Edgar County Watchdogs duo receive Krieble Foundation Unsung Hero Award
The Edgar County Watchdogs, Kirk Allen and John Kraft, were honored with the 2016 Vernon Krieble Foundation Unsung Hero Award recently at the State Policy Network's 24th annual meeting.
The award is given to those the foundation views as defenders of the principles of freedom and responsible citizenship. Foundation founder Helen Krieble awarded the pair a $25,000 check for their efforts to keep local and state government accountable.
The dynamic duo have been hard at work, exposing improprieties and corruption in Edgar County and the state of Illinois since 2010, when they founded Edgar County Watchdogs and started the online news site Illinois Leaks. While most of their efforts are focused on local government, particularly Edgar County, they also investigated and reported on DuPage Community College's former president and his exorbitant buyout package.
“Since 2011, in our county alone, we have stopped public funds being used for gambling, township road commissioners giving free driveways to their friends, misuse of credit cards, annual trips to Florida on the public, board appointments to convicted criminals, and much more," Kraft said. "Edgar County has been coined the most corrupt county in the most corrupt state in the nation…After decades of corruption, people accept it as the status quo and assume they can do nothing about it. Kirk and I fought back…We foster a climate of public opinion. We take it as our duty to shine light on corruption, and we shout out names as loud as possible (when we find people) responsible for undermining the public’s trust.”
The two met at a candidate dinner in Paris, Illinois, and after some discussion, decided to do something about their dissatisfaction with local governments. Six years later, their website garners more than 75,000 views per month. They publish several articles each week, including updates on ongoing probes and the results of their investigative efforts.
“With just shy of 200 public officials out of government from our work, my first thought after being notified we won the award: Wow! Do you know how many tanks of gas we can buy to get to the next meeting," Allen said. "I humbly accept this award and look forward to filling those tanks for many years to come. When you know where the (taxpayers') money is going, you can make a world of difference at a (city council) meeting…We spent almost two years focusing on Edgar County government, and to say we shook things up is an understatement. To date, just in our county alone, 48 public officials have resigned, been removed or refused to run again -- and one was prosecuted.”
The Freedom of Information Act and tips from local residents led the pair to a variety of stories that affect the residents of Edgar County and Illinois. They attend and speak at board meetings as they monitor the doings of city and county government officials.
In addition to the Unsung Hero Award, the foundation's Lens of Liberty Citizen Initiative seeks to educate Americans on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Krieble produces one-minute radio shorts to remind Americans to look carefully at issues and protect their freedoms. The segments are aired on more than 800 radio stations. The initiative's website offers a free download of a video documentary about citizenship. The interactive website also offers a variety of media and materials focused on its mission of education; principles of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights; and the duties of the American citizenry.