Can East St. Louis pass financial test?

November 22, 2013 

Debra Powell, the former mayor of East St. Louis, said this week that the city is on its way up and she wants to see more positive news coverage of the city.

Well, it certainly is positive news that the city has repaid the $21 million it borrowed from the state -- and paid it back a year ahead of schedule. That's a laudable accomplishment.

But we hope Powell and city leaders can understand why many people are not as excited about the state Financial Advisory Authority being disbanded as they are.

Despite two decades of oversight, city leaders still seem shaky on managing city finances. The most recent example involved city firefighters. Mayor Alvin Parks would have laid off 16 of the city's 53 firefighters in September if the FAA hadn't objected. It was only after the FAA intervened that the city brokered the deal that kept all the firefighters on the job.

Marvin Lampkin, chairman of the FAA board, said the board has continued concerns about the financial viability of the city; he would like to see the FAA continue to work with the city for several months. However, the Illinois Finance Authority sent out the notice on Wednesday that the FAA would be disbanded in 30 days now that the debt has been repaid.

We remember the disaster that occurred when the state financial oversight panel for East St. Louis School District 189 abruptly disbanded. The school board went on a spending and hiring spree and quickly got itself into a deep financial hole again. Our concern is the city could follow the same path now that it has been "financially emancipated," as Parks put it.

Let's hope our fears are unfounded. We would like nothing more than to be able to report on a city that is fiscally responsible and on its way up. The coverage, positive or not, will be a reflection of how East St. Louis officials manage city finances once state oversight is gone.

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