'Politics at its worst'? Belleville Township keeps daytime meetings

News-DemocratApril 8, 2014 

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert in a 2013 file photo.

ZIA NIZAMI — znizami@bnd.com

— The majority of the 60 people who attended Belleville Township's annual meeting Tuesday night voted to keep the board's meeting time at 3 p.m. instead of changing to a nighttime meeting.

About 45 voted for the 3 p.m. slot and about 15 voted to have the meetings at 7 p.m.

During an annual township meeting, any registered voter in Belleville is allowed to participate in the meeting by voting on agenda items, not just elected board members, according to the state Township Code.

Residents who lobbied for a time change said the later meeting time is more convenient for those who work, including elected officials, and allow for more participation from the public.

Others supported an earlier meeting time, arguing that a night meeting is not actually convenient for the groups of people the township serves: older and disabled adults. And, it will cost the township more in overtime to staff the meetings after business hours.

Belleville resident Donna McKelvey said Tuesday's meeting was the first township meeting she could attend because it was scheduled for 6 p.m., after her work day.

Melinda Hult, a Belleville alderwoman, said Tuesday's crowd proves that a nighttime meeting is more convenient for the public.

"It's extremely clear people have voted on this issue with their feet," Hult said.

Only about a handful of people, excluding board members and employees, typically attend the regular township meetings at 3 p.m.

Larry Wimpe, a former Belleville Township trustee of 11 years, disagreed.

Changing the meeting time will not make a difference in attendance of monthly meetings, Wimpe said, and Tuesday's meeting was only well attended because of politicians rallying their bases.

"Both sides asked people to be here," Wimpe said of the Belleville Good Government Party and political independents. "That's the only reason they're here. Let's be honest with ourselves."

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert applauded the great turnout at the meeting, but said the regular township meetings are sparsely attended and does not warrant paying staff overtime.

Eckert said after the meeting: "Does it mean the meeting time should never change? I'm not saying that. But today it's just a handful of people forcing a change. When you think of who the township serves -- the elderly, the handicapped, the broken -- they don't like to be out at night."

Attendees on Tuesday first nominated Ken Kinsella, a Belleville alderman, instead of resident Michael Hagberg, to moderate the meeting.

Then the majority of the group voted on setting a regular meeting time for the year.

Immediately after the vote, Township Clerk Dallas Cook said, "Ladies and gentlemen, politics at its worst."

Cook, an independent, elaborated on his comment after the meeting. He said he was upset the Good Government Party brought a majority of attendees to the meeting just to oppose an issue backed by their political opponents.

For the next year, the board will continue to meet at 3 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at the Township Hall at 111 W. A St.

In September, about 300 residents attended a township meeting in this special format, that allows residents a verbal vote, leading to the election of Trustee Joe Hubbard to replace the late Paul Klingler.

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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