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Bourbonnais motel tenants get more time

July 11, 2018 GMT

BOURBONNAIS — Tenants in a Kankakee County extended-stay motel, which the county is targeting for closure, are getting a few more days to live there.

Meanwhile, county officials are declining to release records about their efforts to compel the owner of the Route 50 Motel to take care of problems.

The motel sits next to Denny’s in Bourbonnais.

In a statement last week, State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said the county is taking action to address nuisance and safety concerns at the motel that “have plagued the property and taxed law enforcement resources far too much, for far too long.”

Rowe declined to provide details about the county’s efforts and deadlines for the motel.

In an email Monday, county board chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, provided more information on the county’s concerns.

“I can tell you that I was notified of concerns surrounding the structural integrity of this building, so it was at my direction that the county sent a third-party engineering firm to assess the structure,” Wheeler said. “They came back with a recommendation that the second and third floors of the structure were structurally unsafe. I asked our (State’s attorney’s office) to move this forward to the legal phase and pursue getting the second and third floors safe for habitation.”

The State’s attorney then sent a letter advising the owner to rectify the situation “within a specified period of time.”

“At no time did the county notify residents that they must vacate the premises,” Wheeler said.

On Monday, county board member Jim Byrne, R-Bourbonnais, said in an interview that county officials met with the owner about two months ago. Among other things, he said, the county suggested the motel hire a night security guard.

Late last month, he said, the county gave the property owner two weeks to take care of issues. He said the deadline is coming up soon, but didn’t know the exact day.

Byrne, who represents the district where the motel is, said the owner has known for a while that the county wanted the motel closed if the owner failed to fix problems.

“It looks to me that the ownership wasn’t transparent with the people living there,” said Byrne, the chairman of the county board’s criminal justice committee. “This has been an ongoing problem for a while. This didn’t just pop up. The ownership had two months to get everything in order.”

He said while some of the tenants have had brushes with the law, many of them are “good people in bad situations.”

“It falls on the owner to provide a safe environment,” he said.

Byrne said he doubted the county would have sheriff’s deputies come in to throw people out after a county-imposed deadline.

County officials said they are working with social service organizations such as the Salvation Army to lessen the impact of the motel’s closure.

Veronica Poppell, a Route 50 Motel resident, said Monday the motel’s management has given the estimated 100 residents until Friday to leave. This was after they were told last week to leave, in some cases, within three days.

The change came about after a Daily Journal story reported on the situation, Poppell said.

A motel employee confirmed the new deadline.

Poppell said she pays $189 per week to stay at the motel. She was looking through the classified ads Monday for a new apartment, but she said it was slim pickings.

She said word was that police would be on hand when residents leave Friday.

Sheriff Mike Downey, who has jurisdiction, said Monday he didn’t know which day residents were supposed to leave the motel. He said his deputies had not been asked to witness the occasion.

According to county records, the property’s ownership is listed as being in a land trust with Homestar Bank and Financial Services in Bradley. That means there is a private owner and Homestar is not allowed legally to release that name.

In an email, Homestar President Pat Martin said his bank does not own or operate the building.

On Friday, the Daily Journal submitted a public records request to the county seeking its written communications with the owner.

In a reply Sunday, Wheeler said the county administration would not release any documents related to the Route 50 Motel because it is a “pending legal matter.” Searching the county’s online court records, the newspaper could find no lawsuits filed by the county in connection with the Route 50 Motel.

In his email Monday, Wheeler said it was the state’s attorney’s judgment “as to the sensitivity to current legal matters.” He said he has referred the records issue to legal counsel.

Rowe said he had no further comment.

Maryam Judar, executive director of Elmhurst-based Citizens Advocacy Center, said the county must cite legal authority to deny a public records request. She said a “pending legal matter” is not a justification under the law.

The state’s open records law requires that a public body provide a “detailed factual basis” for denying a public records request.

“There is a very strong presumption under the law that all records created and received by a public body are public records,” Judar said. “The thumb is on the scale to release records.”