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Small town mayor faces charges, fires employees

Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 11:55 p.m. CDT
(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
Hebron's Village President John Jacobson leads a discussion Feb. 17 during the February village board meeting. Jacobson awaits a Thursday court date in Walworth, Wis. Municipal Court on October charges of operating while intoxicated, operating with prohibited alcohol concentration equal to or more than .15 percent and deviation from a designated lane. In January Jacobson was pulled over by a McHenry County Sheriff's deputy when a dog from the Woodstock Police Department was called in and indicated the presence of a narcotic. About 3 grams of crack cocaine was found inside the vehicle, said Undersheriff Andrew Zinke.

HEBRON – Not much of Hebron village government’s core staff remains since Village President John Jacobson took over.

Gone is a public works director and his second-in-command. Gone is the village’s clerk. Gone is a longtime treasurer – and, only months later, her replacement.

Gone – fired – is Paul Acutt, the police officer who arrested Jacobson for driving under the influence in 2011.

Jacobson was elected village president of Hebron, a McHenry County town of about 1,200 near the Wisconsin border known for its 1952 state championship basketball team, in February 2013. Despite a pending felony crack cocaine charge against him, he defeated the incumbent with 61 percent of the vote.

Less than a year into his term, new details have emerged about Jacobson’s dismissal from McHenry County College in February 2013, where it was alleged that the then-custodian was receiving and forwarding photos of naked children and adult pornographic images using the college’s email system.

The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office and the college give differing answers as to whether a police report ever was filed in the matter.

In Hebron, some staffers have resigned, not commenting publicly about their reasons for leaving. Others have been fired.

“Our village [staff] now consists of people who have no clue, and have no experience in what they’re doing,” Village Trustee Susan Ritzert said.

A shifting village staff

In a voicemail and a short, emailed statement, Jacobson denied that any departures from the village staff are a reflection on him.

As part of a plea agreement, drug charges against Jacobson were reduced to a single misdemeanor – allowing him to remain in office.

Acutt, who was a part-time Hebron police officer in 2011 when he pulled over and arrested Jacobson for driving under the influence, was fired in September. His employee discipline sheet, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said he was terminated for “refusal to obey orders” and “insubordination.”

Acutt declined comment.

“Due to the pending possible legal recourse on my part, at this time I have no comment on the situation in Hebron,” he said.

Fired from job at college

The letter dismissing Jacobson from his job at McHenry County College raises as many questions as it answers.

Dated Feb. 20, 2013, the letter from Angelina Castillo, MCC’s assistant vice-president of human resources, references Jacobson’s failure to abide by the college’s information technology policies as one factor that led to his firing. The document doesn’t detail the other factors.

The letter states Jacobson was “viewing and/or forwarding inappropriate and offensive content via the college’s e-mail system, which included nude and pornographic images of women and children.”

MCC Spokeswoman Christina Haggerty declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation of Jacobson, but said the state’s attorney’s office was contacted.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs said the images didn’t constitute child pornography – a threshold that stretches beyond simple child nudity.

Therefore, no charges were warranted, he said.

“It’s a 5-year-old peeing on a tire,” he said of one of the forwarded images. “It’s not a child engaged in a sex act, and it’s not lascivious.”

Looking forward

To lose his position, Jacobson would have to be convicted of a felony or commit an act that constitutes “official misconduct,” said Michael Smoron, the village’s attorney.

Jacobson awaits a March 27 trial date in Walworth, Wis., on a DUI charge, to which he’s pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face an increased sentence for violating the one-year probation he received in the crack cocaine case. Those charges couldn’t be retroactively raised to a felony.

Jacobson was found not guilty of the 2011 DUI charge.

Ritzert served on the rescue squad under Jacobson long before her relationship with him on the village board took hold. Those experiences, in some ways, forecast the chaotic past 10 months, she said. Her worries started early.

“I was concerned as soon as he came in and took a petition out,” she said.

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