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Thornton Township residents rally April 27 to express concerns about fiscal management, services

Residents representing the communities in Thornton Township hold signs at a rally intended to unite opponents to the current administration in Dolton and the township on April 27. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Residents from communities throughout Thornton Township gathered on a River Oaks Mall parking lot Saturday, April 27, to demonstrate unity and continue pressing their concerns about governance of the township and the Village of Dolton.

The rally was organized by the Advisory Committee to the People’s Trustees of Dolton (ACPTD), led by Mary Avent. She and other members of the committee have in recent weeks visited staff and elected officials at 15 of the 17 municipalities in the township, she said, trying to gather support and participation.

“I want everybody to have a voice,” Avent said. “Strength in numbers.” 

The group formed in response to allegations of improper spending by Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard and village staff. Henyard also serves as supervisor of Thornton Township. While much of the controversy has centered on Dolton issues, questions about fiscal management and services have been raised at the township, too.

Avent said the group is planning to get more involved in politics in an effort to influence local governance. With a municipal election set for April 1, 2025, she said the group is hoping to recruit candidates who will be prepared to make changes.

Avent said the next step for the ACPTD would be to start contacting legislators, asking their help to regain good governance in Dolton and Thornton Township.

At the rally, participants held signs representing communities in the township, including Homewood. 

Shalaan Johnson carried a “Homewood united” sign. She has been a resident for 17 years, she said. Her main concern was inappropriate spending by the township administration. 

“Some of the funds have been spent frivolously. You take it away from the residents,” she said. 

Three speakers addressed the rally, including South Holland resident Gardis Watts and former township staffers Stephanie Wiedeman and Sandra Tracey.

Wiedeman, who worked for the township for two decades, provided an overview of the township’s services, which include general assistance for people in need, maintenance for roads that are in unincorporated areas of the township and a variety of other programs and services serving seniors, youth and people with disabilities. She noted that mental health services the township offered in the past had been reduced from the administration’s failure to replace staff members who left or died.

Sure urged residents to continue paying attention to how township money is spent.

“It’s important that we pay attention to these numbers that are being passed and the way money is being spent,” she said. “I know it’s a lot to take in. It’s our money. We’re the ones paying these taxes and we have a right to know where every penny is going.”

Tracey told the crowd she had been the township human resources manager for eight years before being terminated. She said the way personnel issues have been handled has hurt the township’s effectiveness.

“Leadership matters,” she said. “Our reputation has really been damaged. That’s not a good thing. It’s going to be up to us to change that, to change the narrative.”

Watts, who has spoken out at several recent township meetings, addressed the need for residents to get informed and involved in township governance.

“While we can blame the administration for their level of corruption, we the people have to take some responsibility for this as well,” he said. “The people have to be more politically engaged, including myself, not just during election time but before and after. A vote means nothing if there is no power behind it. We can’t just keep saying that voting matters, we have to make it matter.”

He said civic engagement starts with community relationships, people forming groups that could be as simple as a book club, but those groups should network with each other to help keep the community informed. 

He urged residents to attend more village, school board and township meetings.

“When we go to these meetings, attempt to engage with the officials,” Watts said. “Bring concerns and issues early so these elected officials cannot tell us that they did not know.”

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