O’Fallon’s new mayor says he is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work for the city’s residents.
Herb Roach is O’Fallon’s mayor-elect after defeated City Clerk Phil Goodwin in the April 4 municipal election, with 3,024 votes to Goodwin’s 2,518.
Roach hopes his continued visibility and desire for open communications will encourage more citizens to get involved in the city.
“As I walked to about 6,000 homes, people were so willing to share their viewpoints. They wanted to have someone listen,” he said. “My campaign was all grassroots. I want to be for everybody. I had support from different people of all sectors.
He succeeds a man who spent 20 years in the office. Gary Graham has served a record-breaking five terms, first elected in 1997.
But Roach is used to challenges, and said his business experience will help the city move forward. He ran a campaign focused on fiscal responsibility and change, stating his goals were to decrease unnecessary expenditures, increase communication, and develop better partnerships in the region.
His vision for the future includes rolling back the most recent property tax rate increase, freezing the city water rate while reviewing future needs, and reducing city debt, force the city to live within its means. He wants to concentrate on infrastructure and services, while being responsible about growth and development.
He opposes tax increment financing districts (TIFs).
“TIFs negatively impact our schools. They shift costs to our citizens and schools, and take tax dollars from the schools,” he said.
Roach has been an alderman the past six years, and spent eight years before that on the O’Fallon District 90 School Board. A retired business executive, with more than 40 years’ management and strategic planning experience in manufacturing, distribution and banking, he also touted 35 years in civic involvement. A small business owner, he is vice president of SCORE, a mentoring organization for small businesses, and serves on the board of directors of Lindenwood University.
Roach will be sworn in Monday, May 1, along with new City Clerk Jerry Mouser, a former 18-year alderman, incumbent Treasurer David Hursey, and seven aldermen.
Aldermen re-elected include Matthew Gilreath in Ward 3, unopposed Courtney Marsh in Ward 5 and Raymond Holden in Ward 6. New aldermen include Ross Rosenberg in Ward 1, Mark Morton in Ward 4, Andrew Lopinot in Ward 5, and Dan Witt in Ward 7. The council has 14 seats, two aldermen per ward.
The Ward 2 race between incumbent Jerry Albrecht and challenger Mark Riley, ended in a tie, with 489 votes apiece. St. Clair County will canvass election results on April 25. Write-in ballots must be received, with the postmark of April 4, by April 18, and the county records indicate 27 write-in ballots hadn’t been counted election night.
The Progress sat down with the mayor-elect to discuss what lies ahead.
Q: First things first. What are your priorities?
A: We are going to be fiscally responsible. When we put things out for bid, we are going to make sure we get the best bang for the buck. Single- or no-bid contracts are going to stop.
I voted no on the two recent bids for Destination O’Fallon, not because I’m against it, but because we only had one bid each on $4.8 million and $1 million projects. If we’re spending $9 million, we need to have more than one bid.
I want to get feedback from the aldermen.
I want to work with other cities in the county. If we work together, see about different grant programs, and go in together on things we purchase, we can save money, and it’s a win-win for all of us. We’re all part of the same county. They do this in other cities in the northern part of the state.
Q: What are your tasks now as you prepare to take office?
A: I am meeting with all the department heads, city administrator, and all the aldermen. I want to ask the aldermen what committees would they like to serve on, give me their top three choices.
Q: How will this transition take place? Mayor Graham was in office for 20 years, so this is a big change for people.
A: I will be meeting with Mayor Graham. He has been on vacation. I have talked to him. We are going to have as smooth as transition as possible. I have received nothing but cooperation from Mayor Graham and the City Administrator (Walter Denton).
Q: Why do you think you were elected?
A: I was willing to listen to their concerns. The public wants someone that they know will be looking out for their tax dollars.
They knew about my business background and want good solid leadership. They knew I had economic development experience.
Q: There were many stories going around during the campaign. Anything you want to clear up now about what was said?
A: Things were said that were totally untrue. I think the residents saw through it, and it backfired. I am not going to waste my breath mentioning these things.
I think we’ve seen what polarization does, in the national election, and we don’t need that in O’Fallon. We have to stay above it.
I am an Independent, neither a Republican or Democrat. I have never voted a straight ticket in my life.
Why shouldn’t I know Mark Kern (St. Clair County Board chairman)? I have known him for 12 years. We serve on the Lindenwood University board together.
Q: How do you hope to engage the City Council in moving forward?
A: I want them to walk the streets with me, not just their individual wards. I want them to see the real needs that we have.
Whether you are for or against something, a good board in any major organization is, after the yes votes and the no votes, and you realize you are on the same team and move forward together.
I don’t want us to skip a beat, not slow down. The things we got going put O’Fallon in a positive light. We can’t stay in the past.
Q: As for staffing, there were rumors circulating about positions you might cut. What is your feeling on current staff positions and what you would like to change?
A: I have had calls from people who work for the city. I assured them no one is getting fired. They don’t need to get their resumes out. I didn’t realize how nervous people were about their jobs. I told them to tell the others that there would be no mass firings.
These are good people. We need to use a lot of their talents. They have a lot of information about the community that is not written down. I don’t know what they were told in the past on how to do their jobs. I want to find that out. I don’t know the capabilities of the employees. I want to find out what they want to do. We’re going to have goals and objectives. I want to get us all on the same page.
From my years of managing, I worked on six mergers and acquisitions, and headed up three transition teams, and I told them what my approach was to those. I have to find out what people can do. As long as everyone is doing their job, they don’t have to worry about being gone. It really put some people on edge.
Q: Transparency has been an issue raised by residents. How can you reassure residents of your commitment?
A: I want to find out what we can change, modify, add to — ways for people to give input and feedback. They like to know that someone is listening. There are different ways we can communicate. I am going to have quarterly town hall meetings. I want to make it easy for people to come talk to us. It’s going to be “ground zero.”
I will attend committee meetings if aldermen asked me to come. I will always learn from a discussion. It’s best to hear both sides, because if you only hear one side, you are missing something.
Everybody will know exactly where we’re at. At the meetings, we’re going to find ways of opening up with the public. People should feel free to express themselves.
I want people to know that whatever they want to talk about, I’ll be there. I’m going to have Saturday hours once a month, and open city hall one to two nights a month, so that I am available. I’ll be in the council chambers, and they can pull up a chair to a table.
I am not going to screen my calls. I’ll be taking them directly. If I’m not there, I will respond in the next four working hours.
Q: This is a huge undertaking. Tell me about your commitment to your town, as you have been a part of it your entire life.
A: We have the best of both worlds. We have good schools. I-64 goes right through the middle of our town. We have great public safety. It’s all pluses. We have a lot to work with, and we need to do it in a smart manner, with planned growth.
I am proud of the fact that I did not miss one council meeting as an alderman. I only missed two committee meetings — my daughter was having a baby, and to attend a funeral.
I believe that if you are going to serve the public, you have to put forth the effort.
I am still going to be working the American Legion fish fry and the Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll Drive — people have been asking me. It’s another way to be out front and meeting with people.
This community means so much to me. Five generations of my family are buried here. My son is here, grandchildren, so many good friends.
When I was walking to houses, I would see people who would tell me, “You were my T-ball coach, my baseball coach.”
I know what it is to work hard. I was born into a family with one heck of a work ethic. I can’t say enough about what I have learned from them. I learned as much from my mom and dad as I did any professors.
Q: Any passion project that you hope will be a signature for your term?
A: I don’t have one particular project for my term. I want to serve all of our citizens and address the needs that we have throughout our community. We will keep our city moving forward, open up communications and transparency to our citizens, and use good management practices to have fiscal responsibility with the dollars that we receive from our citizens.
Q: How do you feel today about the work ahead?
A: I’m truly excited to work with our City Council to move our city forward, and earn the faith and confidence that the citizens of O’Fallon have shown in me.
- Age: 70
- Family: wife Nancy; children Lea, Kate and Todd.
- Occupation: Retired business executive; worked for Basler Electric and Artex International, both in Highland, and Heartland Bank in Clayton, Mo.
- Outlook: “I hope we work together to make our community continue to grow and prosper.”