East St. Louis Mayor responds to questions about cuts
East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said city manager Alvin Parks’ decision to announce city employee layoffs without consulting her or other city administrators could lead to litigation.
Jackson-Hicks held a press conference in her office Sunday afternoon calling for collaboration with Parks. She said Parks circumvented city policy last week when he announced that six administrative staff members, 17 firefighters and eight police officers would be let go.
She said such a move could invite a lawsuit by employees, just as it did five years ago when the city furloughed public safety personnel. The ensuing litigation led to compensating workers as the city was forced to make back payments.
“As mayor, I take issue with how the city manager presented the layoffs for the following reasons,” Jackson-Hicks said. “Mr. Parks did not discuss with me, prior to Thursday’s meeting, that he decided to fire 17 firefighters and eight police officers. It is a matter of respect and proper protocol that Mr. Parks solicit my input and keep me properly and timely informed of important matters that impact the city.. Because East St. Louis is experiencing a deep financial crisis, I expect that Mr. Parks would ensure that the Council and all appropriate stakeholders are brought to the table when entertaining the best possible alternatives to employee layoffs.”
On Saturday, Parks said that he had no choice but to make the job cuts and would consider further layoffs to help reduce the city’s $5.7 million budget deficit.
“To continue at the current spending rate would be to invite a major (financial) disaster,” Parks said.
Jackson-Hicks defeated Parks in the mayoral election last April, but he re-emerged two weeks ago when City Council members voted to fire city manager Traycee Chapman after a couple of months on the job and replace her with Parks.
Jackson-Hicks said when Parks took office two weeks ago, he said he was committed to work with her and my administration to move the city in a positive direction, a direction that would address and correct the many deficiencies that exist in all areas of our city government. However, in two short weeks, in addition to announcing fire and police layoffs, she said Parks has laid off key directors in her administration “who were instrumental in reorganizing and rebuilding internal departments that are either currently dysfunctional or poorly staffed and do not provide adequate quality services to our citizens.”
“Mr. Parks has made all of these decisions solely without first inviting City Council members, the city attorney, human resources and me to collectively sit down and discuss layoff options prior to making important personnel changes that impact the city,” she said.
Jackson-Hicks said that Parks has exceeded his power as city manager in announcing the lay off of the city’s deputy liquor commissioner, which is appointed by the mayor, but cannot be eliminated by the City Council. She said the position can be defunded through an amendment from a Council vote, but Parks has violated city and personnel policy in making this layoff.
The announced job cuts would leave the city with 44 police officers and 33 firefighters left for duty.
East St. Louis firefighter Lt. Kevin Manso said the firefighters’ contract specifies a minimum amount of staffing and there cannot be layoffs. Manso, who serves as secretary treasurer of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 23 in East St. Louis, said he was laid off five years ago, when the city was sued and forced to issue back payments. He said he could see that happening again.
“If they choose not fulfill their end of the contract, that our only recourse is to go that route,” Manso said.
East St. Louis Police Sgt. Mario Fennoy said losing eight police officers would be detrimental to the city.
“There is no way we could spare eight officers,” said Fennoy, who also serves as the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 126 in East St. Louis. “We are already undermanned, under attack and understaffed. We can’t afford to lose eight. We can’t afford to lose one.”
Manso said the proposed layoffs would increase firefighters’ response time and the city’s insurance rates would also increase as result. He also said one of the city’s fire stations has been shut down house because the fire department does not have enough firefighters to staff it and the city has not fulfilled part of the current contract by specifying how many firefighters should be on staffed each day.
“We know the city has had some financial difficulties,” Manso said. “We’ve made some concessions in the past to help them out, and we’ve, unfortunately, have had to go into litigation with certain issues because they they’ve haven’t held their end of the bargain. We accepted a lot less money that we could have. We accepted in our last previous contract no raises just to help out and there are options that we would be willing to discuss with them if they brought us something reasonable, and we might even possibly have some ideas for them, also. But for them to just blatantly disregard our contract, that’s when we have issues.”
“The community deserves better,” Fennoy said. “The reason we are here is because of egregious contract violations. These violations we have tried to come to the table with them several times to try to work these things out. But because of litigation for these small matters is why they such large legal bills. If they just followed the contract, we all would be all right.”
Jackson-Hicks said that before Parks announced the layoffs, her plan was to sit down with him and other city administrators to discuss the city’s budget deficit.
“My problem is not with per se the layoffs, but it’s the process,” she said. “And there’s a process that we need to follow if we’re going to work together.”
Going forward, the mayor said she will remain non-confrontational and non-adversarial. She said she has only spoken with Parks once and over the phone twice since he was reappointed two weeks ago.
She also announced three upcoming town hall meetings in the city for her and city administrators to meet and speak with citizens about the City Council and city management form of government to engage and educate city residents. The meetings will be 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church at 2803 State St., 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Straightway Missionary Baptist Church at 3300 Bond Ave. and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church at 1121 Dr. R.M. Lemons Blvd.
“My goal is to work along with the city manager, with the Council members, and with all stakeholders and parties involved,” Jackson-Hicks said. “However, I did make the commitment to the citizens of East St. Louis to be transparent. And sometimes transparency brings about controversy. But it is my goal, and never my intent, to disparage or make anyone look bad. But it is my goal to make sure the citizens are aware, fully aware, of the state of affairs in East St. Louis.”
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 618-239-2526.