Our joint meeting with the Rotary Clubs of Wilmette Harbor and Wilmette Noon was well attended Thursday night with around 100 Rotarians and guests from both clubs including an all-star cast of guest Rotarians. The convivial meeting began informally with beer and wine served by our Club’s President-elect Bob Baker to a thirsty crowd buzzing with conversation. Seating at ten tables in was randomly assigned. In attendance were our District Governor Sarah Oliver, past DG Pam Kerr, our assistant DG and current DG designate Rick Rivkin, among many other guests eager to hear the keynote speaker.
Patti Van Cleave shared with us an inspiring thought of the day regarding the outstanding attributes of Rotary International. Rick Rivkin announced the Rotary International Family Fun Day at the White Sox game on August 5 to support End Polio Now. Rick also announced that internationally acclaimed violinist and polio survivor Itzhak Perlman, a celebrity spokesman for PolioPlus, will appear at Ravinia on August 18. John Kessler of the Wilmette Harbor Club announced that their club is selling golf balls for $6 per dozen as a fundraiser for their club’s foundation.
In Rick’s last meeting as our Assistant DG, he presented President Eric with four Club awards: a Certificate of Merit for net membership growth, a Certificate of Merit for applying for a Presidential Citation, a District Member Development and Extension award for bringing in the most new members in our District, and a Presidential Citation. David Birkenstein presented President Eric with a Paul Harris Fellow pin issued by Rotary International for his exemplary efforts in “knocking himself out” for our Club.
Our speaker, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, joined us courtesy of the efforts of President Eric’s guest John Kupperman, a former advisor to Barack Obama, and current political advisor to Rahm Emanuel and Sheriff Dart. He was a history major, a state legislator for 11 years and assistant State’s attorney before being elected Sheriff in 2006. A family man with 5 small children, he was named in Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in 2009.

Sheriff Dart oversees a population of over 12,000 that includes inmates both housed on-site and ordered to alternative programs such as electronic monitoring. There are approximately 3,000 people with diagnosed mental illness housed in the jail on any given day, making it the largest mental health facility in the country. Sheriff Dart has received many awards from national and local mental health advocacy organizations for his push to end what has become a de facto criminalization of mental illness. Sheriff Dart also overhauled the county’s approach to foreclosure evictions – ensuring that evictees receive proper notice before being put out on the street and offering on-site social services geared towards families with school-age children, the elderly, and individuals suffering from mental illness. Sheriff Dart gained national prominence in 2009 for placing a moratorium on evictions after banks admitted to robo-signing foreclosure documents. Overseeing a $450,000,000 annual budget and 7,000 employees, Sheriff Dart touched on three areas in his talk:
Heroin overdoses are increasing nationally, and especially in the Midwest, as prices are low and it can now be smoked or snorted, not just injected. Purity levels have changed and it is outrageously addictive. It now reaches into our middle and high schools and ensnares many young suburbanites. An average of 200 people per day are jailed for heroin.
The numbers of people with diagnosed mental illnesses is rapidly increasing in the criminal justice system nationwide. 40% to 50% of the people jailed in Cook County suffer from mental health issues, which has required the Sheriff to re-train his staff as mental health specialists to handle them. As state funding has decreased, clinics and hospital beds for them have diminished, so that mentally ill people increasingly end up in jail for typically minor offenses as few accessible alternatives exist for them. Heroin also happens to be have similar effects as a commonly prescribed medication for mental illness, further exacerbating the problem. Six months ago Sheriff Dart instituted a much-needed program to formulate exit plans for mentally ill inmates being released, working with their families and scarce existing agencies. Former County “boot camps” have been changed to work programs.
As a legislator, Sheriff Dart was proud of receiving an “F minus” from the National Rifle Association for his voting record every year. He stated that Illinois’ “Concealed Carry” law is “a mess” right now. Cook County residents have submitted 26,000 applications out of 61,000 statewide. While the law gives him the right to object to issuance of concealed carry permits, the State provides no funding, and he does not have access to applicant’s mental health records due to health care privacy laws. The Sheriff reviews about 150 applications per week, and he has submitted 56% of all objections statewide, based primarily on applicants’ prior arrests for gun crimes, domestic violence and violations of orders of protection.  
Sheriff Dart then answered questions for a half hour. He talked about how his actions in introducing and proposing hundreds of bills in the State legislature resulted in a rule limiting legislators to introduce only three bill per year. He answered that education and treatment programs are the best answers to the scourge of drugs. He described his frustration at being sued an average of 1.5times every day, and that Englewood and Lawndale residents make up the vast majority of the jail population, which is also 80% Latino and African American. His office is studying the new heroin overdose medicine carried by some police officers nationally, over doctor concerns about when and where it should be used. The cost to house mentally ill prisoners is $400 to $500 per day, while the cost to house the general prison population is $145 per day. He was proud that in his huge jail system there are only two or three suicides per year, whereas the national average is 30 or 40. The Sheriff finally touched on the big cost of defending lawsuits, and the problems of policing far flung unincorporated areas In the County.