The Washington Park Village Board on Friday voted to terminate the contract of the mayor’s consultant and to hire an attorney to represent the board, but the mayor vetoed both actions.
Mayor Ann Rodgers’ veto will prompt another meeting, the trustees think, to allow them to vote to override the mayor’s veto.
Village Clerk Rickie Thomas said another meeting will be held Dec. 20, or a special board meeting will be called to override the mayor’s veto. “I’ll get with the attorney and see which one the law calls for,” she said.
The board voted to terminate a $60,000 contract the village had with Ray Coleman, whose title was governmental affairs consultant/mayor’s aide.
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Trustees tried to fire Coleman earlier in the week, but the mayor wouldn’t call for a vote on the issue.
At Friday’s meeting, Trustee Carleen Tucker again put her motion on the floor, recommending Coleman’s contract be terminated. The vote was unanimous to terminate Coleman’s contract. Two Coleman supporters on the board, Herod Hill and Shawn Newell, were not present at the meeting Friday.
Tucker, in explaining why she wanted Coleman out, said, “It was important to terminate Mr. Coleman’s contract because he came in telling us what all he was going to do for the village,” and she doesn’t see some key things he promised to do.
“We fired our old grants writer because he said we didn’t need her. He said he could write grants and bring businesses to the village. I don’t see any grants that he has done. I don’t see new businesses. We can use the money we’re paying him to hire more people in public works, buy police cars, fix our streets, tear down more derelict homes.”
Tucker said her recommendation and vote to terminate Coleman’s contract is nothing against the mayor. She said she is not on one side or another. “I just have to use my voice and do the things I feel are right for the village,” she said.
Coleman later called the board’s actions “a political witch-hunt.” He vowed to take the matter to court and force the trustees to prove that he isn’t fulfilling his contract.
Coleman has also filed an online complaint with the state’s Office of Executive Inspector General, alleging that he believes Thomas is conducting political activity on work time and that Thomas urged Tucker to seek Coleman’s removal.
Coleman’s complaint also states that he wants Thomas’ employment application reviewed “to see if he revealed a past theft conviction and firing from the Washington Park Police Department for stealing a robe from a store in the St. Clair Square Mall in Fairview Heights.”
Thomas said he has no criminal record and does not engage in political activity at work.
“I was terminated from the Village of Washington Park Police Department for exposing illegal activity in the police department,” Thomas said. “I sued the village and won my lawsuit in federal court. I was ordered to be reinstated by Judge William D. Stiehl.”
Tucker said no one urged her to seek Coleman’s dismissal.
“That was my decision. It was not based on any sides. I did this for my community. I live here. We barely have any money to do the things we need to do. He was getting $5,000 a month. His name shows up all over the bills and warrants. He had his fingers in everything in Washington Park. Everything went through Ray (Coleman) before the mayor,” Tucker said.
Thomas said he wanted Coleman’s contract terminated and is happy that the board agreed. “We’re hoping to use the money Coleman was getting to beef up the police and fire departments,” he said.
As to why he voted in favor of hiring St. Clair County Democratic Party Chairman Bob Sprague to serve as the board’s attorney for the sum of $2,500 a month, Thomas said that was sprung on him at the last minute.
“That was new to me. I didn’t know what to do with that,” he said.
He added, “The hiring of an attorney was on the agenda. It didn’t have the attorney’s name on it. I chose Sprague because he will do a good job in making sure village trustees understand the law in items they are voting on and in terms of spending village funds.”
The village already had an attorney, Eric Evans, of Granite City. Thomas said Evans charges the village for a lot of communication with Coleman. Evans could not immediately be reached for comment.
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503