DOWNERS GROVE – Plans to resurrect the Downers Grove Township peer jury program are on hold because the group backing the proposal believes it does not have the support of Township Supervisor Mark Thoman.
Thoman on Nov. 9 “wrote to area police chiefs to discourage support for our plan,” peer jury supporters wrote in a Nov. 18 email. Supporters learned of Thoman’s email after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.
"Unfortunately, the proposal, ambitious and sincere as it is, raises more questions than answers," Thoman wrote in an email to police chiefs from towns that participated in the original program. "Objective evaluation supports the decision to suspend township participation in law enforcement community diversions alternatives, including peer jury."
Thoman added the plan lacks safeguards against financial shortfalls and liability, does not incorporate law enforcement authority and offers no participant recourse, among other issues.
"Part of it is liability. Part of it is lack of intergovernmental agreements," Thoman said.
Supporters said Thoman’s email included several misrepresentations of the plan.
"As to what happened on the township end and why Mr. Thoman went to the chiefs rather than wait for our reply, you'll have to ask him," plan supporter Cliff Grammich said in an email.
Thoman on Oct. 25 met with a representative of the group to ask questions about the plan.
"[Thoman] said his questions would have to be answered before the township would consider the plan but indicated no pressing deadline," the group's email stated."Our representative promised to get back to him with answers as soon as possible."
Two days later, members of the group met to discuss how they would address township concerns as well as funding sources. They drafted answers and planned to submit a detailed business plan to the township by Nov. 11, which would give township trustees 10 days to review the plan before the Nov. 21 township meeting.
Thoman said he waited two weeks for response to his questions.
Supporters of the plan said they stopped working on responses when they learned about Thoman's email to area police chiefs.
Thoman said it is innaccurate to characterize his decision as undermining the proposal.
"I support youth diversion programs," he said.
The group's proposal called for continuation of the peer jury program under the township umbrella but without township funds. The township discontinued the 17-year-old program earlier this year citing funding cutbacks.
The group had hoped the township would consider a special revenue fund proposal for the continued operation of peer jury, but that will not happen at this time, according to the email.
“We have no choice at present but to suspend our efforts with the township until we receive a response to additional freedom-of-information requests on township communications and we better understand all of Mr. Thoman’s misrepresentations,” the email stated.
The group does not expect to resume a peer jury program until January at the earliest.
“Although frustrated, we do not believe that this process is over,” the email stated. “We will continue to pursue all avenues for the reinstatement of peer jury.”
Supporters of the alternative plan said increased offender fees and one-time community contributions would have funded the program in the first year. So far, they had received $6,000 in pledges for first-year operations, according to the email.
Organizers believe they’ll need $36,000 to start the program.
“In subsequent years, offender fees and participating police departments would fund it,” the email stated.
In an Oct. 23 interview, Thoman called the proposal “very preliminary” but added “the township could be an overarching umbrella that coordinates everything.”
Since 2000, the program had been an alternative for teens who had made bad decisions by helping them face responsibility and giving them a chance to avoid having a crime appear on their record.
Jurors didn't judge the guilt or innocence of their peers. Instead, the program served as a sentencing tool to help offenders learn from their mistakes.