Belleville Township ready to pick new trustee

News-DemocratSeptember 17, 2013 

— The Belleville Township Board will hold a special meeting Wednesday so voters can elect a trustee to fill the vacancy left by the late Paul Klingler.

Two candidates -- Ralph Hult, an independent, and Joe Hubbard, of the Belleville Good Government party -- have publicly expressed interest in the four-year term.

Stakes are high for the township election because whoever wins will tip the balance of the board, now made up of two independent trustees and two trustees who belong to the Belleville Good Government party.

But the unusual format of the election means that candidates won't be nominated until Wednesday night by eligible voters. A township resident is eligible if he or she is registered to vote 28 days before the election.

How will the special meeting work?

Eligible voters in attendance can nominate any Belleville Township resident who has lived in the township for at least a year and also is registered to vote 28 days before Wednesday.

This means that voters will not know all their options until the night of the election and voters might have little time to learn about the candidates.

Township code also states that the election will be based on a "voice vote." Belleville Township Attorney Brian Flynn said it is his opinion that voters have to stand behind their candidate to be counted or votes will be counted through a roll call or show of hands.

The election will begin at 7 p.m. in the Belleville West High School gymnasium, 4063 Frank Scott Parkway West.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. and the St. Clair County Clerk's Office will start to verify voters at that time.

Attendees will be seated in sections of verified voters versus spectators.

Verified voters will then nominate a moderator to run the meeting. Township trustees have said they prefer St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook to run the meeting but, again, attendees could decide on a different moderator altogether.

Holbrook has said that if he is chosen, he plans to have two election judges, a Democrat and Republican. He also plans to allow each candidate to speak for two minutes.

Why is the special meeting necessary?

Township officials have tried since Klingler died May 20 to fill the fifth trustee seat on the Township Board.

The board currently is split politically: Joy Schrieber and Joe Swierczek are independents; Joyce Laux and Supervisor Dennis Korte belong to Belleville Good Government.

The board first appointed Hult in June with a 3-2 vote. Township Clerk Dallas Cook, an independent, broke the tie.

However, Flynn said Hult was ineligible because township code states the vacancy had to filled by someone of Klingler's Good Government party.

Hult eventually agreed with Flynn's opinion and resigned in July.

Hult's resignation came exactly 60 days after Klingler's death. The significance of the 60-day mark is that township code calls for the vacancy to be filled by election if the board does not appoint someone within 60 days. And, at that point, residents can elect someone regardless of political affiliation.

Who is running?

Hult and Hubbard both affirmed Tuesday they will run for the position if nominated Wednesday night.

Hult, 66, a retired officer of 23 years with the Air Force, has never served in political office. His wife is Belleville Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult.

Ralph Hult has said he is interested in the position to serve the community and to ensure township funds are distributed fairly to needy residents.

Hubbard is retired after working for 52 years and serving as director with Catholic Urban Programs, a faith-based agency that assists needy individuals and families.

"I actually have a little bit of energy left and I want to see that positive things are done in Belleville," Hubbard, 70, said. "That's what I've done for 52 years: Try to be a voice for the poor."

Hubbard said his life's work reflects the purpose of the township's role in the community.

Hubbard said he and his organization have worked closely with townships over the years to help residents who have "fallen through the cracks."

Such residents include an elderly woman who had her utility turned off because her caretaker was mismanaging her money or a family that needed money to cremate a loved one. The township steps in by making calls on behalf of the resident, seeking outside assistance or making a monetary contribution, Hubbard said.

"Everybody looks at it like it's another set of bureaucracy, but we all work together to get things done," Hubbard said. "This is a hard time for all agencies with federal and state government cutting back. If we cut down another program, then the poor have nowhere to go for assistance."

Hubbard acknowledged Tuesday that a big part of why he decided to run was because of some officials and candidates' position that township governments are useless.

Cook has said the township layer of government is wasteful, especially since Belleville Township shares the same boundaries as the city of Belleville, and he plans to research how to eliminate townships.

Cook said Tuesday he does not plan on casting a vote at the special meeting. Though he broke the tie vote earlier this year in favor of Hult, he believes it's time to leave the decision up to voters.

Still, Cook said he wants Ralph Hult to be trustee because he is an independent and not affiliated with a political party like Hubbard.

"I wish (Hubbard) had not become political," Cook said. "I think it hurts his legacy. And I think it's the GGP shamelessly throwing out a man who has spent his life for the poor and using his service to keep a political seat."

Hubbard countered Cook's claims, stating that he decided to run on his own accord and not because of politics.

Before Hubbard left to work for the church, he started in politics at age 19 and worked for the Eastside Levee and Sanitary District for about 10 years.

"I've been involved in policy and working with politicians my entire life, to get the right people elected who care about others," Hubbard said. "We all disagree with stuff but then we have to come together to work for the common good and work for the people."

Earlier on Tuesday:

At a regularly scheduled board meeting, Schreiber and Swierczek, the township board's two independent trustees newly elected in April, indicated they would like more transparency and accountability in the township's spending.

The discussion arose over a $6,000 donation to the Belleville Achieves Strength in Character (BASIC) for a childrens' storytelling program.

Schreiber said the program was for enjoyment, not a necessity, and the township could better spend the money helping the needy.

Laux said the township is the main supporter of this program, which benefits children, some on state aid, who otherwise do not get such a learning experience.

The donation was approved 3-1. Schreiber voted no. Swierczek said he voted "yes" but wants more details on how BASIC uses the funds.

Schreiber and Swierczek also called into question a $100 invoice from Flynn, the township's attorney, for the legal research needed to organize the special election Wednesday.

Schreiber said the township should first turn to the nonprofit Township Officials of Illinois for legal advice and Swierczek said Flynn should have direction from the board to do such work.

Flynn said TOI does not have attorneys on staff. He said the invoice is based on time spent working with the St. Clair County State's Attorney and Clerk's offices to coordinate the special election. Flynn said he has direction from Korte, the township supervisor, to do such work.

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

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