New Belleville council members take office

News-DemocratMay 1, 2013 

— Many of the new Belleville City Council members sworn in on Wednesday at City Hall are independents and new to public office.

The recent election changed the makeup of the council, narrowing the majority of seats held by members of Mayor Mark Eckert's Belleville Good Government Party.

"Today's an important day," Eckert said to the group of elected officials, their relatives and friends, and city staff. "We start another chapter in the city of Belleville and there's a lot to do."

Eckert, who was elected for a third term, said he hopes everyone will roll up their sleeves and do everything they can for Belleville.

Eckert said "we will be fine" if officials keep up the spirit and mindset of always doing what is best for Belleville.

Eckert was the first to be sworn in by retired 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Annette Eckert.

The mayor kissed his wife, Rita, and joked as he signed the oath of office: "One thing they never told me eight years ago was how many times I'd sign my name."

City Clerk Dallas Cook and City Treasurer Dean Hardt, both independents, were sworn in after the mayor. Then, the eight new aldermen were sworn in as a group.

Hardt told attendees that he looks forward to working hard together to make Belleville better.

Cook said he's excited to be a young person involved in government. At age 27, he is the youngest council member.

Cook's dad, Rodger Cook, a former mayor of Belleville, attended the ceremony.

"I'm thrilled for my son," Cook said after seeing Dallas Cook sworn in. "I know he will do a good job to make this the most transparent, open government it can be. That's what he ran on and he's committed to do it."

The senior Cook said his advice to his son is: Stay humble and serve the people.

Eckert thanked the outgoing officials who have worked for many years on continuing progress in Belleville. Notably, Linda Fields has worked for the city since 1978, most recently as city clerk, and Jerry Turner, who served for 14 years as either alderman or treasurer.

Eckert told new officials that it is an exciting time to be serving Belleville, with many opportunities in the next few years to propel the city forward.

Eckert said the changes in Belleville are reflected in the Lindenwood University area -- with the emerging crime lab and new dorms, and the demolished church.

Officials will have the opportunity to work with area church leaders to tackle a challenging issue: homelessness.

Meanwhile, residents and officials alike should see the city's bicentennial in 2014 as momentum to springboard Belleville into the future, Eckert said.

Echoing the sentiments of other aldermen after the ceremony, Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Kay Schmidt said the mayor has been welcoming and she appreciated his comments Wednesday.

Schmidt is the only newly elected official who is a woman.

"It didn't hit me until I was up there, and the only other woman was the judge," Schmidt said.

Schmidt will join two other alderwomen already on the council.

The following officials won four-year terms in the April 9 election: Eckert; Cook; Hardt; Schmidt; incumbent Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella; Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle; Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Anthony; incumbent Ward 5 Alderman Phil Silsby; Ward 6 Alderman Bob White; Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti; and incumbent Ward 8 Alderman James Musgrove.

The new officials will have their first City Council meeting on Monday.

The city's other eight aldermen have terms that expire in 2015.

Of the voting council members, seven aldermen are independents and eight ran with the Good Government Party.

Eckert has 30 days to appoint someone to the last aldermanic seat, a Ward 4 position that expires in 2015. The seat was left vacant after Hardt ran mid-term and was elected treasurer.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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