A month after State Park firefighters convinced the Madison County Board not to replace their longtime board member, the measure came back and was approved despite their protests.
In April, County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler proposed replacing Bill Ellis on the State Park Fire Department board with Jimmy Wells, at the recommendation of board member Helen Hawkins. But State Park firefighters protested at the board meeting on Ellis’ behalf, stating that he had been a strong supporter of the fire department and had been recommended by board member Gussie Glasper, D-Madison, who represents their area.
“I think it’s a joke,” said State Park Fire Chief Herb Simmons. He said he believes Hawkins is “in Prenzler’s pocket” and should not have interceded in the fire board’s representation.
“I have nothing against Curtis Outland, nothing at all,” he said. “But he has no firefighting experience, that’s my problem.”
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Hawkins did not represent their area, and fire chief Herb Simmons said he could not understand why Hawkins’ recommendation overruled their wishes and Glasper’s recommendation.
Board members voted against Prenzler’s recommendation in April, but the measure returned at Wednesday’s meeting, this time recommending Curtis Outland to replace Ellis.
Once again, State Park firefighters lined the room in support of Ellis, at least two holding signs reading, “Firefighters and their families are registered voters.”
Several board members said they didn’t understand why Prenzler insisted on replacing Ellis. “(Ellis) is doing a fine job and they support him,” said board member Michael Parkinson, D-Granite City. “This is the second month in a row, we keep putting in another name. ... The board should clearly speak tonight and back these firemen on this. They clearly want this guy and they’re fighting hard to keep their man.”
The firefighters responded with applause.
Board member Art Asadorian, D-Granite City, said as a former firefighter, he was concerned that Outland did not have any firefighting experience. He pointed out that the firefighters are volunteers and their opinion should be respected.
“I’ve heard from a lot of the firemen and my support remains for Bill Ellis,” Glasper said.
Board member Michael “Doc” Holliday, D-Alton, said he believed the board should honor the tradition that the representative board member’s recommendation is honored. But board member Michael Walters, R-Godfrey, disagreed. “There have been many times when Republicans requested someone and did not get what they wanted,” Walters said.
“I thought this was a nonpartisan position,” replied board member Kristen Novacich, D-Granite City.
Prenzler said he chose Outland because Hawkins and board member Lisa Ciampoli, R-Collinsville, believe he is “an ethical individual who can add something to that fire district.”
The board narrowly approved Outland 14-12, with two board members absent and Judy Kuhn, R-Trenton, abstaining because she had questions that she said she was not allowed to ask.
In other news, the board unanimously approved Hawkins to replace Jim Pennekamp on the Metro-East Sanitary District.
Hawkins had sought the position on the board in 2015 when chairman Andy Economy resigned hours ahead of being removed by the county board after allegations of corruption. Prior chairman Alan Dunstan instead nominated Pennekamp, who was president of the Madison County Flood Prevention District and had recently retired as executive director of University Park and special assistant to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s chancellor for regional economic development.
Earlier this week, Prenzler announced that he had asked Pennekamp and two other board members to resign to put in his “own team” on the board, essentially replacing all of Madison County’s representation. Sanitation district board members are paid about $15,000 a year.
Prenzler said he knew Hawkins considered stormwater management her primary issue, and congratulated her. The board gave her a standing ovation for her years of service; as a sanitation district board member, she will no longer be able to serve on the county board.
“We are a lot better than we were in the ‘60s and early ‘70s,” Hawkins said. “But we’ve got a little ways to go, and I appreciate the opportunity to serve my passion.”
Pennekamp could not be reached for comment.