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Zimmerman: Tazewell County cyber incident nearly resolved, becomes a costly lesson learned

Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman
Joe Deacon
Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman

Tazewell County Board chairman David Zimmerman says the county is still recovering from a November cyber-attack that took down their phone, email and internet network.

“I don’t know that we know specifically what happened,” Zimmerman said of the incident that prompted a criminal investigation, with the Sheriff’s Office alerting the FBI. “I can tell you where we’re at in the process: After three weeks, I finally got an email yesterday for the first time.”

Zimmerman said the phone lines were restored last week, but some glitches remained. He said some employees had difficulty getting internal calls between departments to connect.

“We’re probably running about, our administrator said this morning, at about 80%,” he said. “We’re still having some difficulty downloading some of the files. But at this point, I think we’re going to come out of this fairly unscathed, but a lot of lessons learned.”

Zimmerman admitted those lessons came with a substantial cost.

“We had $700,000 budgeted this year alone in IT, and we’ve obviously had to accelerate some of that spending,” he said. “I’ve had to declare a few (spending) emergencies because we don’t have a board meeting scheduled until the end of January.”

Zimmerman said they brought in an outside contractor to assist the IT department in getting the issue resolved.

“One of the things that we’ve done immediately – and I’m not a techie, so you’ll just have to excuse that – but I know we’ve put software on each one of our computers that can detect activity like this,” said Zimmerman. “It’s my understanding that when these hackers come into your system, they can be there for weeks or months, taking care of what they need to do. This particular software will hopefully detect those viruses and we can take care of them proactively.”

Justice annex update

With demolition of the county-owned Arcade Building in downtown Pekin underway and the Tobin Building teardown planned for early next year, Zimmerman provided an update on plans for a justice center annex.

“We are going out for bids, hopefully, by the end of January; that might be pretty optimistic on what we want in terms of a property and then a construction manager,” said Zimmerman.

The county board set aside $34.4 million for the justice center annex project in its annual capital improvement plan.

“If we could get the bids out this month, the hope would be to have contracts signed by December of 2024 – and that’s a pretty optimistic timeline also. But if we’re looking at that, I would think in the spring of ‘25 we could start breaking ground there,” said Zimmerman, estimating construction could take as long as two years.

“It’s a fairly simple building. Right now, it’s a little more complicated taking out the Arcade Building and the Tobin Building, just because the basements under those buildings go under the sidewalks. When you clear out the basement, you risk road cave-ins or landslides, whatever the word is, from the alley. So they’re moving pretty slowly; they’ll backfill as they take things out.”

Zimmerman said a final design concept for the justice annex is not yet set in stone.

“At this point, it looks like all six courtrooms will move over to the new building. I did a survey of board members and an overwhelming majority of the board members supported a larger building: 80,000 square feet,” he said. “Even if we don’t have enough resources, we may just shell out an additional floor or two, just in anticipation of future needs.”

Zimmerman said the annex would not be linked to the existing Tazewell County Court House, but the hope would be to connect to other county facilities in the area.

“Ideally, we would like to have some kind of skyway or some way to take prisoners between the jail and the new courthouse, because they’ll be just across the street,” he said. “Our hope is that Pekin will vacate that street (Elizabeth) so that we can have that street also. But the existing courthouse, that would be cost prohibitive, probably, and I don’t believe we will have many court functions in there so it’s really not necessary.”

As for what county services or offices would remain in the current courthouse, Zimmerman said that’s still being decided.

“As we kind of spit ball these things, maybe the public defender, the Veterans Affairs Commission,” he said. “We’ve looked at a lot of different things to just because our plan overall is to get rid of the two buildings and move people into the courthouse in the new justice center facility.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.