Law firm donates $40K to Belleville Police Dept. in honor of former police Sgt. Jon Brough

News-DemocratSeptember 3, 2013 

BND

The Belleville Police Department Trust Fund has $40,000 more in its coffers, thanks to the generosity of former Belleville Police Sgt. Jon Brough and the Armstrong Teasdale law firm.

The $40,000 represents part of the firm's legal fees it pledged in donations to organizations of Brough's choosing. Part of the funds went to the St. Louis SWAT, the rest went to Belleville. The funds will be used for the patrol division of the department to purchase equipment that will make them safer on the streets.

Brough was seriously injured in 2006 when he was shot in the left side of his face during a raid.

"We have a responsibility to make the children of Belleville safe today," Brough said. "The equipment purchased will help make it safer for responding officers and they will be better prepared for whatever may occur."

Several people spoke to the council before the official meeting began, asking the council and Mayor Mark Eckert to postpone demolition of the Meredith Home to give potential developers a chance to tour the building and meet with leaders about their ideas.

"We are at a place where the city seems bent on destroying one of the greatest landmarks in our city," said Larry Betz of the St. Clair County Historical Society.

Rick Ortiz, a businessman and former head of Downtown Belleville Inc., also asked the City Council to give a group of interested investors a chance to turn the historical building into a money-maker for the city, instead of tearing it down to replace it with an urban park.

"The people interested in investing in this property should be given a chance to take it to their bank and make a go of it," he said. "A project like this would bring in the kind of people Belleville wants to attract and the kind of business Belleville wants to attract."

The Meredith Home was purchased by the city from the Belleville Diocese for $471,000 when a buyer expressed interest in purchasing the building to use it as a home for troubled boys.

Soon after the city's purchase, prominent attorney Bruce Cook approached Eckert with a proposal to give the city $500,000 for the building and deed it back to the city under the agreement that the building would be demolished and a park built and maintained in perpetuity in the memory of Cook's daughter, Susannah Marison, who died at age 36 in 2010 from a brain tumor.

The city has been waiting for demolition bids, and, Eckert said he received the bids Friday but has not yet had a chance to discuss the bids with the Health and Housing Committee.

Ward Two Alderwoman Melinda Hult asked an agenda item to discuss the Meredith Home be put on the council's agenda. She questions the legality of the city's agreement with Cook and asked City Attorney Garrett Hoerner to research whether a legal contract actually exists that requires the city to tear down the building and build a park.

Hult expressed concern that Eckert didn't spend enough time actively trying to market the building to potential developers before agreeing to sell it to Cook.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden also asked Hoerner to research the deeds to the property to find out where the city stands legally and to assure the entire sale and deeding of the property was done above board.

"I believe we need to hear the whole story from the city attorney first and get some questions answered before we do anything else with this building," Hayden said.

Eckert said everything done regarding the Meredith Home was done in full view of the public.

"There's been no secret that we accepted a check, we paid off the note, we agreed to a park, it was in the newspaper," Eckert said. "In the agreement, when we accepted the money, we agreed to turn it in to a park for perpetuity. That was no secret. In my opinion, this council took action and we need to stand by the action we took. I believe we have an agreement we accepted that half million dollars under and I believe we are obligated to honor that."

Hult said she has seen no written contract to that effect.

In other council business:

* Approved a use variance for the Transformation Christian Center to operate a church at 45 Sheffield Drive. The location is in an area zoned a heavy commercial district.

* Approved a special use permit for Target, located in Belleville Crossing, to be permitted to sell packaged liquor in its store.

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