Metro-East News

Madison County votes on controversial first meeting, VAC payments

Madison County Board members debated multiple controversies before voting on some long-standing issues, including its first meeting on Dec. 5, litigation with the Veterans Assistance Council and a controversial hire.

Most of the debate centered on a resolution that declares the board’s Dec. 5 meeting legal, which has been an ongoing controversy since new Chairman Kurt Prenzler took office.

In that first meeting, Prenzler handed the gavel over to political ally Steve Adler, who had just stepped down from the county board. Several board members expressed reservations at the time and at subsequent meetings that the meeting was not legal, as county ordinances state that only a chairman or vice chairman can preside over a meeting. Prenzler has said he did it because Adler had more experience.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons issued his legal opinion that the meeting might not have been legal, and thus the subsequent actions of the current board might also be illegal because they were sworn in at that meeting.

The resolution approved by the board Wednesday declared that the Dec. 5 meeting was legal, that Prenzler was presiding over the meeting, and all subsequent actions of the board were authorized. But several board members had concerns about the proposal.

It seems that we are trying to rewrite history here.

Art Asadorian, D-Granite City

“It seems that we are trying to rewrite history here,” said board member Art Asadorian, D-Granite City. “We can’t approve this, because the designated individual was not legitimate to run the meeting. He was no longer a county board member.”

Board members asked Gibbons his opinion. Gibbons had written his own proposal, which would involve swearing in the board again and affirming their actions since Dec. 5 in a vote. That proposal was mailed to county board members, but the government relations committee chose to present Prenzler’s proposal instead.

“I did not draft this resolution and it is not my preferred plan,” Gibbons said. “However, I want to make it clear that whatever happens going forward, the state’s attorney’s office will zealously defend the county in all matters. That is our duty… We provide advice, but the board is the governing body.”

Board member Michael Parkinson, D-Granite City, said he believed the resolution was illegal, because it ignores the procedure for amending the ordinance requiring meetings to be chaired by the chairman or an acting board member. Parkinson has filed a lawsuit to prevent the resolution from being considered, which is currently pending in Madison County Circuit Court.

At one point, a board member asked Prenzler who had drafted the resolution, as Gibbons had not. Prenzler said it was a joint effort from himself, county administrator Doug Hulme and others. However, Prenzler had previously told the Belleville News-Democrat editorial board that his political ally Don Weber had drafted the ordinance. Weber confirmed that he donated his time to do so as a concerned citizen.

Later Prenzler clarified that while Weber wrote the ordinance, it was discussed among members of the government relations committee. The language as approved by the county board Wednesday was the same as that written by Weber, he said.

I believe the people of Madison County want us to get on with business.

Donald Moore, R-Troy

Board member Donald Moore, R-Troy, who chairs the government relations committee, said he believes the people of Madison County want them to get on with business. However, board members Kristen Novacich, D-Granite City, and others said they wanted the opportunity to consider Gibbons’ proposal equally with Prenzler’s.

The board approved the resolution 15-11, with Judy Kuhn, R-Trenton, abstaining.

Also among the items on the agenda:

▪  After an executive session, the board opted to table a motion to approve nearly $90,000 in appropriations for the Veterans Assistance Commission for legal fees associated with the Brad Lavite lawsuit.

The VAC sued the county after the previous administration banned Lavite from the county administration building following a breakdown related to combat post-traumatic stress disorder. The county had initially declined to transfer the money from the VAC’s auxiliary fund, which led to further legal action over the authority of the county board to exercise oversight in the VAC’s expenditures.

Gibbons said that the judge has issued a provisional order in the case, but several aspects of it continue to be negotiated. Until then, the appropriation is tabled.

▪  The board approved Kristen Poshard as community development director. Poshard’s nomination has been controversial because of previous problems with alcohol and self-destructive behavior, including some arrests. Poshard has been operating as deputy director since Prenzler took office, but is only now coming before the board for a vote.

Board member Philip Chapman lauded Poshard’s work so far. “She comes early and stays late, she sets the tone for teamwork,” he said.

But board member Jim Dodd, D-Alton, said he objected to Poshard because they had not received background check information on her. “We asked the sheriff’s department to do background checks on these individuals, and I’ve never received background check information and never received qualifications on any of the individuals you’ve hired,” he said.

Prenzler said Poshard’s resume had been forwarded to the county board. The vote was 19-8 with two board members absent. Dodd was among the no votes.

Four items that were to be included in the board’s agenda were tabled prior to the meeting, but Prenzler and Hulme said they were likely to be taken up at future meetings. They included:

▪  Increasing the salary for Todd Fulton, the new director of emergency management. Fulton was nominated to replace former EMA director Larry Ringering, one of eight department heads ousted by Prenzler’s administration. Fulton’s nomination included a salary of $85,000, but at the February meeting, board member Lisa Ciampoli, R-Collinsville, moved that the salary be reduced to $58,000, as Ringering’s salary had been approximately $69,000 after many years of service. Ciampoli’s motion passed and Fulton was hired at the lower rate.

But Prenzler said that Fulton’s job offer included the salary of $85,000, and he believes it is a breach of faith to lower the salary at the last minute. The issue will go to the personnel and labor relations committee.

▪  A proposal to stop all payments for expenses and salaries of the Madison County State’s Attorney’s special investigators as involved with the SAFE unit, investigating heroin trafficking in the metro-east. However, the SAFE unit has been on hold since 2014, as the legality of such units is a matter pending before the Illinois Supreme Court.

The board’s motion would also have required an accounting of the SAFE unit’s expenses by the county auditor’s office for the next meeting, and turning over all vehicles and equipment to the county’s administrative services department. Gibbons said the only expenditure of the SAFE unit was an initial $125,000 purchase of various equipment, which was paid for wholly through drug asset forfeiture funds. The only personnel involved were his own department’s investigators, and no arrests or investigations were ever made by the unit.

Gibbons said the Illinois Supreme Court is likely to make a decision within the next several weeks on the legality of the SAFE units. “Of course, we will fully abide by the decision of the Supreme Court,” Gibbons said.

▪  A proposal to remove all county board members and non-union part-time employees who work less than 30 hours a week from the county’s health insurance plan as of Dec. 1.

▪  A resolution requiring Prenzler to submit his nominations for all department head positions that remain open. That includes director of administrative services; Prenzler had nominated Adler, then later withdrew the nomination. Adler has since been hired as a deputy director on a salary of approximately $93,000 a year.

The resolution, submitted by board member Jack Minner, D-Edwardsville, alleges that Prenzler had installed Poshard as head of community development and Adler as head of administrative services under the titles of “deputy,” while paying them the same salary and giving them the same responsibilities as department heads without submitting them to the board for approval.

The resolution was cosigned by Michael Parkinson, D-Granite City, and Asadorian.

Earlier in the day, Prenzler issued a press release stating that he has called on the state’s attorney’s office to determine whether computers were wiped prior to the departures of members of the previous administration. According to Prenzler’s release, newly appointed information technology director Rob Dorman found limited data remaining on hard drives for computers used by former chairman Alan Dunstan and former county administrator Joseph Parente.

The release said the drives were sent to a data recovery service, but no further information was available. Prenzler said he is asking the states attorneys office to investigate. Dunstan could not be immediately reached for comment.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald