In their words: Belleville aldermen respond to BND questions

News-DemocratDecember 21, 2013 

The News-Democrat checked in with Belleville aldermen elected in the April municipal election, and one alderman who was appointed, to see how they have progressed on their campaign goals. These City Council members will serve until 2017. Here, the officials answer in their own words questions related to their campaign goals:

(Editor's note: Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle did not respond to the questionnaire due to a family emergency.)

Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella

Q: During the election, you said you would support the Crime-Free Housing ordinance and new computer software for the Police Department, and continue to work with Neighborhood Watch. What have you done on these issues?

I was chairman of the Crime-Free Housing Task Force. It took a long time to craft this ordinance, but we designed a program that will work well for Belleville. This is a working document and it could take some revision as it is put into action. Now I have been appointed to the Crime-Free Housing Committee, which will meet at least twice a year to review the ordinance and accompanying computer software to recommend any necessary changes. Neighborhood Watch is a grassroots form of government. I am fortunate to have an excellent co-alderman, Ward 1 Alderman Mike Heisler. If one of us cannot attend a Neighborhood Watch meeting, the other does and then we catch each other up on what happened. We intend to bring back our Ward 1 town hall meetings now that Crime-Free Housing meetings no longer conflict with our schedule.

Q: Could you tell us about a specific goal for your second term in office and a detailed plan of action?

My first priority for Ward 1 is the installation of sidewalks on Lucinda Avenue between Muren Boulevard and Scheel Street. It is a matter of safety for children walking to Jefferson School and I hope to get it done within a year. Also, the old swimming pool is in Ward 1 and neighbors want to see it removed and turned into a park. I will lobby for this, but I realize it may take some time to accomplish.

My top priority on a citywide basis concerns the Police Department. We must hire more police officers and we must relocate the department to a more appropriate facility. The new site should consolidate all police services under one roof -- one that does not leak -- to allow employees to work more efficiently and safely. I look forward to seeing the results from the consulting firm. The study will give us some options.

Ward 2 Alderman Janet Schmidt

Q: While campaigning, you said you would not support the sales tax increase extension, and the city needed a thorough forensic audit. Since then, you voted to extend the tax increase for four years. Why has your position changed on these issues?

During the campaign I made statements based on information that I had. After taking office, I became aware that there was no cause to request a forensic audit. The mayor, city attorney, finance director and other city employees on every level have been very open and forthcoming in responding to all my questions. It became obvious to me that a sales tax increase extension was needed. Extending the 0.25 percent sales tax increase is one issue I heard about from the most important people -- my constituents. The vast majority overwhelmingly supported the sales tax increase extension.

Q: You have mentioned your support of allowing backyard chicken coops in the city. Why don't we have them?

The issue of backyard chickens has, on my own volition, taken a back seat to the much needed Crime-Free Housing ordinance. Our Housing Department has been busy with getting this program going and, I must say, they and the Police Department are doing an amazing job. The issue of backyard chickens will be on the agendas of several aldermanic committees in January -- including the Public Health and Housing Committee and the Ordinance and Legal Review Committee -- before it goes to the full City Council.

Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Anthony

Q: How far along are you on goals mentioned during the election, such as establishing a home repair program to help residents who cannot afford their own repairs, and bringing more green space to the west end?

As you know, funding for housing repairs is hard to come by. We are looking at St. Clair County community development programs as a possible source for homeowners to request non-repayable loans. With the help of Bob Sabo, the director of the Health, Housing and Building Department, we conducted an assessment of the most needy homes in the ward. This is an ongoing project.

We are still in search of greatly needed green and recreation space on the far west end. Notably, we support the demolition of the old Loflin Furniture store at Illinois 157 and West Main Street. Construction is underway for a bike trail extension across Main Street to Signal Hill. I want to see the final leg of the bike trail, from the Memorial Hospital MetroLink Station to the city's west boundary at Lebanon Road, anchored by a small park or recreation area for residents there.

Q: You believe your ward is in dire need of street improvements and businesses suffer because the area is not in a TIF district. Where do you stand now on your idea of establishing a TIF in Ward 4 to pay for these improvements?

The other Ward 4 alderman, Jim Davidson, and I are stressing this concept of establishing a TIF for Ward 4. We have met with Mayor Mark Eckert, the economic development staff and residents to set goals for establishing a TIF and research other means of funding. We hope and pray that we'll find a way to address the growing blight in the ward's far west end, including Bellevue Park Plaza and the former $20 Shoe Outlet. We appreciate that North 78th Street was overlaid with new pavement this year and the city's maintenance of Mount Hope Cemetery. The visual change will have a tremendous impact on home values and quality of life on that street. Hopefully, homeowners will be inspired to fix up their properties. Through Chuck Schaeffer, director of the Streets and Public Works departments, and his staff, the city has repaired hundreds of potholes, streets, curbs and sidewalks.

Ward 4 Alderman Jim Davidson (appointed)

Q: When you were appointed, you said you wanted to see Ward 4 grow, and you will work to help maintain the strength of the area. How have you worked toward this goal since taking office?

I wholeheartedly supported the new Crime-Free Housing ordinance, which my constituents and I believe gives police and responsible rental property owners a strong and viable tool to maintain neighborhood standards. This ordinance benefits all stakeholders: the city, renters, homeowners and landlords. I've also voted for policies that maintain and promote community livability because I believe in the "broken window theory," the concept that neighborhood degradation comes from a perception that no one cares. A broken window that isn't repaired leads to more broken windows. So if the city does not promote maintaining the appearance of our landscape -- streets, curbs, sidewalks, lighting -- then our housing will gradually deteriorate. Housing is the cornerstone of a neighborhood and neighborhoods are the foundation of a community. I am a middle-class retiree whose home is my single largest investment and I believe that empowering strong neighborhoods is a necessary government function.

Q: As someone who is new to public office, and serving only a half term, could you tell us about a specific city issue you would like to address in the next two years and give us a detailed plan of action?

It's not easy to specify one issue. The wants and needs of residents constantly change. I want a stop sign at 44th Street and South Park Drive, s handicap parking sign on Union Avenue and a street light on Forest Avenue; more police officers; improvements to our libraries and bike trails; new traffic counters; and a box truck and pipeline camera system for our Wastewater Division. I want to be a part of the continued progress and growth of Lindenwood University and Southwestern Illinois College. I want to see more road projects like Juanita Place and McClintock Avenue and the building of the new St. Paul's Home and The Cottages at Cathedral Square. I want to save the Meredith Home and I believe in "Complete Streets" and sustainability. I'm looking forward to updating our city's comprehensive plan.

Ward 5 Alderman Phil Silsby

Q: You have expressed support of finding a way to provide a new public pool. Have you taken any action on this? Please elaborate.

The loss of the pool in Belleville is a great concern to many, including myself. It isn't simple finding a solution to providing a new pool for our community. However, efforts are being made at this time to begin the process of finding a way to build a pool and have a maintenance strategy in place that will not cause a financial burden on the city and taxpayers. I have encouraged the mayor and city staff to proceed with plans to find individuals and corporations within the community willing to entertain a partnership on building a new pool. Mayor Eckert and staff are in discussions with various individuals who have an interest in partnering with the city. It is a lengthy process to review and discuss all aspects.

Q: Since the election, how have you continued to work on developing and expanding business opportunities, and work with residents and businesses to promote the city as a place to work and shop?

I serve on the Economic Development and Annexation Committee, which promotes and pursues opportunities to grow businesses and residences. Since the election, our committee has approved one new development: The Cottages at Cathedral Square. This project will help a blighted area and meet the residential needs of our senior citizens. The administration is in discussions with a hotel interested in a Belleville location and these talks are progressing. Regarding the development and future of St. Elizabeth's Hospital, I have told hospital administrators we are quite willing to work with them on providing a quality health-care facility for our citizens. The new roundabouts on Centreville Avenue and Illinois 15 will help current and future businesses in that area. We hope in the coming year to update Centreville Avenue to complement the roundabouts. And, I am always encouraging the administration to promote our city through the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce.

Ward 6 Alderman Bob White

Q: During the election, you said you would pay for hiring more police officers by putting tax increment financing money back into the general fund. Now that you're in office, you have given approval on TIF funds for several projects. Where do you stand on this issue now?

I remain in favor of reducing the number of TIF districts in the city. I believe there are two main barriers to reaching this goal: (1) the complexity of redistributing the funds in each district. I have been told that remaining funds would be returned to the county for distribution according to the tax levy in place. This would significantly lessen the funds the city could retrieve for return to the general fund; (2) overcoming both the city administration and council's "dependence" on having the option of using TIF money. Unfortunately, TIF funds are currently the only choice available for some projects. The general fund is exhausted by existing obligations. At the Aug. 19 council meeting to extend the 0.25 percent sales tax, I and other independent aldermen proposed amendments that would have required revenue from the tax be used to hire more police officers. Those amendments were defeated.

Q: One of your ideas was to make City Council meeting agendas available seven to 10 days before a meeting instead of the standard two days. Is this still feasible?

Publishing City Council agendas seven to 10 days prior to the scheduled meeting was a part of my goal to generate greater citizen involvement in the city's governmental process. Mayor Eckert and the city administration have taken a step in the direction of publishing council agendas earlier by adding an additional day. The agendas are now released on the Thursday before a City Council meeting rather than on the Friday before a City Council meeting. I would like to see the timeline extended and will continue to work with the mayor and his staff to move in that direction.

Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti

Q: Upon being elected, you said, "If it's the only thing I ever do as alderman, I want to put something in that old Walmart building." How have you acted on this goal?

It has really only been seven months since my first City Council meeting -- not really a huge amount of time to leave a mark. I'm talking to a consulting firm to network for possible businesses to move into the old Walmart building on Carlyle Avenue. The lease just ran up on the building, so up until a couple of months ago, there wasn't going to be anyone or anything moving into that space.

Question: You told voters your goal was to reform the way the city uses TIFs and that you would be against any tax increases. What steps have you taken toward these goals?

As far as TIF reform is concerned, you'll have to go back and look at my voting record, but I think I've been consistent with the campaign platform. I voted against the John Conkright deal. (In the $260,000 agreement, the city bought a building and two adjacent parking lots and gave the Ben's business owner money for renovations.) I also tried to broker a compromise on the 0.25 percent sales tax increase (extending it for two years and placing the issue before voters as a nonbinding referendum instead of four years -- when the issue was before the aldermanic Finance Committee.) The mayor first voted for this compromise and later reneged, so I voted no on that tax.

Ward 8 Alderman James Musgrove

Q: You have been an alderman in your ward since 2001. Are there any new issues since then, and what will you do during this term that is different?

A lot of things have changed for the better in Ward 8 over the past 12 plus years. Many streets have been resurfaced and curbs have been replaced. Look at Glenview Drive and, lately, Juanita Place. Police patrols have increased and numerous homes have been improved. Some derelict buildings on 74th Street have been torn down and turned into green space. I have been working with the Public Health and Housing Committee to get a condemned house to either be fixed after a fire or to be torn down. I helped get a derelict house on Winchester Drive torn down and we now have a new home at that location. Through the city, I got large rocks to line the sides of ditches that have fast-moving water to stop erosion in those areas. Also, the Sewer Department has helped, when I called, to address some problem rain water pipes.

Q: Over various campaigns you have broadly expressed the need to reduce crime, fix roads and enforce building codes. Could you tell us about a specific goal and a detailed plan of action?

I attend two City Council meetings, a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting and some Planning Commission meetings every month and I am active on four city committees -- Economic Development and Annexation, Public Health and Housing, Finance, and Ordinance and Legal Review. Two years ago I started working with another alderman to get a Neighborhood Watch program started. We met several times the first year and eventually we secured firemen and policemen as guest speakers. This year we joined with another group of neighbors concerned about crime and had a large meeting with two guest speakers. I reported two suspected drug houses to the Police Department. There are ongoing sewer improvements and resurfacing on Ladue Road and we plan to upgrade as many streets in Ward 8 next year as funding allows. We also want to improve the appearance of the city's entrance on the west end of Main Street.

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