Guest view: East St. Louis has public safety as its priority

November 6, 2013 

This letter refutes the substantially misleading editorial Oct. 19 in the Belleville News-Democrat. The letter confirms East St. Louis's stance regarding fire safety and public safety in general.

I very seldom take the time to correct the numerous inaccurate and many times damaging statements made by eithe reporters or editors of the News-Democrat. There is just too much to do try to keep up with a practice that has taken place for years. But "The FAA saves the day" editorial is too flagrantly incorrect and damaging to let pass.

First, East St. Louis places as its first and paramount obligation that of maintaining and improving the health and safety of the community. Most other communities have the same perspective. Therefore, keeping as many firefighters (and police officers) as the city can, for as long as it can, is a very high priority. The city has shown that over the years and certainly shows that today. The city has also stated this several times to the BND reporters.

The agreement that the city and the Fire Department union forged reflects that the city is keeping all 53 firefighters that it had all the way through the end of 2013. In fact, the budget that the city passed on Oct. 30 for 2014 and beyond reflects that the city is keeping this full complement of firefighters. Fifty-three is 30 percent more than what the industry standard calls for based upon population. The city and Fire Department are accomplishing this despite the fact that the 2011 SAFER grant has expired. The accomplishment has taken place because of the city and the Firefighters Union (IAFF Local 23) working together and making sacrifices to try to do what is in the best interest of the city and the firefighters.

The city knew that there could be money returning from St. Clair County for protested property tax reimbursements. That was no special revelation. The city had a plan -- a plan to deal with the newly found money. It is working as follows. Pay our debts owed to the Fire Department to the Police Department and to the Teamsters Union. Doing so will clear up several issues with all three unions. The city was not planning to sacrifice handling its responsibilities to those three unions to simply satisfy one. The city and the Fire Department settlement is not sacrificing the city's ability to handle its indebtedness to the police, fire and Teamsters unions. What is unfortunate is that I stated this fact several times to the BND reporter. The editor ignored this very important fact.

It is an absolute insult to everyone's intelligence to imply that the city does not understand that working with 37 firefighters instead of 53 is not desirable by either party. It is easy for the BND to spend the city's money and to insult the city's judgment without telling all the facts. But what is easy in many cases is not right, and this is one of those cases. The city must be fiscally responsible; it must operate within a budget.

With regard to the Financial Advisory Authority, yes, the city looks forward to having the FAA gone. That was a minor part of the conversation with the reporter. But the city understands that he FAA is scheduled to be with the city through September 2014. The city plans to work with the FAA for as long as it is here, not out of desperation for guidance, but out of respect for the original agreement with the state of Illinois.

Quite frankly, the BND's depiction of "desperation" is just more of the newspaper's vilification of the community's overall leadership. The city is moving forward and is priming itself for more success as "The City of Champions."

Alvin Parks is mayor of East St. Louis.

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