Three current aldermen will be vacating their seats after being elected to St. Clair County positions Nov. 6, which not only changes the landscape of the O’Fallon City Council but also for the April 2 municipal election.
Alderman Andrew Lopinot, who was elected County Treasurer, and Aldermen Richie Meile and Matthew Smallheer, who were elected to the County Board, will begin their new roles on Dec. 17.
This is the most elected officials in O’Fallon to transition from city to county in the modern era.
“Very true. I don’t ever remember this happening before, this is the most we’ve had,” Mayor Herb Roach said.
With two seats open in Ward 5 and one each in the other six to fill in the city election, the council will be significantly re-shaped.
“We will have changed six, seven seats on the council in less than a year,” Roach said.
Smallheer said he submitted his letter of resignation already to the mayor but dated it Dec. 15 because he wants to serve his constituency as long as possible.
“I want to serve as long as I can. We’re obligated to the citizens,” he said.
Both Lopinot and Meile say they haven’t decided when their last day is. But both shared Smallheer’s desire to serve until they have to leave.
“My role as Treasurer starts on December 3. I’ve not settled on a date when I will resign my position as I would like Ward 5 to have full representation during the tax levy discussions,” Lopinot said.
Meile said he wanted to work on the tax rate for next year, too.
“All three were at their committee meetings Monday night,” Roach said.
Roach plans to fill their seats after the three aldermen resign. There are two more council meetings before the trio will be sworn in at St. Clair County – Nov. 19 and Dec. 3.
“I will be appointing some people. I want to wait and see who has been interested, who applied before, and look at who we’ve got running, and take that under consideration,” he said.
After Marsh resigned last summer, Roach encouraged people to get involved and run for office, and he received several applications for the open seat. To date, 17 candidates have taken out petitions for the April 2 election.
“The more people that get involved, the better it is for the city,” he said.
Lopinot, who has represented Ward 5 since 2017, ran as a Democrat and defeated Republican Phil Kammann, 53,664 to 41,624. He replaces longtime treasurer Charlie Suarez, a former mayor of Fairmont City, who has been in office since 1994.
“I appreciate those who took the time to vote in the midterm election and look forward to increasing O’Fallon’s representation at the county level. There are big shoes to fill with our current Treasurer leaving office and I plan to work hard on behalf of all citizens to ensure the office runs smoothly,” Lopinot said.
The treasurer’s office is responsible for overseeing the collection in two installments and distribution of more than $350 million to the county’s 250 taxing districts in St. Clair County. The collection process and concludes with the annual tax sale.
“Serving O’Fallon has been an honor. I’m proud of what the council and city has accomplished since the last municipal election. Citizens should feel confident in knowing that their elected officials and city staff truly work in a manner to better our city,” he said.
“With the April elections quickly approaching, I hope the makeup of the council starts to better reflect our community and that more women and minorities run for office. O’Fallon is my home, and I am excited to see progress continue,” Lopinot said.
Meile, a Ward 1 alderman since 2011, will represent District 23 on the County Board, garnering 52 percent of the vote and defeating one-term Republican incumbent Fred Boch. Smallheer, Ward 4 alderman since 2015, was unopposed as a Republican in District 18.
Meile recently retired as a supervisor with the St. Clair County Highway Department. He oversaw 32 employees and maintained 286 miles of county roads, including snow removal and road repairs.
“I think I worked pretty well with the people. I had good rapport with city employees, and that’s one of our assets,” he said.
Meile hopes his experience will help at the county level.
“There are some major growth prospects that will affect District 23 in a big way. The expansion of the Frank Scott Corridor is crucial to the accessibility of Scott Air Force Base, MidAmerica Airport and Reider Road,” he said.
Smallheer, a former Rotary Club president, and his wife own The Tie-Dyed Iguana in O’Fallon.
“Serving the people of O’Fallon has been amazing. It’s one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I have loved working with the current administration, the staff, the aldermen, the citizens,” he said.
He has served on and been chair of the Community Development Committee, which works with the city departments on planning, zoning, economic development, property maintenance, code enforcement, plan review, construction and building permits, and the Planning Commission.
“It was very natural for me. It really was a lot of fun, I did not see it as a burden. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I would meet with Ted (Shekell, community development director) and Justin (Randall, assistant community development director) every Thursday before our Monday meeting, and we would be in constant contact,” Smallheer said.
He wants to serve at the county level to hopefully make more difference He knows he is in the minority party – the County Board has 29 elected members and currently it’s 21 Democrats, 8 Republicans – but wants to represent people without thinking they’re “the opposition.”
“At a higher level, there is often a disconnect between the representatives and the people they represent, and also with the representatives themselves, because it’s often just black-and-white, who’s on what side,” he said. “I want to focus on issues rather than party politics. That’s not my style. I always want to have solid relationships with people and bridge those divides. I want to represent the people on the issues,” he said.
For the city election, candidates must file between Dec. 10 and 17 after obtaining the necessary signatures on petitions.
When elected to Ward 5 in April 2017, Lopinot filled the unexpired term of Mike Bennett, who had served for 21 years and resigned in September 2016 because of moving. His vacancy had been filled by Chris Hursey, who lost to Lopinot in the municipal election.
For the other Ward 5 seat, Gwen Randolph was appointed in August to fill the unexpired term of Courtney Marsh, who moved. Marsh had served five years. Randolph said she intends to run for the seat.
Two incumbent alderman, Robert Kueker in Ward 3 and Kevin Hagarty in Ward 4, have taken out petitions.
Two incumbent aldermen, Ned Drolet in Ward 6 and David Cozad in Ward 7, have announced they are not seeking re-election.
Drolet was first elected in 1999 and served 14 years, until 2013. Then he ran again in 2015, serving another four.
“It has been enjoyable and I am pleased to have been an alderman. However, after 18 years it is time to move on,” Drolet said.
Cozad was appointed in 2009, and then was elected for two terms.
The potential candidates include those who have taken out petitions: Zach Martin and Dennis Muyleart in Ward I; Kueker and Jessica Lotz in Ward 2; Hagarty, Shane Maschhoff, Michael Butler, James Wiedner in Ward 3; Todd Roach, Susan H. Wobbe and Mary Lynam-Miller in Ward 4; Randolph, Dennis Renner and Joseph Rogers in Ward 5; Casey Scharven and Tom Vorse in Ward 6 and Nathan Parchman in Ward 7.
“This is an unusual occurrence because we have so many openings,” said Maryanne Schrader, deputy city clerk. Petitions are available at the O’Fallon City Hall during normal business hours.
The last time an O’Fallon alderman moved to the County Board was in 2009, when John West resigned to fill Kyle McCarter’s county board seat, representing District 15, when McCarter resigned to become a state senator, filling Frank Watson’s unexpired term.
West still serves on the County Board. McCarter, of Lebanon, served in the state senate until this year, when he did not run for re-election. He was recommended for appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya.
Petitions are available in the City Clerk’s office during weekday business hours, and City Clerk Jerry Mouser said each candidate receives a packet of information.
O’Fallon Alderman receive $400 a month, and they attend two council meetings and several committee meetings.
“It comes to $4,800 a year, and they do not get pensions or insurance,” Roach said.
Serving the city is a labor of love, he said.
“You’ve got to do it for the right reasons. You’ve got to do it because you care about this community, you care that it continues to be the hometown where families want to come, where businesses want to come. You’ve got to want the city to be successful. We don’t want to lose that,” Roach said.