Metro-East News

New Washington Park mayor takes office, makes personnel changes

Rickie Thomas, Washington Park’s new mayor, called for government accountability after being sworn in Tuesday night.
Rickie Thomas, Washington Park’s new mayor, called for government accountability after being sworn in Tuesday night.

The newly elected administration was sworn in Monday, and Mayor Rickie Thomas immediately made changes.

The mayor and trustees were sworn in by Belleville attorney Bob Sprague, chairman of the St. Clair County Democratic Committee. Thomas appointed Sprague’s law firm, Sprague and Urban, to represent the village, replacing village attorney Eric Evans.

Thomas also replaced Police Chief Tony Tomlinson with Allen Bonds, a former East St. Louis and Brooklyn police officer.

“The business as usual in Washington Park is no longer. We have to be accountable to the citizens. You can expect everyone who is being appointed here today to be accountable,” Thomas said. “Whatever we do here will always be in the best interest of the citizens of Washington Park. There are no secrets when you are dealing with public money,” he told the crowd of about 30 people who gathered for the ceremony.

In other appointments, Willie Ray was named village clerk. Chuck Schreiber, the current fire chief, was appointed for 30 more days. James Montgomery was made public works superintendent, and Wendell Wilson, a former police chief in Washington Park, was appointed zoning board member.

Thomas said he will bring more people to the police and fire departments, improve the village’s infrastructure that has been deteriorating for the last 25 years and look for economic development opportunities for the village. Thomas said to accomplish his goals “and bring Washington Park back and make it a more respectable community for all citizens.”

After the new officials were sworn in, the board of trustees took their seats for the first meeting under the new administration.

Herod Hill and Toni Whittaker were replaced on the village board of trustees by Mary McKinney and Juliette Gosa. James Madkins, the oldest-tenured elected trustee, won again and remains on the board. Ferris Williams also won a seat in the April election. Deb Moore and Clyde Jackson round out the board and have been staunch Thomas supporters.

“I am just happy. It’s a new day, a new beginning,” Moore said.

After the board voted unanimously to purchase six new police cruisers, Jackson said, “This the way it’s supposed to be,” referring to the acrimony and political divisiveness that existed in village government in recent years.

The cost of the new police cruisers was not immediately available.

In one of the more controversial moves of the first meeting, Chris Heatherly, a part-time Washington Park police officer who has also worked for Brooklyn and East St. Louis, was let go with a 5-1 vote by the board. Gosa cast the lone dissenting vote.

Thomas said Heatherly was released because he was not hired by the board, which is the way it was to supposed to be.

“He was illegally hired,” Thomas said. Upon hearing the news, Heatherly and his wife immediately left the meeting. He could not be reached for comment.

In other business:

▪  Thomas said the village did not get a $30,000 grant that it was awarded for John Thornton Park because “the previous administration did not meet the deadlines and failed the very first step of advertising in the newspaper. We have to start it all over again. This is the first grant the village of Washington Park has gotten. And, they dropped the ball. I want you to know on the record they failed.”

However, Ray Coleman, the administrative consultant to former Mayor Ann Rodgers, produced a letter he received from St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern saying he was “pleased to transmit to you the contract for your project for renovating the (park). The letter indicated Coleman could proceed with the contracts, but they had to be competitively procured and copies forwarded to the County Board office.

▪  Thomas said the village does not have worker’s comp insurance because the previous administration failed to make a payment. “I spoke to Mr. Coleman, who ran the village of Washington Park, about workman’s comp. He showed me a letter indicating comp would be canceled July 2017 if we didn’t pay a $15,000 payment. The auditor said we had to do an audit and give them the money, Mr. Coleman said. That’s not true. The senior auditor at Liberty Mutual indicated that an audit is only required because the village of Washington Park failed to make this payment. We had payment arrangements,” Thomas said.

Coleman provided to a reporter correspondence he received from the workman’s comp insurance agent. It said, “The policy as of right now is canceled 3/14/17. Liberty Mutual will reinstate without a lapse in coverage if payment in the amount of $15,341.31 is made by 5/12/17. I have asked the finance department to reach out to you directly through your email address for a payment arrangement,” the email said.

Coleman said Thomas was copied on the email and “there is no way he can say Ray Coleman” (is responsible for this).

▪  Sprague and Urban will be paid $3,000 a month and no retainer. The flat rate includes the handling of all traffic tickets from the village. Thomas said the previous board paid Evans between $7,000-$8,000 a month, and the village paid an hourly rate of $195 per hour.

Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503