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December 2, 2022

Barks and bites Watchdogs prowl Illinois –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On March 18, 2021

IL. (ECWd) –

From the Illinois Times:

Barks and bites

Watchdogs prowl Illinois

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This being Sunshine Week, when we celebrate the First Amendment and remember that democracy demands open government, we should know that danger lurks.

“These people are working in a group together and therefore we can say it is these people named above who are running a campaign that is so nasty and dirty we need to gargle Scope right now talking about it,” writes an anonymous critic as part of an online crusade to bring down the Edgar County Watchdogs, an outfit Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner has called disgusting and sickening.

“We’re not putting up with stuff like this,” Renner lately declared at a city council meeting north of Springfield.

Renner blew his top after a blogger brought up a former city cop who quit in 2019, when an internal affairs investigation showed that he’d arrested an African American man who’d made a finger-gun gesture at him inside a store. We know this because the city of Bloomington, after being sued by Edgar County Watchdogs, released internal affairs files. Upon agreeing to release the records and pay legal costs, the city issued a statement alleging that disclosure was voluntary, which was technically true, given a judge hadn’t yet ruled.

“Nobody’s pushed anything under the rug (about) any of our police officers,” Mayor Renner thundered at the blogger during the Feb. 22 city council meeting. “You and Edgar County Watchdogs are probably the two least credible media – they’re not media outlets, you’re just people talking out of a bodily orifice that’s not your mouth. Who in the world would listen to your garbage?”

Quite a few people, which is a problem for public officials who’ve run afoul of two guys who, retired from the military and fed up, became the Edgar County Watchdogs a decade ago after meeting at a dinner. John Kraft says he’d been bamboozled by a school board; Kirk Allen was upset with a 911 board.

They’ve been accused of doing it for the money. After all, the city of Carlinville in 2019 agreed to pay the watchdogs $90,000 to settle five lawsuits filed to obtain such records as credit card statements, phone bills and proof that city officials have undergone state-mandated training on the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act (*ECWd’s comment: The Carlinville settlement of $90,000 went to our attorney, not us.*). There ended up being no major scandal, which is often the case but, then again, Kraft and Allen don’t consider FOIA violations to be small transgressions. More often than not, public records requested by the watchdogs end up mundane, Kraft says, which begs the question: Why not just turn them over?

Allen says that he and Kraft have filed at least 50 Freedom of Information Act lawsuits during the past decade, but they’re not getting rich. Edgar County Watchdogs has less than $50,000 in annual revenue, so it doesn’t have to file detailed annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service that are required from larger nonprofits.

Kraft and Allen say that they each spend between 40 and 60 hours a week looking for corruption and exposing skullduggery on www.edgarcountywatchdogs.com, which is one letter different than www.edgarcountywatchdog.com, a website run by folks who call Kraft and Allen fascists bent on destroying democracy but won’t attach names to accusations. The watchdogs say a crook’s a crook: “We’ve busted as many Republicans as Democrats,” Allen says.

As fascists go, Kraft and Allen keep strange company. Kraft says he’s been granted media credentials to cover the legislature. Both men are members of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as Investigative Reporters and Editors, an organization dedicated to promoting journalism that matters, but Kraft acknowledges the obvious: “You can look at what we write, you can see we’re not professional reporters.”

Polished prose isn’t the point. When public records yield a story, the watchdogs post links to documents. “Go click on the link and see if you have the same opinion we do – that’s all we ask,” Kraft says. “We hear a lot of ‘Oh, they always write lies, they don’t know what they’re talking about.’ It’s always a general statement. They never point to a specific statement that we wrote.”

Small towns and rural counties are favored hunting grounds. They’ve probed Chatham’s water utility. In September, four members of the Shelby County Board, plus the county treasurer, demanded an investigation after Kraft and Allen uncovered documents suggesting that the county highway engineer had been running a private business on county time. The attorney general in December ordered the Danville Police Department to give Kraft reports on the arrest of a man found dead on the street about a half-mile from the county jail shortly after his release. The state Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board in 2017 claimed that 16 points of law barred release of a list of former cops banned from law enforcement because of misconduct; nope, said the attorney general, who ordered the database turned over to Allen.

Why do they do it? “I’ll say it’s a calling,” Allen offers.

Call me a communist, but we need more fascists like this.

Contact Bruce Rushton at [email protected].

 

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7 Comments
  • NiteCat
    Posted at 09:29h, 18 March

    When the slings & arrows come at you furiously & you know the perpetrators are projecting their nefarious actions on you, you’re over the target. Good work Gentlemen!

  • JD
    Posted at 09:56h, 18 March

    Keep up the good work Dogz!!

  • PK
    Posted at 10:49h, 18 March

    Blood. Sweat. Tears.

    It seems as though the ECWd’s investigative reporting on the City of Bloomington’s coverup would qualify for entry in this program:

    https://award.bettergov.org/

    • PK
      Posted at 13:59h, 26 March

      Upon further review, the Better Government Association is focused on Chicago. As such, it seems unlikely that an award would be selected from investigative reporting ‘south of Interstate 80.’ A painful realization.

  • Kathiann
    Posted at 13:19h, 18 March

    Who will watch out for the little guys? Government is wayyyy too big now and attempting to hide records would be considered evidence of guilt by most law enforcement. Good job Watchdogs! I dont care what anyone says about you. And yes it is a calling…hey I might have a story for you when you’re not so busy!

  • Dennis Finegan
    Posted at 01:26h, 21 March

    Another round of voting in a few weeks and I don’t know who to trust. So much research is needed. Candidates websites are just ads. I just love the ones that list “accomplishments” since birth. Voting is one of the things Illinois does right. I trust the results.

    We need people like Allen & Kraft. They make us think. We may not agree with them all the time, but they stand up for our Constitution. More FOIAs please!

    • PK
      Posted at 09:06h, 22 March

      After being subject to the electioneering scheme as alleged by a grand jury, I’ll just beg to differ with my own prior naivety. And maybe learn something from the great communicator: “Trust but verify” – Ronald Regan

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