Before opening a regular meeting in which he terminated a handful of employees Tuesday night, Cahokia Mayor Curtis McCall said he did not close the pantry and was not closing the Cahokia Community Basket.
“It’s going to be under new management. For six months, I walked the streets of Cahokia talking with hundreds, maybe thousands or residents. I heard their concerns, their fears. I heard horrible stories about the Cahokia Community Food Basket – stories of discontent. Some were about unfair treatment and outright rudeness,” McCall said.
He pointed out two people in the audience who he had talked to and they acknowledged that they had spoken to McCall and expressed their concerns about the food pantry and how it was run. Then he pointed to a folder and said he had the names of hundreds of others who had complained.
He said some complained of receiving rotten meat, seniors were given expired milk. Some complained they never received anything.
“Some said she (Christina Walker) took food to her family and sold it on the street,” McCall said.
Without identifying his choice to replace Walker publicly, McCall said he had spoken to the woman who was there before Walker and she’s agreed to come back.
McCall apologized to residents for the inconvenience this change has brought on the village.
“I apologize to the residents who will be without food for a few days. Nobody deserves to go without food,” he said.
McCall said he couldn’t discuss the names of the individuals he was terminating because of pending litigation.
“(On) April 7, 2015, the residents of Cahokia voted for a change,” he said. “Real change is not easy, but sometime it’s necessary. Right now change is necessary. We have many challenges along the way. The cuts you see here are necessary for the best direction of the village of Cahokia. Diversity is key in the village of Cahokia – even within the Police Department. We need more African-Americans, Hispanics and women officers. I will make that happen. Change is here. We must accept that,” McCall said.
Trustee Jerry Nichols was angry over the board voting to approve the payroll. He voted no, along with Trustee Joe Weatherford.
“They can not fire union employees. Seven union employees were fired tonight and three nonunion My wife was one of union local 520’s employees. He’s laying off people. He said he’s taking this city in a new direction,” Nichols said. As far as the Cahokia Community Basket, Nichols said that “pantry feeds 1,200 people a month.”
Nicole Johnson said the former mayor, Gary Cornwell, brought in his people when he was in office, and said what McCall is doing is no different.
“It’s not about the food pantry,” Johnson said. “It’s about black and white. Cahokia has been run by whites for 80 years. It’s about him being a black man. Some of those people who are upset are people who campaigned for the former mayor. Change is here. They have to accept it. Whether they like it or not. The people have spoke. It’s a new day and a new leader is in charge,”
There were repeated attempts from Trustee Phyllis Pearson to quiet the crowd so the mayor could be heard. She even stepped over to Police Chief Larry Purcell and asked him to get order in the room. At one point some were escorted out and others walked out. They were upset that McCall didn’t open the floor to them to allow them to speak.
After the meeting, resident Bernetta Radford called the unruly people in the crowd, “A bunch of uncivilized people who wouldn’t shut up so the mayor could conduct business. the mayor is trying to clean this town up, including the food pantry.”
Radford said a lot of the animosity from the crowd is because McCall is the first black mayor. Asked whether she felt it was racism, she said, “I don’t know what you call it. They are (angry) because we have a black mayor here to do what’s right for the village,” she said.
Glenda Jackson said she was angry because “a police officer arrested her son” during the meeting. She said she hollered out something at the meeting, not her son. “The officer grabbed my arm and escorted me out. I said don’t touch me, that’s assault.”
Former Mayor Gary Cornwell attended the meeting, and said he thought the public should have been allowed to comment. Asked whether he supported diversity in the village, he said. “We were on our way to it. We certainly were being fair-minded. I agree that the staff in the village should reflect the community, but you can’t fire people illegally to make that happen. You can work towards transition, but you can’t just fire them,” Cornwell said.