Township Annual Meetin. Stephanie Wiedeman (Thornton) seconded. Donahue is a long-serving member of the Human Relations Commission of Thornton Township.
Residents ultimately voted for Brown as the moderator. After administering the Moderator’s Oath, Clerk Wells said Brown would receive $300 for his service.
Director of Finance Robert Hunt (Homewood) shared the reports from the General Assistance Fund, General Fund, and Road and Bridge Fund. Hunt read each report line by line.
Following the reports, a few residents recommended having a printout or display of the report to allow meeting attendees to follow along.
‘Financial crisis’ questions
Meghan Dudek (Lansing) is a former Township employee who worked as a counselor. She approached the lectern with a question about the township’s finances.
Before she asked her question, Dudek was asked to share her full address. “I don’t have to give a full address,” she replied. Township attorney Tiffany Nelson-Jaworski responded that at the Thornton Township Annual Meeting address verification is needed to verify Electors. Dudek refused again but eventually relented and shared her full address with Moderator Brown.
Dudek asked why the financial numbers didn’t seem to show a “financial crisis.” She claimed the Township had claimed that financial crisis made it necessary to reduce the free mental health services the Township had been providing for many years.
“There were losses from the last two to three years in a row with our audited financial statements. This is the first year where we actually had a surplus in a couple of years,” Hunt said, in part, in response to Dudek’s questions.
Loan and debt questions
Later in the meeting, Thornton Township Trustee Chris Gonzalez (Calumet City) questioned if a $5 million loan was considered a liability when reaching the conclusion that the township has a current budget surplus.
“We took out a loan four years ago under the previous administration, so there are loan payments right now. But that was for the previous $5 million that we borrowed before. We renewed the $5 million again, so the payments for the new loan will be this upcoming year,” said Hunt.
“Ok so that $5 million isn’t accounted for as a liability,” Gonzales said. “I guess I’m just trying to clear up — we’re saying we have a surplus, but we still owe $5 million.”
“In the upcoming budget, we show the payments and we’ve budgeted to pay off that,” Hunt said.
Message to the media
Henyard urged participants in the audience, but especially media, to focus on the positive in the Township.
After praising a recent Township food giveaway, Henyard said, “[Those are] the things that I wish y’all would come more to, to support instead of just the things people put in your ear without you getting the facts. And to the media once again, I hope y’all write all the good that we talked about today and not all the negative that you hear. People ain’t even got the facts. People can just make things up, but come check it out for yourself before you write about it. That’s like character assassination, defamation of character. There are things that people have done to me. I see you three right here* all the time, but no one ever comes and asks me my opinion, y’all never ask me to write nothing in the paper. You just write it and tell people what there should be. It shouldn’t be that way. This is my olive branch to the media. Can you guys reach out to us and ask us ourselves before you post it.”
*Reporter’s note: Henyard pointed to reporters from The Lansing Journal and Daily Southtown newspapers.
Praise and criticism
During the public comment section, 20 people shared their thoughts or asked a question. Of the 20, 15 were outwardly supportive of Henyard, while the remaining five were critical or asked questions.
Some of the praise Henyard received:
- “There is a new person in leadership, we should give her the same respect that we gave him (Frank Zuccarelli),” said Michael Smith (Riverdale).
- “…Your leadership lets us know what we can be, what we can achieve,” said Calumet City 2nd Ward Alderwoman Monet Wilson (Calumet City).
- “You pulled so many of the younger generation up,” said Keith Price (Harvey).
- “Y’all better stop this fighting,” said Edwina Watkins (Dolton), seemingly to those opposing Henyard. “This is our tax money. This just ain’t no one somebody’s money. So y’all need to get together and cut the crap.”
Henyard was also met with some criticism:
- “What kind of diversity do we have represented here in the township now?” said Ruby Donahue (Harvey).
- “I’m just asking the board to please be cautious, be wise, be aware of what our tax money is being spent on,” said Stephanie Wiedeman (Thornton).
Upcoming Township Events
- April 27, Tech Savvy Senior
- April 28, Township Talk
The meeting was adjourned at 8:30 p.m.
Media members pursue Henyard
As the Thornton Township Annual Meeting came to an end, reporters from FOX and the Better Government Association approached Henyard and began asking her questions, as she had requested. The interviews ended quickly when Henyard and her advisor Keith Freeman said they would not be answering any more questions. The reporters attempted to follow Henyard to the upper level of the Township building, but were deterred by security as shown in the video below:
The next regular Thornton Township Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for April 25, 2023. Meetings are held at 6 p.m. at Thornton Township Hall, 333 East 162nd Street, South Holland.
- Column: Thornton Township Supervisor Tiffany Henyard blames Zuccarelli, state senator for $5 million deficit (Ted Slowik column, Chicago Tribune)
- Dolton dominates Thornton Township Annual Meeting (published April 17, 2022)
The Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle is part of the Local News Alliance (LNA), a group of independent news organizations from the South Suburbs, including Harvey, Lansing and Park Forest. One of the ways Alliance members help each other is by sharing coverage of news that is relevant beyond our individual communities. We are grateful to our fellow LNA members — the Lansing Journal, the Harvey World Herald, eNews Park Forest and Southland Investigative Reporting Center — for allowing us to republish this article because of its relevance to Homewood.