During a candidate forum March 23, O’Fallon Treasurer David Hursey accused his opponent, Kristi Vetri, of political maneuvering to nullify his candidate petition. Vetri denied that she had any influence over the St. Clair County judge who scratched Hursey’s name from the ballot.
Hursey has served as city treasurer for 16 years. He was elected in 2005, 2009 and 2013, and appointed twice, first time in 1991 by then-mayor Vetri. He is president of Mark XVI Transportation Solutions Inc., a supply chain management company. Vetri is a former two-time mayor, alderman and township supervisor, and is an attorney specializing in elder law. Both are running as write-in candidates in the April 4 municipal election.
The ballot issue wasn’t his only accusation during their allotted time Thursday as both candidates displayed their sharp differences. Vetri wants to overhaul the office, restoring its powers, while Hursey defended his office operations. He questioned her motives, and she slammed his performance.
The forum, which was attended by a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall, featured mayoral, treasurer and city clerk candidates in a specific format. Treasurer candidates were allowed three to five minutes for opening statements, two minutes to answer questions drawn at random by moderator Ann Collins, an associate political science professor at McKendree University, then two minutes for closing comments.
Hursey blamed Vetri for his predicament as an incumbent forced to be on the ballot as a write-in. His son, Christopher, who was appointed to the City Council in the fall, also is running as a write-in to fill a two-year unexpired term. His petition was also nullified by a St. Clair County judge.
Hursey said an O’Fallon resident “friend of hers,” challenged the number of signatures his petition, which was 260 and based on 2015 election figures. But it should have been based on 2013 data, because more people voted then. He received the total from the O’Fallon City Clerk’s office.
St. Clair County Associate Judge Christopher Kolker overturned the city’s electoral board in a hearing Feb. 15, citing that the “minimum number of signatures required is mandatory and must be strictly complied with.”
O’Fallon’s electoral board is normally Mayor Gary Graham, City Clerk Phil Goodwin and Alderman Jerry Albrecht. Goodwin recused himself, and Alderman Gene McCoskey took his place. Attorney Brian Flynn represented Frank Morski of O’Fallon in his objection.
“She wants to reverse the progress of the city we’ve made so badly that she used a St. Clair County judge to remove me from the ballot,” Hursey said. “He cited an obscure court decision, an entirely different set of circumstances, and took all of five minutes to remove me from the ballot.”
Hursey said half of the cities in the state used 2015 figures, because of lack of clarity.
“It’s like winning a 40-minute college basketball game, and then the referee, calling everyone together and announcing that he was changing the written rules and adding another 20 minutes to the game. Changing the rules well after the fact,” he said.
Vetri denied influencing the judge later in a rebuttal. “By the way, I wish I had that much power over the judges, but as a lawyer, I don’t,” she said.
Hursey criticized Vetri for not going through candidates’ procedures.
“I find it highly ironic that she did not collect even one signature for the office she is now seeking. Maybe it was too much work or maybe she thought it was beneath her,” he said.
Vetri explained her decision, that initially she had taken a petition out as a mayoral candidate, filed an economic statement with the county, but decided that the treasurer’s office is where she needed to be after a friend asked her to reconsider tossing her hat into the mayor’s race.
“I could not think of one reason that wasn’t emotional. I’ve already been mayor. Been there, done that. My friend pointed out it’s not my responsibility to fix things all the time, and you know, he’s right. I took a look at all the issues that have floated around the city ever since I chaired the water committee, and it all centered on our money and transparency, the ability to get information,” she said.
“If we didn’t have to search all the time to get information, we wouldn’t have all these FOIA requests. I want to make all of the financial documents readily accessible. I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and do something about the problems I see in the treasurer’s office, rather than be mayor.”
She said she is running as treasurer in to restore the powers of the office as set in the Illinois Municipal Code that have been stripped away and given to the city’s finance director. She wants to bring back independent oversight and necessary checks and balances, as regulated by the state, and be accountable to the residents of O’Fallon.
Vetri said that current Mayor Graham created a director of finance position by appointment in 1993, which she supported as a budget officer. But 10 years later, the treasurer “was in name only.”
The city expanded finance director’s duties, “stripping the city treasurer of all his powers, reassigning of all of his legal duties, in spite of violating state law,” she said.
Public oversight and accountability functions were removed, she said, and the finance director was given autonomous power and authority over the treasury. In 2010, the question of abolishing the treasurer’s office was put to the public, but defeated.
Vetri mentioned that she researched council agendas and meeting minutes to support the city’s actions, and requested documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
“And guest what? I was told the support documents and legal opinions are missing and could not be found,” she said.
Hursey said citizens have every right to request a FOIA, but that her 10-year “witch hunt” has cost the city money.
“There is no basis in fact on what she’s trying to proclaim,” he said.
Vetri said Hursey has not performed his state-mandated duties — an annual report and monthly financial reports — but that it’s done by the staff. “It’s time to hold the city treasurer accountable,” she said.
When asked if he had plans for any restructuring or major changes to the office, because there is already a full-time professional staff in place, Hursey pointed out that the city’s residents wanted the treasurer’s office to be an independent voice, and he thought it was.
“This might be the only thing we agree on,” he said. He noted that the council had voted 14-0 to eliminate the office, but that when put to the citizens in a ballot, they backed keeping it.
“The treasurer reports only to the voters, not to city hall, the administration or the professional staff, although they are excellent,” he said.
He noted the AA+ bond rating from Standard and Poor’s Financial Services Inc., describing it as “incredible.”
“It’s like a person having an 800 credit score,” he said.
Hursey said the city was in sound financial shape, and he had made good investments through Illinois Funds and saved the city money by getting rid of junk bonds.
When asked about the AA+ bond rating, Vetri said that it’s a good thing for O’Fallon, but that the treasurer’s office can’t take credit for it.
“It’s a product of the good management by current Mayor Gary Graham and the City Council,” she said. “It’s very, very important in order to get the best possible interest rate for our financing or debt service.”