By Dennis A. Kimme
Jim Dey's fascinating article on Feb. 9 about former SLA terrorist James Kilgore reminded me of an experience I had with Kilgore during Champaign County's jail study selection process. It may shed some light on the question of who he is today.
In May 2012, my Champaign-based criminal justice planning firm submitted a written proposal to do the county's jail study. It was ranked first by a professional committee consisting of the presiding judge, the state's attorney, the sheriff and other knowledgeable professionals. The final choice though was the county board's.
To Kilgore and the activist group with whom he is now affiliated, the C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, our potential selection was alarming. They feared we might recommend new jail beds in response to the many facility questions for which the county sought answers. They were inalterably opposed to new beds because they believed Champaign County operated a racist criminal justice system that wildly over-incarcerated.
They believed this even though local practitioners had already done an outstanding job safely reducing the jail population by a third over the last decade, attaining a comparatively low incarceration rate. Instead of acknowledging local officials' achievements, CUCPJ members and supporters condescendingly criticized them at every turn for their public-safety practices.
Since the group could not diminish our chances by criticizing the quality of our response, CUCJP's representative on the county board at that time, Carol Ammons, attacked us personally.
She charged us with "serious conflicts of interest" and of being untrustworthy. She even questioned the integrity of the professional committee for not only ranking us first but also ranking us "extremely high."
Ammons simultaneously championed the cause of a seventh-place proposer from Berkeley, Calif. She and her cohorts at CUCPJ thought he would be least likely to propose facility solutions and most likely to validate their beliefs.
Well, the board selected the Berkeley firm. And Kilgore's CUCPJ was correct, the Berkeley firm's $145,000 effort produced precious little in the way of facility answers to important county questions.
In any event, once we lost, it was case closed. A very disappointing experience, but time to move on.
However, James Kilgore was not yet done with the selection process. At a September public county board meeting he told a tale of a jail planner who botched a county's forecast of bed needs. He then convinced that county to build a more expensive jail than necessary. The planner next built the jail and was "laughing all the way to the bank" with his excessive, ill-gotten design fees.
Kilgore then dramatically announced that I was the story's villain. He ended by saying "thank goodness" that Champaign County didn't hire someone like me.
This particular condemnation now seems quite ironic in light of the current discussion about why someone like him was awarded his honored position at our beloved university given his notorious past.
Nonetheless, and though I've never met the man, Kilgore purposely put on the public record a powerfully negative story in order to damage me professionally.
Unfortunately for him, his story wasn't accurate.
Kilgore's triumphant morality tale was based on just one article from a fringe newspaper that got the story substantially wrong. After acknowledging that they hadn't given me a chance to respond to their story before it was published, the paper's editors later printed a long article letting me correct the facts.
And as to Kilgore's most damning proof of my immorality, he was just plain wrong. Contrary to his assertion, I was not involved with building the jail from which I allegedly so wrongly profited.
Aside from his sloppy research, what surprised me most was how eager he was to damage my reputation, gratuitously so since it was after the fact, and how self-satisfied he was with his effort at destruction.
Kilgore left me no choice but to respond during public comment at the county board. I asked for and graciously received near-unanimous support for an additional 2 minutes from the board on top of the usual 5 allowed so that I could make a complete response. Near unanimous only because of a forceful objection made by Carol Ammons during the voice vote.
I corrected Mr. Kilgore's false charges during my 7 minutes before the board. But just as The News-Gazette has never heard from Kilgore, neither have I. No apologies for erroneously and publicly trying to damage my reputation. No expressions of regret at being wrong and too eager to condemn.
Kilgore may no longer be willing to physically harm people to reach his ideological ends. But he and his current allies seem quite willing to harm reputations to do so, however fallacious or inept their attempts may be. Though people in his new network of like-minded souls swear he's a new man, my experience suggests that for him little has ever really changed.
It appears that his vainglorious ends still justify dubious means.
Finally, that he so wantonly attacked me on the jail issue while serving as an official member of the county jail task force suggests that James Kilgore version 2.0 still lacks restraint and common sense.
Dennis A. Kimme is president of Kimme & Associates Inc. in Champaign.