AP NEWS

Officials differ over code cops

May 17, 2019

KANKAKEE — A city official is taking exception to an alderman’s comments about a proposal to do away with the certification requirement for code enforcement officers.

In an interview two weeks ago, Alderman Dave Crawford, R-3, said the mayor and human resources director were trying to remove the requirement that code enforcement officers become certified within their first year of employment.

However, James Ellexson, the city’s human resources director, said in an email last week that the union that represents the code officers, among other employees, brought up the certification issue.

He said the union’s idea had validity. He said only 25 percent of the certification exam reflects the duties of code officers, known formally as property maintenance inspectors.

“The other 75 percent of the exam has nothing to do with the property maintenance inspectors and is not in this position’s scope of responsibility of duties,” Ellexson said.

The city has four code enforcement officers, Ellexson said. Three of them have yet to get certifications, but they have been in their positions for less than a year, he said.

Crawford said the state recommends the certification in question, but Ellexson disputed that statement.

“The city looked for an appropriate certification for our staff and discovered there is none available,” Ellexson wrote. “There is no recommendation or requirement from the state of Illinois to have this certification to perform these duties.”

Ellexson copied his email about the issue to Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong and city attorney Mike McGrath.

At last week’s City Council meeting, McGrath chastised Crawford for speaking publicly about what he said were topics in a closed session. He suggested aldermen could censure a colleague for revealing closed session information, incorrectly suggesting such a disclosure was a violation of the state’s open meetings law.

In response to Ellexson’s email, Crawford said in an interview he didn’t believe the idea about removing the certification came from the union.

“The majority of code departments still have code officers certified. We should too. Other City Council members feel the same exact way,” the alderman said.

The city still requires certification for its building inspectors.

In his previous interview two weeks ago, Crawford said the city was considering an in-house certification for code officers.

Ellexson said this was incorrect, adding the city has no such power. Rather, he said, the city has suggested an orientation, training and an annual assessment.

At a council meeting last month, members voted 8-5 against a contract for the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 9, which includes the code officers, as well as employees in a number of city departments. The snag appeared to be the certification issue.

Crawford, who was among the dissenters, said last week he would be willing to approve the contract, minus the section covering code officers.

“If they came back to us and asked us to pass all the other sections, that would go through no problem at all,” he said. “Once you take the certification requirement out of the contract, you’ll never get it back. It’s gone forever. We’ll fight that.”

Ellexson said the city cannot approve a union contract in sections because it is negotiated as one document.

The union’s business manager, David Rehberg, didn’t return a call for comment.