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Mayor alleges ‘fake news’

January 2, 2019

KANKAKEE — Kankakee’s Democratic mayor is taking a page from President Donald Trump in her approach to the media, criticizing recent coverage as “fake news.”

Since Chasity Wells-Armstrong became mayor in May 2017, Wells-Armstrong has conducted Facebook live town hall sessions nearly every month. Last week, she shifted to a new format, with her live video appearing on Comcast Channel 4 and the city’s website.

In introducing the new format, she said she wanted to provide “accurate information to the community and dispel all fake news and imbalanced reporting going on in our community.”

On his Twitter account and in speeches, Trump repeatedly uses the phrase “fake news” in his criticism of the media.

In her video session last week, Wells-Armstrong said one example of imbalanced reporting was the Daily Journal’s story last week titled, “Did city ‘fumble’ outreach?”

This story was about the effort to reach out to business owners about the city’s plans for three downtown blocks of Schuyler Avenue. The story included quotes from Alderman Michael O’Brien, D-2, who said the city “fumbled” outreach to Schuyler business owners.

The newspaper also interviewed co-owners of a Schuyler building who said they knew nothing about the plans until they saw a Daily Journal story on Dec. 19 reporting on the City Council’s approval of the project.

In her video, the mayor said she was made aware of last week’s story and was “disturbed” by it for many reasons. She said neither she nor the city engineer was interviewed for the story.

In fact, the Daily Journal emailed Wells-Armstrong the day before the story was published, giving her information that would be included and inviting her to talk about it.

Wells-Armstrong told viewers that since she became mayor 20 months ago, she has faced people with agendas who are bitter and pessimistic about government and the city of Kankakee.

“I can assure you this administration’s agenda is to improve services and create inclusive environments for opportunity and growth for everyone,” the mayor said.

The city started its outreach efforts on the Schuyler project in July, Wells-Armstrong said. A steering committee, she said, included representatives from downtown businesses.

She said the city intentionally selected a firm, Teska Associates, that is known for its ability to reach out to communities. This was after officials interviewed three firms interested in planning the project.

“One firm said they didn’t like to do outreach to the community. We were appalled,” Wells-Armstrong said.

Teska representatives visited Schuyler Avenue farmers markets on Saturday mornings, when they visited businesses that were open to tell owners about the proposed project. Notices were posted around downtown and ads were placed in the Daily Journal about it, the mayor said.

Wells-Armstrong said City Council members were emailed weekly updates about the project’s status.

“To say this was not outreached well is not true, and I take offense,” she said. “We try to be inclusive of the community. At some point, the community has to engage.”

The $1.9 million project includes bike paths in both directions on Schuyler, requiring elimination of some parking on the east side of the street. West-side parking would remain. The project also will feature new sidewalks and decorative string lights.

Some business owners have expressed opposition because of the elimination of parking spots.

Wells-Armstrong said the goal was to slow things down on Schuyler, so people stop at the businesses there.

“We’re trying to attract younger professionals and families,” the mayor said.

She noted the City Council unanimously approved a bike path plan in 2015.

“We don’t want taxpayers to pay for plans that are not used,” the mayor said. “It’s difficult for me to imagine that people didn’t know what was happening.”

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