Knox County State’s Attorney candidate Erik Gibson came by the Oct. 4 Knox Conservatives meeting for a question-and-answer session concerning the race.
Gibson opened the session addressing a question concerning claims that he leaked information about the settlement of charges of unlawful discharge and sexual harassment against his boss and opponent, current Knox County State’s Attorney John Pepmeyer.
“We’re in a situation right now where I’ve been accused by several people of playing dirty politics by bringing this out, when realistically this has been sitting here for the last five years and has just become settled out,” Gibson said.
He maintains the stance that he had no involvement and that the information was released in press releases made by the litigants after the settlements.
“First of all, I haven’t said anything to the press about it, and haven’t been asked about it, and so as far as that goes, I didn’t leak anything,” Gibson said.
After four and a half years working for Pepmeyer as an assistant state’s attorney, Gibson believes that he would fulfill the position more effectively and be more active than his boss.
Gibson assured that his primary passion lies in trying cases and that he will continue to do so first hand as state’s attorney.
“My impetus to run started when I had decided that I didn’t like the direction in the office. My boss realistically, and not to be demeaning, does not work all that often. He doesn’t come into work and he doesn’t try cases,” Gibson said.
Gibson spoke about the difficulties of challenging the incumbent Pepmeyer.
“Galesburg, like most small towns, is very small town oriented. Someone told me ‘Galesburg is that town that never knew it became a city.’ [Pepmeyer] has lived here his whole life; he has a name, family and reputation here. He was a private attorney here, so everybody knows him from back then,” Gibson said.
Gibson has responded by going door-to-door in Galesburg and surrounding towns for the past two months to spread his name and familiarize voters with his stances.
As state’s attorney, Gibson would look to implement several programs aimed at reducing jail crowding and eliminating the perpetuation of criminal behavior among disadvantaged youth.
One of Gibson’s projects would be to implement the groundwork for; “a second chance program that I think we could get to within the first year. … There are a lot of federal grants out there now for keeping people out of prison. … Now, the second chance program, as I would like to implement it, would be based off of the idea that you want to keep first-time nonviolent felony offenders out of jail. This is a program that is being implemented all around the state.”
Second chance programs have been shown to lower recidivism and act as revenue producers.
Gibson’s plan would include the creation of a board composed “of community members … a representative sample of the county” selected by the state’s attorney office.
Those who qualify for the second chance program would then have the option of paying a program fee and damages in order to then stand before the board instead of going to court.
“It gives the community a sense of ownership in the program. It also gives the community a chance to dictate what they want to be done. Ideally, what the program does is reduce the amount of cases in the court system, reduce the amount of people in the jail — it brings money in through the program fees and also redistributes the punishment into things more beneficial for the community,” Gibson said.
Another project Gibson intends to pursue is greater attention to local youth, a portion of the population especially prone to developing tendencies that will lead to trouble later on in life.
“Something I think we could get the bare bones of it done by year one, and have something substantial in place by year four, is working on the intervention of the youth in Galesburg. I don’t think we do enough of that. We need to work as a community to find that out,” Gibson said.
Developing systems to support at risk youth include using resources already present to keep kids on track. Gibson has reached out to local pastors and school officials about “highlighting” children that appear to be struggling.
“Schools don’t do a good enough job of highlighting kids, saying, ‘I’m worried about this kid, he’s late for school all the time, he says his mom sleeps in and doesn’t get him ready for school, doesn’t give him breakfast and he has to make it for his siblings.’ Those are things where you’re questioning their supervision at a certain point,” Gibson said. “We’ve got Knox here in town, why can’t we get Knox to look into some more mentoring for the younger kids?”
Gibson said that funds reallocated to preventing the youth from falling into a pattern of disintegration drastically reduces money spent on the backend dealing with them as adults.
“Additionally, I would like to do some small things, as simple as getting on the Internet. Have better communication between us and the outlying towns. There are a lot of grants out there that aren’t being utilized here in Knox County that we can look into,” Gibson said.