Retaliation? Kern yanks committee post from board member who questioned airport control

News-DemocratAugust 5, 2013 

Mark Kern.

BND

One of the St. Clair County Board members pushing for the board to have greater control of MidAmerica Airport has been removed from the chairmanship of the board's influential Judiciary Committee.

County Board Chairman Mark Kern revised the membership of the County Board's committees on Friday. Kern removed board member Frank Heiligenstein, a Democrat representing Freeburg, as chair of the Judicial Committee and placed him as a new member of the Economic Development Committee. Kern could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Heiligenstein said it appears his removal is in response to a proposal from Heiligenstein and three other board members for the County Board to have more control of finances and development related to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah.

"I wasn't expecting this," Heiligenstein said Monday. "Nobody discussed this with me about moving around."

Heiligenstein said his professional experience makes him a good fit for the Judiciary Committee.

"The Judiciary Committee is responsible for ensuring the county code (of laws) is updated. There's no other County Board in the state, possibly the nation, that has somebody on the board who owns a codification company involved with directly updating the county code. It saves them quite a bit of money having me able to do that," he said.

Heiligenstein, the most senior member of the County Board, has been a member or chairman of the Judiciary Committee intermittently since 1976. He wrote the county's ordinance code book in 1974 and is the owner of Illinois Codification Services, which edits and publishes codes of law for city and county governments.

The Judiciary Committee approves numerous key issues for the County Board. For example, current issues debated by its members include the drug-testing policy of county employees and possibly consolidating voter precincts to save money.

Heiligenstein and fellow County Board members Larry Stammer Jr. of Belleville, a Democrat, and Republicans Ed Cockrell of New Athens and David Tiedemann of Shiloh recently sponsored the MidAmerica legislation. The measure intends to grant the 29-member County Board more oversight of operations at the airport, which is currently overseen by the seven members of the Public Building Commission. Members of the Public Building Commission are appointed by the County Board chairman.

Chairman Kern opposes the proposal and previously said he believes the appointed members of the commission ensure politics do not hamper negotiations with business leaders and developers. The County Board approved the commission overseeing daily operations at the airport in 1996, about a year prior to the airport's opening.

Heiligenstein said, "I don't think we should manage the airport, but we should approve any fiscal arrangement with developers and not an appointed body that doesn't have to answer to the public. I think the County Board should be answering to the public and should have final approval on those issues. I don't think we need to know the negotiations that have to be conducted in secrecy .... but at least in the final analysis of approval the County Board should be able to give final stamp of approval."

He added, "We're not looking for anything out of the realm a legislative body is supposed to do, whether it's in Springfield or Washington, D.C."

The proposed power shift was discussed at the most recent Judiciary Committee meeting on July 29. Following Kern's suggestion to do so, committee member Roy Mosley Jr., a Democrat representing Alorton, made a motion to move the issue to the board's Economic Development Committee.

Kern has appointed Mosley as the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Mosley could not be reached for comment.

Mosley is also a member of the Grants, Management Information, Public Safety, Transportation and Executive committees along with the Southwestern Illinois Planning Commission. He was first elected to the County Board in 2008 and is the director of East St. Louis' Public Works Department.

County Board member Nick Miller, a Republican representing Lebanon, has been removed from the Economic Development Committee and assigned to the Trustee Committee. Miller said he believes his removal from the Economic Development Committee is a way to "shift the deck" to ensure the MidAmerica ordinance never sees the light of day.

"This is Kern's way to keep it squashed in committee and ensure it never gets before the full County Board for a vote," Miller said, noting the Economic Development Committee now has only Democrats as members.

Cockrell, a fellow sponsor of the MidAmerica legislation, said he does not believe the proposal can pass in the face of Kern's opposition.

"If Mark Kern feels the need to move County Board members' committees to keep people in the dark, that's certainly his prerogative. Eventually the taxpayers will be heard, though," Cockrell said. "When you see all the manipulation to keep it from going forward, it makes you question the motive. If you have to fight so hard to keep the voice of the people from being heard, what's being hidden?"

Cockrell said a similar change in committee assignments occurred in 2010, when he brought questions before the board's Finance Committee.

"I know when I rocked the boat on the Finance Committee, I was removed from that right away," Cockrell said. "I just asked questions and was told that's the way it's going to be. Here's where I think the injustice is, Frank (Heiligenstein) always kept the county code up to date and amendments changed. That's what he does for a living. I wonder who's going to do that now."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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