Board member files Open Meetings Act lawsuit against Madison County
Two longtime department heads are out after votes by the Madison County Board, bringing the total of fired administrators to eight since December.
When County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler first took office in December following his election over incumbent Alan Dunstan, seven department heads were fired and offered severance packages. Of those, three replacements were approved by the county board within weeks: county administrator Doug Hulme, animal control director Mike Firsching and information services director Rob Dorman.
Now added to the list of ousted leaders: Larry Ringering, director of emergency management. Ringering has been with the Madison County Emergency Management Agency for 12 years, nearly 10 as director. The county board narrowly approved Todd Fulton as his replacement in a 14-11 vote Wednesday.
Several board members asked Prenzler why Ringering was being replaced. Prenzler replied that Ringering had accepted a severance package. Several board members repeated the question, but other board members argued that Ringering’s firing was not relevant to Fulton’s approval.
Ringering was not present at the meeting, but commented in advance. “I think it should be pretty obvious to everyone why the severance package was offered,” he said. “My loyalties have never been with any one party but to the citizens of Madison County. They are the ones we should work for.”
Ringering said he had spent 12 years building up the agency. “I hold my head high,” he said. “I’m very proud of what I have accomplished and very proud of my staff for their unselfish effort in making this agency what it is today. I hope the effort will continue in the same direction into the future.”
Prior to the vote, board member Lisa Ciampoli, R-Collinsville, called for reducing Fulton’s salary from the proposed $85,000 to $58,000. Ringering’s salary had been approximately $68,700.
The salary reduction was approved in a 19-6 vote. Fulton’s approval was much closer: 14-11.
In addition, facilities management director Kurt Geschwend had been removed as director when Prenzler took office, but he remained a county employee. Christopher Doucleff was originally proposed to replace him, but his name was later withdrawn.
Prenzler then nominated Rob Schmidt, who was approved in a 14-11 vote Wednesday night with four members absent.
Several board members also protested Geschwend’s demotion.
“We have a facility director who is a licensed engineer and has worked in facilities management for 15 years,” said Jack Minner, D-Edwardsville. “He’s done a very good job, and I’ve never had one complaint about him. I cannot support paying $9,000 a year more for someone who only has an associate’s degree in engineering. This is an appointment for political purposes.”
Liz Dalton, D-Collinsville, said she intended to vote no because she had not received a resume detailing Schmidt’s qualifications. Ciampoli called for Schmidt’s salary to be reduced from $104,000 to $95,600, which failed for lack of a second. Michael Parkinson, D-Granite City, said he felt demoting the current department head with a pay cut was not a good reward for years of loyal service.
Board member Tom McRae, R-Bethalto, said he was also concerned, but after speaking with Schmidt by phone, he believes he is qualified for the work. He said Schmidt has managed commercial space and historic buildings, and would be taking a pay cut to work for the county. “The two places we can save money are (information technology) and buildings and maintenance,” McRae said. “I think he is uniquely qualified.”
In total, that makes eight department heads fired or demoted since Prenzler took office, with five positions now filled. Remaining open are three more positions:
▪ Director of community development. Prenzler had nominated Kristen Poshard, then withdrew the nomination. Poshard has since been hired as chief deputy of community development. Prenzler said he intends to “formally appoint” Poshard in the near future and introduced her as “heading up community development” at a recent economic conference. “I think Kristen’s doing an outstanding job,” Prenzler said.
▪ Director of administrative services. Prenzler had nominated Adler and later withdrew the nomination. Adler has since been hired in another deputy position.
▪ Director of employment and training.