Controversy over eligibility may compromise new township trustee's vote

News-DemocratJuly 2, 2013 

— The Belleville Township Board approved changes to its meeting time and location, but controversy about a new trustee's eligibility could compromise the vote.

The 3-2 vote to change the meeting time from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. could hinge on whether Ralph Hult can legally replace the late Paul Klingler.

Trustees who wanted to change the meeting time to make it more convenient for residents to attend.

The controversy stems from Hult, an independent, filling the seat of a Belleville Good Government party member. Township Attorney Brian Flynn says the law requires a replacement to come from the same party.

Hult and the board members who voted for him, disagree. Township City Clerk Dallas Cook swore Hult in days after he was appointed.

Hult attended Tuesday's meeting as a trustee despite Flynn's opinion that Hult's appointment is subject to challenge.

Before any votes took place, Flynn said any board decision in which Hult has the swing vote is subject to challenge, so his advice is for the board to wait until it's "very clear" whether Hult can vote.

"I know the matter is under review by the state's attorney," Flynn said.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly confirmed his office is reviewing information concerning the appointment but declined to elaborate.

On Tuesday, Hult voted for the proposal to change when and where the board meets. On other matters, he said "present."

The proposal also includes changing the location of the meetings from the township building at 111 W. A St. to Belleville City Hall at 101 S. Illinois St., pending permission from the city.

Trustee Joy Schreiber said it is difficult for trustees who have jobs to serve in public office. The 3 p.m. meeting time conflicts with hers and Swierczek's work schedules but, more importantly, hinders public access to meetings.

Trustees also discussed the size of the township meeting room. Nine people, mostly board members, clerks and the township attorney, sat around a table while six members of the public sat or stood immediately behind them.

Township Supervisor Dennis Korte Sr. expects meeting attendance to diminish.

"I've been sitting at this table for 40 years and I've never seen a crowd like this before," said Korte, who also served as trustee.

Korte said the township building is more accessible for people who use wheelchairs because parking is available on the same lot.

Schreiber and Swierczek were elected in April. The board's two incumbents, Korte and Trustee Joyce Laux, voted not to change the meeting time.

Cook, the township clerk, is also Belleville city clerk. Anyone elected to the city of Belleville as clerk also serves as clerk for the township. Flynn serves as an assistant city attorney for Belleville but was separately appointed to the township post.

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

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