Belleville council gives more time for Meredith Home proposals

News-DemocratApril 7, 2014 

— Mayor Mark Eckert and his political opponents accused each other of political grandstanding and games at the City Council meeting on Monday before voting to give potential developers of the Meredith Home more time to come forward.

Without the extension, the city would have gone forward with plans to demolish the building at 16 S. Illinois St. and turn the land into a memorial park.

Eckert said he listened to preservationists' pleas for more time to find a use for the building and he does not see demolition work occurring in the Public Square during the city's 200th anniversary year.

Eckert asked aldermen to extend the deadline to Dec. 15, instead of May 1, for proposals to redevelop the Meredith Home.

Eckert's support for an extension, however, is tied to aldermen agreeing to commit money in the 2015-16 budget for demolition and asbestos abatement if no "suitable proposals" arise.

This is where some of the council's aldermen object: While some aldermen want to give developers more time to come forward, they do not necessarily want to allocate public money for demolition.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden asked the council to divide Eckert's proposal into two motions.

This way, aldermen could vote separately on the issue of giving more time to developers and committing to a project in the 2015-16 budget, Hayden said.

"I think the word of the month was cooperation, wasn't it?" Hayden said.

The council voted 10-6 to deny Hayden's motion to divide the vote.

Hayden then accused Eckert and aldermen of his political party, the Belleville Good Government Party, of "playing games."

Hayden said Eckert has enough votes to pass the proposal either way, so why not allow aldermen to vote on the issue separately?

Hayden and the council's other independent aldermen were in favor of dividing the vote: Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult, Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle, Ward 6 Alderman Bob White, Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti and Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider.

Schneider then asked to table the issue for more information. Her request was voted down, 12-4. Hult, Randle and Galetti supported Schneider's motion.

The council then voted 11-4-1 to approve Eckert's proposal as is. Hult, Randle, Galetti and Schneider voted "no" and Hayden said "present."

After the vote, the council took a five-minute break before going into executive session.

Hayden, Eckert and City Clerk Dallas Cook exchanged heated words about grandstanding and cooperation across party lines.

The argument then escalated among council members, and Hult accused Ward 5 Alderman Phil Silsby and other GGP members of always voting together.

Silsby responded: "How many of the independents vote as a party?"

Silsby said his votes are not based on party affiliation, but on what he thinks is right for the city. He said Hult has some good ideas and he has supported them in the past.

"Don't make me feel bad that I disagree with you," Silsby told Hult.

Before the final vote, Eckert said he shaped his proposal based on a commitment city officials made to Belleville attorney Bruce Cook and his wife, Sandra Cook.

After the city bought the Meredith Home building from the Catholic Diocese of Belleville in 2010, the Cooks gave the city $500,000 to pay off the city's $492,101 loan for the property.

In turn, the Cooks want the land turned into a memorial park for their daughter, Susannah Marison, who died from a brain tumor.

If the city does not go through with these plans, the city should repay the Cooks, Eckert said.

In other news:

*The council voted to approve more than $1.5 million worth of contracts with companies to do infrastructure work in 2014. This includes any unexpected ditching, sidewalk, culvert and asphalt maintenance work.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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