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Local

Picketers rally to free McIlvaine from jail

Jeffrey Mauser, 52, of St. Charles and Terina Erb of St. Charles picket Sunday in front of St. Charles City Hall. They were protesting the city's pursuit of Clifford McIlvaine, 70, over a plumbing issue on his long-term renovation at his St. Charles home that has led to McIlvaine being held in contempt and jailed. McIlvaine wants to use a cistern – a tank that collects rainwater – instead of connecting to the city's water supply as required by ordinance.
Jeffrey Mauser, 52, of St. Charles and Terina Erb of St. Charles picket Sunday in front of St. Charles City Hall. They were protesting the city's pursuit of Clifford McIlvaine, 70, over a plumbing issue on his long-term renovation at his St. Charles home that has led to McIlvaine being held in contempt and jailed. McIlvaine wants to use a cistern – a tank that collects rainwater – instead of connecting to the city's water supply as required by ordinance.

ST. CHARLES – About 10 picketers gathered Sunday afternoon n front of St. Charles City Hall, holding signs to show support for jailed city resident Clifford McIlvaine.

McIlvaine, 70, is spending his second week in Kane County Jail for contempt of court for refusing to comply with the city plumbing code. At issue is his decades-long home improvement project at 605 Prairie St., which is now hung up on his insistence on using rainwater collected in a cistern. City officials say McIlvaine has to put in a valve so water does not reverse itself and go into the city's water supply, as well as put in a meter.

McIlvaine said he instead would put in a purification system for the cistern water, and Kane County Judge Thomas Mueller ordered him held in jail for refusing to follow through on an agreement he signed last year to meet all the city's requirements. City officials filed court papers seeking either to demolish McIlvaine's house or finish the work themselves.

Angelo Valdes of the HELPS ministry in Valley View led the protest for the second day.

"It's not that he shouldn't have to obey the same laws everyone else has, but that the court should be fair and equitable and just," Valdes said. "And justice is not taking a man's house if he doesn't do what you tell him to do."

Picketers' signs included "Rainwater really? Ridiculous," "Your house is next ...," "What's next, snowflakes?" "Are you really free?" and  "God sends rain, the city holds God in contempt." Passing motorists either honked and gave a thumbs-up or honked and expressed their disagreement.

Valdes questioned that in a nation encouraging green technology, why would a man choosing to collect rainwater be such an issue for the city.

"He wants to collect rainwater. What is that to you? Or me?" Valdes asked. "Nothing. But the city wants to say it's a public health nuisance."

City plumbing inspector Steven Herra testified last month that McIlvaine's cistern water was tested twice and one test revealed the presence of E. coli, bacteria that comes from feces.

The city's plumbing code requires the installation of a valve to control the flow of water, Herra testified. The valve, which is a standard plumbing requirement, prevent water coming through a pipe from backing up into the city water supply.

But picketers Sunday were not accepting that explanation.

Valdes insisted that McIlvaine was correct in saying others in the city with houses built in the 1920s and 1930s have cistern water. Valdes estimated at least 200 other homes use cistern water, but could not confirm who any of them were. Valdes said none of the other cistern users would come foreword because of the city's action against McIlvaine.

"It should not be down to rainwater," Valdes said.

McIlvaine friend Daniel Thorne, of St. Charles, carried a sign stating, "Socialist turning communist. I see nothing Schultz," a reference to Sgt. Schultz from the TV show "Hogan's Heroes."

"They are telling him he can't save water," Thorne said. "These are extreme measures. They should set him free."

Valdes also blasted city officials for taking so long to get McIlvaine to finish the addition to his house. McIlvaine started the project in 1975.

"The problem is the city did not do their job for 35-plus years, and now all of a sudden in 2010 they woke up and said, 'Oh now we gotta sue this guy and take his house,' " Valdes said. "Why didn't they do their job? ... Why not hold them in contempt for not enforcing the law of the land that everybody said we should be living by?"

St. Charles Mayor Don Dewitte said he could not comment on Valdes' claims.

"There is obviously ongoing litigation, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment," DeWitte said.

DeWitte said he did not know why city officials did not pursue McIlvaine until 2010.

"Maybe Sue Klinkhamer would know," DeWitte said, referring to the former mayor whom he defeated eight years ago.

Klinkhamer, who was mayor from 1997 to 2005, said during her tenure, whenever the issue came up, she was always told McIlvaine had a permit.

"My understanding was, he had a permit that was open-ended," Klinkhamer said. "There is a time limit now on all of them. The permit was issued, and as long as it was still being [worked on] there was nothing they could do about it. ... He's not in jail because he had a permit, he's in jail because of the water."

In a related issue, Valdes said McIlvaine is being held at the jail in "lockdown" mode and not allowed visitors.

Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez said the whole jail was on lockdown Sunday because there was not enough staff to allow visitation. Perez said without adequate staff to move people back and forth, visitations are canceled.

Perez said the jail rules are that the only visitors allowed are immediate family, attorneys and significant others. Visitation is scheduled, and inmates can have one visit per week.

"You can be parents, siblings, son, daughter or brother, grandparents to visit," Perez said. "The only exception is a significant other. No matter what [Valdes] says, he does not have the right to visit in the jail."

Perez said as an elderly person, McIlvaine is being separated from younger, more raucous inmates.

"We have standards from the American Jail Association that we have to meet; we don't just make it up and deny people their rights," Perez said. "Inmates put in a request for a visit and they can receive visitation."

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