Aldermen to draw lots for at-large position

News-DemocratApril 20, 2013 

— Two aldermen will draw lots to decide who will be an alderman-at-large because of new ward boundaries due to redistricting.

The new ward map, which the City Council approved in May 2012 and went into effect after the April 9 municipal election, affected only one alderwoman: Lillian Schneider.

Schneider was elected to represent Ward 7 until 2015, but because boundaries shifted, she now lives in Ward 1.

This means the city now has three aldermen living in Ward 1: Schneider, Michael Heisler and Ken Kinsella.

Heisler's term ends in 2015. Kinsella was just re-elected to Ward 1 in the recent election.

But each ward is only supposed to have two aldermen.

City Attorney Mike Flynn said that his research shows that it is necessary for the two aldermen who reside within Ward 1 and whose terms expire in 2015 to draw lots.

Schneider and Heisler will draw lots at a end-of-the-year City Council meeting scheduled for April 29.

Mayor Mark Eckert drew criticism from some aldermen when he announced Monday at the end of a City Council meeting that Schneider and Heisler would have to draw lots.

Schneider -- along with Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult and Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden -- said Schneider was told all along she would be the alderman-at-large.

"Why are we just hearing about this now?" Schneider asked Eckert during the meeting.

Schneider said she was planning on serving at-large so she could continue to represent Ward 7 as she was elected to do.

Eckert said former City Attorney Robert Sprague had a preliminary interpretation of the law but he resigned last May and Flynn continued to research the issue.

Flynn said Schneider kept referring to herself as an at-large alderman even though attorneys were still researching the matter.

"You were never told that," Flynn said to Schneider.

Schneider, an independent, said she was told as early as March 2012 that she would serve as an at-large alderwoman so she could work with residents in both Wards 1 and 7.

Eckert, Kinsella and Heisler are part of the Belleville Good Government Party.

Eckert said it doesn't make a difference to him whether Schneider is an alderman-at-large or just Ward 1.

If anything, Eckert said either role would give Schneider an advantage if she plans to run for re-election in 2015 because it would allow her to get to know residents in Ward 1.

Eckert said an official could benefit serving in the at-large capacity if he or she plans on running for a citywide position such as mayor, clerk or treasurer.

"Whoever gets the task has to gently balance helping in Ward 1 and Ward 7 because (Ward 7) is an alderman short," Eckert said.

Until the next municipal election in 2015, Ward 7 will technically only have one alderman: Trent Galetti, who was recently elected.

Galetti, an independent, defeated Good Government Party candidate Victoria Weygandt in a run for Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore's seat.

Elmore, an independent, will vacate the seat at the end of April after an unsuccessful bid for mayor.

City officials approved the redistricting last year to even out the wards' population sizes and give residents better and equal representation. For example, before the redistricting, Ward 6 had twice as many residents as Ward 2.

Residents who have questions about the redistricting or new ward boundaries can call the mayor's office or the Economic Development & Planning Department at City Hall, 233-6810.

Maps of the new wards also available on the Economic Development & Planning section of the city's website, www.belleville.net. You also can go to bnd.com for a link to the map.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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