New Belleville Township trustee continues to serve despite controversy

News-DemocratJuly 16, 2013 

— Ralph Hult hopes to continue serving on the Belleville Township Board and attended the board's two meetings this month, including one Tuesday afternoon.

However, he votes "present" on all agenda items on the advice of his attorney Ron Duebbert due to the controversy surrounding his appointment.

Hult, an independent, is filling the seat previously occupied by the late Paul Klingler, a member of the Belleville Good Government party. Hult is the husband of Melinda Hult, a Belleville alderwoman.

Township Attorney Brian Flynn said the law requires a replacement to come from the same party. "I think it's very subject to challenge," Flynn said of Hult's appointment to the board. "It's ultimately up to a judge to render that decision."

Earlier this month, St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly confirmed his office was reviewing information concerning the appointment. Kelly could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"There is question as to whether it was valid or not," Hult said of his appointment to the board.

However, he considers himself to be a member of the township board. "I'm counted as a member of the board until proven otherwise," Hult said, "until I decide to resign or they kick me off." Hult, like other trustees, earns $2,500 annually.

During its July 2 meeting, the township board approved changing its meeting time from 3 to 6 p.m.; however, Tuesday's meeting began at 3 p.m.

Trustee Joy Schreiber said the Belleville Township meeting time and place needs to be changed to better accommodate the public.

Dallas Cook, the township clerk who is also the Belleville city clerk, said he would request an item regarding having the township meetings at Belleville City Hall be placed on the agenda for the next council meeting.

Township Supervisor Dennis Korte Sr. said he thinks changing the meeting time and place is a "mistake. It's been this way for 50 years," he said. "These older folks do not want to come out at supper time."

At one point, the discussion got heated when Korte said Schreiber is only concerned about her job. Schreiber must leave work in order to attend a meeting.

However, Schreiber said she's concerned about taxpayers who work during the day not having the opportunity to attend a township meeting if they so desire.

"There's numerous people that can make it in the evening," Hult said.

Flynn said the 3-2 vote on the meeting time and location change during the July 2 meeting could be challenged because Hult cast the deciding vote.

"The vote is presented valid, but if they challenge it, they can," Flynn said.

In other business, Hult questioned the cost of the health insurance for township employees at $3,010 a month. Korte said employee health insurance, 100 percent of which is paid for by the township, is tied into the union contract, which was approved in April and runs through March 31, 2017.

Hult also asked why Korte qualifies for full-time health benefits when he works part-time for the township. "It's always been a perk I got," Korte said.

Korte explained he works more hours than some might think. "There's more hours than you can imagine," he said.

Schreiber asked whether the township supervisor's health insurance benefits could be altered by the board in the future once the current contract expires; Korte said the board could vote on it.

Trustee Joe Swierczek said the township could investigate whether or not a Medicare supplement plan could be cheaper given that Korte is older than 65.

Flynn advised trustees move forward cautiously so as to not be accused of age discrimination.

Cook asked to be granted access to more township information. "As clerk, I feel a little out of the loop," he said. "I could be of more assistance."

Schreiber discussed the status of updating Belleville Township's current website. Office manager Nancy Mehochko said she hasn't had much time to look into it yet.

The township's current site does not include meeting minutes or agendas. "We just need to be more informative," Schreiber said.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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