Never give a clown too many balls to juggle. ― Will Leamon
I’d ask where I could find a six-figure municipal consulting gig that I could screw up every step of the way, come back and ask another hundred grand so I could screw up further, and actually get the extra cash. But I already know the answer to that question. It’s the City of Elgin, Illinois, because that’s exactly what happened with Kearns and West, the incessantly inept consulting firm tasked with “moderating” the Elgin Community Task Force on Policing.
I can only imagine how that breakroom conversation went.
“We let this group founder every step of the way by provide no leadership whatsoever so we could draw out the contract and virtually double our fee. Then we failed to show up for two months of meetings and let the task force move forward with the kind of insane and illegal proposals that completely destroyed the public trust. But the best part was when we asked the City for another 90 grand and the idiots actually gave it to us. I’m not sure how we can top this one boys.”
Had they been the least bit professional, the first thing Kearns and West would’ve done is explain that a group of individuals chosen solely for their progressive and anti-police stances would turn out to be a nightmare. Then they should’ve further noted that problem would be compounded by the group’s failure to even remotely represent Elgin’s diverse demographics.
And how can any policing task force succeed without at least one law enforcement perspective to provide some badly need balance?
As task force Chairman LeJewell Crigler herself said, “We were all trying to figure it out,” but that’s because they thought they knew it all from day one and no one told them otherwise. So, they wasted months trying to catch on, in great part, because Kearns and West refused to make any effort to get to know and understand the Elgin Police Department.
Worse yet, in a feat reminiscent of those Vietnam War peace negotiators who spent months debating the shape of the conference table, the overly “woke” task force put an inordinate amount of time in an attempt to come up with some sort of egalitarian leadership structure. Their absurd possibilities included multiple co-chairmen and at least eight vice chairman so they wouldn’t “hurt anyone’s feelings.”
That’s the point at which Kearns and West should’ve put their foot down and insisted that a chairman isn’t some sort of despot. Their singular task is to see that meetings flow smoothly and the chairman/vice chairman hierarchy is the only thing that’s ever worked.
But Kearns and West wasn’t nearly done yet. Not only were these “consultants” incapable of nipping illegal task force proposals in the bud, but they never encouraged the group to truly consider the potential negative public relations effect of some of their worst proclamations.
Those thoughts included:
- A citizens police review board where five of the nine members had to be black
- Illegally baring veterans from that board because “They’re used to killing people who look different than them.”
- Giving the board unenforceable subpoena powers
- Freezing EPD hiring
- Dismantling the EDP’s community policing programs
Then Kearns and West simply sat back as task force members, and particularly Walter Blalark and Kevin Zaldivar, revisited every perceived personal slight they “suffered” at the hands of the EPD. Any competent moderator would have cut that whining process short by reminding the group that their job wasn’t to rehash the past, it was to improve the future.
Since I cannot believe that any public relations company could be this incompetent on their worst day, I’m convinced they let the task force careen off the rails in an effort to collect as many taxpayer dollars as possible.
Just for good measure, Kearns and West failed to show up for two months of meetings. It was as if they were daring the City to fire them.
Even Mayor David Kaptain said, “I’m pretty disappointed in the progress here. The goal from day one was not to fix the Elgin Police Department but to make it better. That got lost in the desert with people.”
City Councilwoman Rose Martinez similarly noted, “The firm does not appear to have educated or informed themselves about EPD or the department’s work. I find it frustrating that those involved don’t seem to know about the services, processes and training the Elgin police department utilizes. I would reconsider it (the additional $90,000) if the task force had constructive criticism because that’s what we need, not destructive criticism.”
So, how did the Elgin City Council reward Kearns and West for their unwavering incompetence? They voted 7 to 2 to extend their contract, with Martinez and Steve Thoren being the only no votes.
Shocked by Mayor Kaptain’s affirmative vote, I reached out to him for some sort of explanation. He said he was prepared to vote no, but that Police Chief Ana Lalley, City Manager Rick Kozal, and Councilwoman Tish Powell convinced him that the task force was finally on track and to let them finish their work.
Mayor Kaptain further explained that Kearns and West was on a tight 60-day leash, and if they didn’t perform this time the City would cut their losses. The vast irony there being is the very people the task force loves to rail against who are responsible for giving them a wholly undeserved second chance.
Think about it. The $250,000 that’s going to allow this ill-fated project to persist would’ve paid for half of Nightmare on Chicago Street’s projected 2022 cost overrun. At least that would’ve been money well-spent.
The only good news here is a heightened Elgin taxpayer scrutiny appears to responsible for the task force’s sudden lack of inane and illegal pronouncements as well as Kearns and West finally comping up with a written “plan,” something they should’ve done from day one.
I’d say let’s sit back and see what happens, but we already know what’s going to happen. Given a reprieve, the task force will swiftly resort to their old ways and the whole process will implode with nothing to show for that a quarter of a million dollars and an immense amount of City staff time.
Since the city council seems impervious to rational thought, my fervent wish is this debacle will serve as a warning to other municipalities who might consider hiring Kearns and West. I would advise against it if for no other reason than the advice in this column is worth far more than anything those consultants have put forth in the last year.
And I’ll be reminding you of all those yes votes come election time.
Perhaps I should send Elgin a consulting bill for $200,000. All things considered they might just pay it. At least they’d have something to show for it.