City attorney calls lawsuit to remove ESL officials 'frivolous'

News-DemocratJanuary 24, 2014 

An East St. Louis activist is asking a judge to remove the city's mayor and council members for alleged misconduct in office. City Attorney Michael Wagner said the allegations are untrue and called the lawsuit "frivolous."

Matt Hawkins, who is president of the public watchdog group Civic Alliance of East St. Louis, filed a lawsuit in May asking a judge to remove the city's five elected officials, including Mayor Alvin Parks and council members Roy Mosley, Emeka Jackson, Latoya Greenwood and Robert Eastern III. The lawsuit is filed under his name, not the Civic Alliance.

A hearing on Friday before St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker was continued until Feb. 7 after the city filed a motion to dismiss the suit.

Hawkins alleges in his lawsuit that city officials violated state law related to the Freedom of Information Act and state law dictating the administration of tax increment financing (TIF) districts in the city.

Parks did not attend the court hearing and could not be reached later for comment.

East St. Louis City Attorney Michael Wagner said of the allegations, "It's a shame taxpayers have to fight these frivolous lawsuits."

Hawkins is asking the judge to levy $435,000 in fines upon the city, and that all fines be given to the Civic Alliance -- a nonprofit group founded by Hawkins "in order to fund the continued independent oversight of the city of East St. Louis."

Wagner said Hawkins was asking the court to impose penalties not permitted by state law.

"He is essentially asking the court to make new laws," Wagner said. "We do not believe the allegations are true. Even if they were true, the penalties sought are not allowable by state law."

Hawkins said he hoped others would pursue similar legal action to hold elected officials accountable.

"Not just in East St. Louis, but in other towns where elected officials have created a bad situation," he said. "Citizens should fight back even without legal representation. I hope this shows others how to fight back legally. When you operate in the law, there is a much better chance to make a difference. It doesn't pay well, but it's priceless."

Hawkins also seeks $100,000 in damages allegedly stemming from the city's improper administration of TIF funds from 2009-13. "TIF has taken funds from the (city's) general fund that could be used for public safety instead in a high-crime area that needs twice as many police officers on the streets as we have at this time," he said.

East St. Louis collected the second-largest amount of TIF funds in St. Clair and Madison counties during the past nine years, according to county property tax records. The city collected about $98.1 million in that time period.

In his role as a community activist, Hawkins also has had an ongoing legal dispute against the East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners.

In a federal lawsuit, he alleges the commission has 5,200 unlawfully registered voters on its voting rolls. He seeks elections in East St. Louis to be conducted by county or state officials instead of the local commission.

Commissioners have asked for the federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Election Commission Executive Director Kandrise Mosby has said the commission's practices follow state law and it conducts purges of the voter rolls every two years.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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