Let the sunshine in: Man who filed lawsuit to remove ESL mayor calls ruling 'a victory'

News-DemocratJuly 5, 2014 

East St. Louis mayor Alvin Parks Jr. (center) in a 2014 BND file photo.

TIM VIZER — tvizer@bnd.com Buy Photo

A St. Clair County judge dismissed part of a lawsuit seeking to remove East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks from office but could fine the city for allegedly violating state Sunshine laws.

The legal fight began in May 2013 when Matt Hawkins, president of watchdog group Civic Alliance of East St. Louis, filed a lawsuit against city leaders alleging violations of the state’s Freedom of Information Act and a state law dictating the administration of tax increment financing districts.

Earlier this week, St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker dismissed Hawkin’s attempt to remove Parks from office, and in a ruling found the city may be penalized for allegedly not following the state’s FOIA. Hawkins said the FOIA-related ruling was a “great victory” and he was pleased the court upheld the law.

“Not only is it a victory in East St. Louis, but I hope it is also seen as a victory for the rest of the county and the 20th Judicial Circuit Court when residents have local elected officials who are not willing to abide by the Freedom of Information Act,” Hawkins said. “It is unfortunate the courts have to get involved but the release was not possible from any other source.”

East St. Louis Attorney Michael Wagner could not be reached for comment. Wagner previously said the allegations are untrue and Hawkins was asking the judge to impose penalties not permitted by state law.

Hawkins seeks $25,000 in fines against the city for not responding to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act within five business days. He sought copies of minutes from the East St. Louis Tax Increment Finance Joint Review Board and other reports.

The judge dismissed Hawkins’ request to levy $56,000 in additional fines against the city for alleged violations of state law related to TIF districts.

Kolker also ruled Hawkins would not receive $100,000 in damages from the city for alleged “economic damages” upon Hawkins and his family for alleged “reckless and noncompliant conduct of the tax increment finance program from 2009 to 2013.” Some of the economic damages included lost employment opportunities, inferior education and reduced property values.

“Under the guise of development, TIF has taken funds from the 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,” Hawkins alleged in court documents.

Hawkins said he looks forward to solidifying and closing this chapter of the lawsuit and focusing on a federal lawsuit involving voting rights against the East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners.

The federal suit alleges 5,200 unlawfully registered voters remain on the city’s voting rolls and seeks that elections in the city be handled by county or state officials instead of the commission.

Commissioners seek the dismissal of the lawsuit. Election Commission Executive Director Kandrise Mosby previously said the commission follows state law and purges the voter rolls every two years.

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

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