Results from the recent election won’t be official until April 25, but Ann Rodgers, the outgoing Washington Park mayor, says she has already accepted the unofficial election results but still questions why she was kicked off the ballot.
“I knew what I was facing,” said Rodgers, who said she is not bitter. “Why was I kicked off of the ballot? Why did St. Clair County move my election team from Washington Park to St. Clair County?” asked Rodgers, who was forced to run as a write-in candidate in the April 4 election.
Rodgers said politics cost her her job. “It’s a shame the games ... that are being played. Everybody knows the games that are being played, but they have to look another way. St. Clair County is supposed to be a place of justice, not injustice,” she said.
Rodgers lost the election to Village Clerk Rickie Thomas by more than 200 votes. She was removed from the ballot by a St. Clair County judge. She said that running as a write-in candidate is tough. “Especially in the black culture, people have a harder time and are simply trying to understand the aspect of the ballot. Yes, getting thrown off the ballot was a handicap to me.”
Rodgers said she plans to have a smooth transition with Thomas but still maintains that she has a hard time accepting that he is mayor, repeating a claim she made often during the campaign that Thomas does not live in Washington Park. She said she and the board of trustees did what they needed to do (put a residency ordinance in place).
Thomas has steadfastly maintained that he does live in the village and countered that it was Rodgers who who was sending her daughter to O’Fallon Township High School until a few months ago. Rodgers says the teen was living with her father in O’Fallon.
Asked what lies ahead for her, Rodgers said, “My heart will always be here. When I was 21 years old, I started Washington Park Concerned Citizens. I wanted to make sure the citizens of the village of Washington Park were heard.”
It’s a shame the games ... that are being played. Everybody knows the games that are being played, but they have to look another way. St. Clair County is supposed to be a place of justice, not injustice.
Former Washington Park Mayor Ann Rodgers
She said she plans to attend meetings as a citizen. And, she hopes everything she worked hard for was not in vain. “ I have no reason to hold my head down or to be ashamed. I know God is getting ready to pull me in a different direction,” Rodgers said.
Meanwhile, her Governmental Affairs consultant, Ray Coleman, who was the target of several board trustees attempts to fire him, knows the election results probably mean he is out, too.
Thomas said he plans to hit the ground running. He will first assess all departments and determine where they are and make the necessary changes he believes will improve and move the village forward. Economic development is in the forefront. Thomas knows to do this he will need to beef up public safety. And, he is looking into bringing affordable housing to Washington Park, he said.
Thomas said he believes he would have won even if Rodgers had been on the ballot because the “people were ready for a change.” Thomas said Rodgers and Coleman “have spent money unnecessarily” and have “consistently mismanaged village finances. When she took office four years ago, the first thing she did was to write a check for $5,000 to her hand picked consultant,” Thomas said.
Coleman disagreed. “It’s not true about the $5,000 check. I replaced Jackie Causey. I got the same amount of money she was making. My first contract was for $40,000 a year.”
Thomas said the citizens can count on him to do the right thing. He said he does not need a consultant because he has a master’s degree in business administration and years of experience in business management.
“Mr. Coleman has made a quarter of a million dollars over the last four years for doing nothing but putting the village in a hole,” Thomas said.
Coleman said he helped clean up years of financial mismanagement during his time in Washington Park. “The village is (negotiating) due to a nearly $500,000 debt the village owed to the IRS prior to the Rodgers administration.”
Rodgers said she did many of the things she set out to do as mayor. The village needed to get financially stronger and Rodgers maintains that was accomplished. “We settled almost 50 personal judgments that were against the village of Washington Park, dating back to 1999,” he said.
“When you come into a shamble, which we did, you have to clean up,” Rodgers said. She said the Illinois Comptroller’s office, the Illinois Department of Employment security and workman’s compensation insurance were brought back into the village’s business. “We were looking into economic development and building up the police department,” Rodgers said, “to attract more businesses.”
Rodgers said she sincerely hopes Thomas and the board of trustees serving with him will continue to move the village forward. “I understand he has a lot of political promises that he has to fill financially. Let’s see if it happens.”