Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by organizers of VoteYesPleaseOFallon indicate a foreman at the city’s Water and Sewer Department used his city account for political purposes to oppose the city’s potential lease of the water and sewer system.
One of the e-mails in question was dated Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, and was sent by an O’Fallon foreman using his city of O’Fallon email account at 2:17 p.m. during normal business hours.
It contained an invoice for $2,280 for the printing of the 10,000 Tri-fold “Sell Our Water and Drain Our Future” brochures.
“We are disappointed that certain city workers would abuse the trust placed in them by taxpayers of O’Fallon who entrust them to run our water supply,” said Abrahm Mayo, an organizer of VoteYesPleaseOFallon. “We have sent copies of the e-mails and a letter to the Mayor, city attorney and city administrator requesting they take the necessary actions to stop city workers from using taxpayer funded resources for inappropriate activities.”
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VoteYesPleaseOFallon submitted a FOIA request two weeks ago after reading in the O’Fallon Progress on Feb. 19 that “City workers went into action, distributing informational brochures to over 6,000 households.”
“These e-mails are actual proof that Citizens Against the Sale or Lease of the Water System are actually, City Workers against the Lease who are only concerned about saving their highly compensated jobs, not saving our water,” Mayo said.
City records show that the average annual income of the 19 water and sewer employees is $81,638, which includes salary, overtime and health benefits. They receive 100 percent free health insurance benefits and the taxpayers cover 80 percent of their dependent coverage, which can run up to $20,556 per family. When you add in the city-funded pension, the average cost per employee to tax payers is $108,772 per employee.
“The fact that certain workers felt they could use taxpayer funded e-mail accounts to mount opposition to an idea that would actually save O’Fallon residents from new taxes is very disappointing,” Travis Huber of VoteYesPleaseOFallon said. “But when you find out that 60 percent of the Public Works employees do not even live in O’Fallon, it isn’t suprising that they are not concerned over tax increases in our city.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014, the average median income of an O’Fallon family is $70,198 and they pay an average of $9,476 per year for health insurance coverage.
“O’Fallon residents work hard to support their own families and their tax dollars support the families of our city employees,” Huber continued. “Now it appears that trust has been broken, when their jobs are not even in jeopardy.”
The city of O’Fallon is requiring that any private company that is potentially awarded a lease must “hire substantially all of the current employees of the Systems, subject to such employee’s acceptance of employment, subject to existing hiring policies of the company such as background checks.” (RFP, PAGE 30)
The city has also published information that if non-tax revenue is not found, property taxes for O’Fallon residents could rise by $395 per year on a house worth $150,000 or the city’s share of the sale tax could rise by 25 percent which is a 1/2 cent increase.
“The actions taken by the city workers in question show they think it is okay if our taxes go up as long as they keep their jobs,” Huber said.
In recent Letters to the Editor in the O’Fallon Progress and on social media, past and current employees and members of their families have been very vocal in opposition to the lease when it was announced that the city was exploring non-tax revenue to fund $50-$80 million in needed infrastructure to accommodate the expected growth of the city to 40,000 residents over the next 5-10 years.
At a recent public meeting held Monday, March 9, at the O’Fallon Township Hall by the opposition group, the foreman in question’s family member stated that “we are third generation public works employees and will not let our jobs be taken from us” while addressing those gathered to oppose the lease of the water system.
“This type of thinking is what leads city employees to believe they can use taxpayer resources to promote their personal agenda,” Mayo said. “A city job is not something that is inherited. It is earned by working to serve the public for the greater good.”
VoteYesPleaseOfallon was started to encourage residents to VOTE YES on the upcoming referendum that asks the city to consider a lease of the water operations. It is dedicated to sharing truthful information about the benefits of finding non-tax revenue to pay for needed infrastructure improvements to O’Fallon’s streets, sewer drainage, mine remediation and parks. It is estimated a lease could bring a minimum of $50 million in non-tax revenue allowing the city to retain ownership of the system, retain control of the water and sewer rates and oversight of the water quality.
“The city worker led opposition has spread half-truths about water quality being jeopardized and rates skyrocketing with information from an outside lobby group called Food and Water Watch,” Mayo said. “And now the truth has come out that they are using their public positions and city e-mails to conduct their campaign. We trust that city officials will take appropriate action to prevent this from occurring again.”
To learn more visit VOTEYESPLEASEOFALLON.ORG and their Facebook site.