Former mayor Alvin Parks is back in power in East St. Louis — as city manager.
The East St. Louis City Council voted Thursday night to fire city manager Traycee Chapman — who was hired just a couple of months ago — and replace her with Parks.
Parks, who was defeated by Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks in the April election, will be paid a salary of $100,000, and will be provided a car along with medical benefits.
Chapman has been working in East St. Louis for about 30 days. She left a job in Colorado to take the city manager position. Chapman’s mother grew up in East St. Louis.
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Chapman’s predecessor, Deletra Hudson, earned about $126,000 per year, counting a city car and benefits.
Both Hudson and Chapman will receive severance packages.
Chapman rubbed some political figures in East St. Louis the wrong way with her recent scrutiny of the city’s staff, and the recent firings and layoffs of a number of employees.
Chapman came aboard after Jackson-Hicks’ staff fired Hudson, who was the city manager for the two terms that Parks was in office.
The new administration required all employees to submit their resumes. After reviewing them, some changes were made.
Jackson-Hicks said the changes that have been made so far are necessary to turn the city around. She said more changes are possible as she and her team seek to restructure at City Hall.
Chapman further ruffled feathers when it was revealed there were plans to possibly lay off police and firefighters because of their union contracts and the city’s dire financial situation. Jackson-Hicks has said repeatedly, though that no decisions on such layoffs have been finalized.
The city manager does the hiring and firing and runs the day to day activities of the city. That position, technically, is more powerful than the mayor.
Publicly council members declined to say why they voted to oust Chapman. Councilman Roy Mosley told Councilman Robert Eastern III he brought the motion onto the floor to vote on a resolution to fire Chapman and asked him to explain the reason why Chapman was being fired. Eastern said he could not discuss it in public. Latoya Greenwood was the other council member voting in favor of the firing.
Chapman stood in at the rear of the room looking on. Afterward, she told a reporter she was “disappointed.” She said she wanted to be here to help Jackson-Hicks turn things around with the residents and to help with economic development and growth. She said she wanted there to be opportunity for all of the residents.
Chapman said she does have a severance package, but she declined to discuss the details of it.
Asked whether she had spoken to any of the council members about her being terminated, she said she had not.
“It’s okay. My future is still to be decided. It was a great experience. I will move forward have a positive experience going forward,” she said. Asked whether she would return to the city to work if the residents ousted the three council members who voted in opposition to the mayor’s wishes, Chapman declined comment.
Parks, on the other hand, was elated to be back in politics in East St. Louis. He shook some hands and told some people if they needed him, he would be there.
Parks, when asked whether he has plans to fire the people hired by the Jackson-Hicks team, said he had to review things before any decisions were made.
Asked for his response to the people in the room, he said “good and bad.” Some people feel we’ve done a credible job and they want me to come back, and there are those who want to move in a different direction, and they were not happy with the vote,” he said.
Asked if had the local politicians to thank for his return, he said yes and also some members of the City Council.
Parks said he received a phone call Wednesday and was told that there was a desire for him to be the new city manager. But, he said until the vote was cast in his favor, he was not taking anything for granted.
There is talk in City Hall from a number of employees that Parks plans to begin immediately returning those who were let go to their positions. And there are some who are still in City Hall as part of Jackson-Hicks team who Parks is expected to terminate. He would not weigh in one way or another. He said he had to review the city’s budget and “look at the total picture.”
Asked whether he expected the government to still be willing to invest in the city with him controlling the city’s business, he said that he did. But, there are those who are fearful that the city may lose a lot because of this move. Marie Franklin called the council vote “a tragedy.” She is president of The Concerned Citizens of Precinct 12.
“Just when things were starting to turn around, they did this. It’s not fair to the citizens. Parks left the city like it is. He had eight years to make a difference. He didn’t. It’s a shame. Look at our city and the way he left it as mayor. It’s a shame. It’s tragic,” she said.
Thisha Mayes-Bish is a Parks supporter. She said Jackson-Hicks planned to lay off firefighters and police officers and she was not for that. She said she was fearful that her insurance premiums would go up as a result. “I want Parks back in,” she said.
“We are looking at all departments to determine what our best options are,” Jackson-Hicks had said earlier. “How it got out that we were specifically laying off 16 policemen and 16 firemen, I don’t know. We never said that. We have not had any discussions with the police or fire departments. We simply listened to the options that were brought to us. No final decisions have been made.”
She added, “The changes that have been made thus far are necessary for our departments to effectively, efficiently as lean as possible.”
The city is facing a $5.7 million deficit. It does not get the revenue it once got from the Casino Queen. At one point, the city received more than $11 million annually in casino revenue. That has been reduced to a little over $6 million.
While critics have complained that Jackson-Hicks is cutting city employees and bringing in new people and paying them high salaries, Jackson-Hicks contends that she and her team are restructuring. She said the people she has hired are doing the work of two or three people. And, given some time, the city will see the turnaround and the benefits of the strategy, she said.
Jackson-Hicks said she and her team have been working to make substantial progress in the city. To do this, she said the residents have to back her.
“They told me they wanted change. They told me they want to be proud of the city where they live. They have to hold all of us accountable,” she said. “In past years, the city has been run by a few people. If we are to accomplish real change, it’s going to take all of us together.”