Supporters claim Ferrell ‘forced’ to resign, prosecutors say he ‘deceived’ voters

Karl Ferrell speaks at a press conference to promote legislation to eliminate barriers for people with felony convictions from holding elected office on Tuesday, July 11th, 2023 in Joliet.

Supporters of Karl Ferrell say he was “forced” to resign and “bullied” out of Joliet Township office by prosecutors who said Ferrell “deceived” voters by claiming he was eligible for office even though he’s a felon.

On Tuesday, the Joliet Township board voted 4-0 to declare Ferrell’s seat vacant, after he exhausted most of his legal options to stay in office. With his seat vacant, the board can now vote to appoint a new trustee to take his place.

The 3rd District Appellate Court on April 27 upheld Judge John Anderson’s ruling from last year that Ferrell cannot hold township office because of his past felony convictions on drug possession and weapon charges.

Before Ferrell’s seat was declared vacant, he held a press conference at the township building, where he said there are laws that prevent people with a felony record like himself from being “fully free.” He pushed for support of legislation to end “permanent punishment.”

He cited as an example the Illinois Township Code that prohibits him from holding the office he won with 3,222 votes on April 6, 2021.

“I had over 3,000 votes – over 3,000 people who said that they believe that I could be the voice for them,” Ferrell said.

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow’s Office rejected the idea that Ferrell was “forced” to resign.

“If anyone should be outraged, it is the voters who Ferrell deceived in attesting that he was eligible to hold the office of trustee,” said Carole Cheney, Glasgow’s spokeswoman.

Karl Ferrell speaks at the Joliet Township meeting to promote legislation to eliminate barriers for people with felony convictions from holding elected office on Tuesday, July 11th, 2023 in Joliet.

Cheney said the appellate court ruled Ferrell “falsely represented” on his candidacy form that he was “eligible to serve as a trustee,” and he did not disclose any of his past felonies before, during or after his campaign as trustee.

Ferrell is a “repeat criminal offender” whose multiple felony convictions rendered him ineligible to hold a trustee position under state law, she added.

“It is Ferrell’s own criminal conduct that rendered him ineligible,” Cheney said.

Ferrell’s supporters with nonprofit group Equity And Transformation claimed in a statement that Ferrell was “forced” to resign. Tycee Bell, a former Joliet mayoral candidate and EAT lead organizer, said at Tuesday’s press conference that Ferrell “paid his debt to society.”

“Yet Mr. Glasgow took his past record as an opportunity to run a smear campaign and to bully him out of his office that the people of Joliet elected him to,” Bell said.

In response, Cheney reiterated that Anderson and the appellate court ruled Ferrell never validly held office.

It is [Karl] Ferrell’s own criminal conduct that rendered him ineligible.

—  Carole Cheney, Will County State's Attorney spokeswoman

Cheney said they became aware of Ferrell’s ineligibility for office when his name came up after Glasgow agreed to meet with him Nov. 16, 2021. One of their investigators recalled Ferrell had a criminal history and a background check followed, she said.

Ferrell has claimed Glasgow has been retaliating against him over his activism on police accountability and racism, which Glasgow denies.

Ferrell claims the Dec. 15 charges of Paycheck Protection Program loan fraud and unemployment fraud were filed against him in retaliation over his public support of cashless bail for criminal defendants on Oct. 20.

“That’s direct retaliation,” he said.

Those charges were filed “based on the facts and circumstances of the case,” Cheney said.

Ferrell said Glasgow’s office has been putting pressure on him to step down and told him they would motion for a contempt of court if he attended the May 9 township meeting. Ferrell did not participate in the meeting.

If Ferrell had done so, Cheney said, he would have been in contempt of Anderson’s and the appellate court’s orders.

Ferrell continued to receive his monthly $1,000 payment as trustee after Anderson and the appellate court ruled he was unqualified to hold township office. Between May 2021 and June of this year, Ferrell has received a gross pay of $25,000, township records show.

When Ferrell was asked if he would return the money, he said, “Well, that’s up to the judge.”

The township does not intend to ask Ferrell to return the money. Bryan Wellner, the township’s attorney, said Ferrell “always worked hard to represent the citizens of Joliet Township and actively performed the duties of trustee.”

“Regardless of a court order, he earned that money,” Wellner said.

Joliet Township Trustee Karl Ferrell holds a megaphone while speaking to a group of protestors gathered in downtown Joliet near the Will County Courthouse on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in support of the SAFE-T Act.

Prosecutors questioned the legitimacy of any votes Ferrell has taken on the board and suggested they could face legal challenges. The township has no such concerns and even if Ferrell’s votes were considered void, the township would still have a quorum for those votes, Wellner said.

When is the punishment over? If he served his time and that is done, when is the punishment over?

—  Alonzo Waheed, Equity And Transformation director of organizing

At Tuesday’s meeting, many of Ferrell’s colleagues with the township spoke positively of him and lamented his departure.

“I think even if I had known what was in his past, that’s the past. We all got a past. I wouldn’t change my mind one iota,” said Jeff Wallace, the township’s senior liaison.

Alonzo Waheed, EAT’s director of organizing, said Ferrell “stood up when others did not stand up” and made sure people’s “voices” were heard and acknowledged. He contended Ferrell was being “removed” from his seat because of that work.

“When is the punishment over?” Waheed said. “If he served his time and that is done, when is the punishment over?”