New Belleville leaders: Citywide officials, aldermen assume roles

News-DemocratMay 6, 2013 

— The election last month ushered in several Belleville city leaders who are either new to their position or serving in public office for the first time.

They are City Clerk Dallas Cook, City Treasurer Dean Hardt, Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Kay Schmidt, Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle, Ward 6 Alderman Bob White and Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti. All are independents.

An exception is Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Anthony. He is not an incumbent but he held the post from 2005 to 2009.

And, four incumbents were re-elected: Mayor Mark Eckert, Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella, Ward 5 Alderman Phil Silsby and Ward 8 Alderman James Musgrove.

Anthony and the four re-elected officials are part of the Belleville Good Government Party.

The new officials were sworn in on Wednesday and will debut at the City Council meeting on Monday. They will join seven seated aldermen whose terms do not expire until 2015.

Here's a primer on the newcomers' backgrounds, what they're thinking as they take office and their immediate goals:

City Clerk Dallas Cook

Cook said he's ready to start and he's been learning the roles of the four employees in the clerk's office.

"I'm going with the attitude that I plan to work as hard as possible and not push work on other people," Cook said.

Along with Hardt and Eckert, Cook said he plans to "push the city to further progress itself."

Cook, a small business owner and political consultant, said he won't rush into making drastic changes, but the themes of transparency and modernization will guide his term as clerk.

"I want to make Belleville the most transparent city in Illinois, if not the country," Cook said.

Cook plans to meet soon with the mayor of O'Fallon to get ideas on improving accessibility to city information.

Cook said he will immediately work on fulfilling one of his campaign promises: to have monthly open forums where constituents can ask questions about city issues. He hopes to have the first meeting in June.

City Treasurer Dean Hardt

Hardt was serving as an alderman in Ward 4. He ran midterm and was elected city treasurer.

Hardt, vice president of sales at Gerold Moving, said he looks forward to working with everyone in the treasurer's department.

Hardt said he has been familiarizing himself with the duties of everyone in the treasurer's office. He will spend the next couple of weeks meeting with all entities that have an intergovernmental relationship with the city.

"It's going to be a whirlwind month," Hardt said.

Hardt also said he looks forward to working with Cook, the newly elected city clerk, and helping each other.

"We're both brand new, learning a new job," Hardt said.

Hardt said he wants to make sure "we don't just change to change" but that the changes will be improvements.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Kay Schmidt

Schmidt, a homemaker and Democratic committeewoman for Precinct 7 since 2002, said she has felt very welcomed by city staff and orientation was helpful in getting her acquainted with city operations.

Schmidt narrowly unseated Dorothy Meyer, who held the Ward 2 seat for four terms.

"I know I have big shoes to fill but I'll try my best for Belleville," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said she and Melinda Hult, the other alderwoman in Ward 2, will work together well. Schmidt said they already have started sharing ideas, such as having joint meetings with residents.

But Schmidt said the day of the swearing-in ceremony that she will hold off for a bit on proposing controversial legislation until she feels more settled on the council.

"I'm a supporter of chicken coops, but I'm not going to introduce it Monday morning or anything," Schmidt said.

Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle

Randle said there's a learning curve to being a new alderman but he has already started learning about residents' concerns and reaching out to city staff such as the Housing Department.

Randle works in financial services and business development consulting.

He said his priorities -- the use of tax increment financing funds and reducing crime -- reflect what residents say are their concerns.

Randle said he will pay attention to whether the city has considered "both sides of the balance sheet" when making decisions.

"If a project comes to us, the developer will present their best case on what's best for them," Randle said. "But what are the consequences ... who else does it impact -- the request being made of us?"

Randle agrees with the mayor that it is an exciting time to serve Belleville, especially with the city's bicentennial next year. St. Louis will be celebrating its 250th anniversary and there will be lots of opportunities between the two cities to foster a better relationship and improve tourism.

Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Anthony

Anthony said he is eager to return to the public office after a four-year hiatus.

"I'm humbled," Anthony said. "I've been here before but it's still a big thing for me."

He thanks those who are confident in him and voted for him.

"I'll work hard to make them proud," he said.

Anthony, a business owner and developer, is also a former Army sergeant and assistant fire chief of the East St. Louis Fire Department.

Anthony said his priority is to improve the condition of the streets in Ward 4 and he has already started driving around and looking at some of the potholes. And he said, of course, crime is always an issue.

Ward 6 Alderman Bob White

White is a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and career field manager for more than 27 years.

The day White was sworn in as an alderman, he said he was thinking about how grateful he is to be living in the United States.

"I've visited many places in the world," White said, "and Belleville is a great city, with a great future."

White said he will immediately work on generally bettering communication with residents.

"It's who we work for," White said. "Our government is good but it could always be better."

As a resident, White already started working to improve transparency in government by video recording public meetings and posting them on YouTube.

"It feels strange to be on this side of the camera instead of videotaping it," White said at the swearing in ceremony.

Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti

Galetti said he's really honored and humbled to win the election, and he has been meaning to write a public letter to thank constituents.

"I didn't really think I had a chance with (candidate Victoria Weygandt) so entrenched in the ward," Galetti said.

Galetti, an attorney, said he started preparing for work as an alderman by meeting with residents at events such as a recent Highland Neighborhood Association gathering.

Galetti also said he met with Phil Elmore, who held the seat Galetti will now occupy. Elmore did not run for re-election for alderman; he ran for mayor and lost to Eckert.

Elmore started a Facebook page dedicated to Ward 7 and Galetti said he will take on management of the site.

Galetti said he is politically conservative and most of the time he wants government to stay out of the private sector. But he will do his part by establishing an atmosphere for businesses to grow.

"If it's the only thing I ever do as alderman, I want to put something in that old Walmart building," Galetti said of the vacant site on Carlyle Avenue.

Incumbents

Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella, Ward 5 Alderman Phil Silsby and Ward 8 Alderman James Musgrove are incumbents. All three aldermen are familiar faces at City Hall and in their wards. Kinsella will be serving his second full term, Musgrove is going into his fourth term and, for Silsby, it will be the third.

The seasoned aldermen all echoed the mayor's sentiments at the swearing in ceremony that both new and re-elected officials should focus on doing what is best for the city.

"We do have to work together," Kinsella said.

Kinsella, a retired teacher and bus driver, said he's grateful people re-elected him.

He said he has consistently addressed drainage issues that come with a 200-year-old city.

Ward 1 residents have voiced that they want a new city pool and for the city to clean up the site of the closed pool because it could be a safety hazard.

Kinsella said he "wouldn't put a dime" in fixing up the old pool because of issues such as corroding pipes and concrete.

He also said that some residents want the city to keep the property and they don't want someone else to buy it and build apartments there.

Musgrove a retired electronic engineer, said the main thing will be getting the streets fixed. He said another constant problem is addressing sewer pipes when they back up.

"I'm just thinking we had a good start here," Musgrove said. "Let's get everyone on board and start working."

Silsby is an executive pastor and retired principal of Belleville West High School.

Silsby said he will work on crime reduction and economic development.

"We all have our disagreements but it's time for everyone to work together."

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

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