Politics & Government

Collinsville residents call township ‘embarrassing’ after chaotic, combative meetings

Residents lined up at a recent Collinsville Township meeting to air grievances about how the township is being run, after weeks of combative meetings and the board’s failure to pass a budget.

Since the beginning of July, the township has been meeting to attempt to resolve financial matters resulting from its failure to approve a budget 90 days into its fiscal year — a violation of Illinois Law.

In July, the board met four times — twice in special meetings. All of the meetings were held in the afternoon when many township residents are unable to attend. At one of the meetings, trustees attempted to pass a $3.1 million budget, but the budget couldn’t be approved because it hadn’t been presented to the public first, as required by law.

The Collinsville Township includes all of the Madison County portion of Collinsville, all of Maryville, and a small part of Glen Carbon and Pontoon Beach. There are four trustees on the board, plus Township Supervisor Terry “Bones” Allan.

Matt Guenther, a Collinsville resident who took off work to come to a recent meeting, said the trustees seem to have no idea of what they’re approving when they vote on budgetary items.

“You as elected officials are comfortable with numbers you’ve never seen and blind approval?” he said at the meeting. “You’re a governing body.”

At two recent meetings, numbers were changed on bills and in budgets after arguments ensued over inaccuracies.

Another resident, Clinton Ball, said he showed up to the meeting because after seeing videos of the meetings, he feels the community needs to do more to hold the board accountable.

“We as a community are going to start holding you accountable,” Ball said. “I would like to see more rules and order and self-control. It’s embarrassing the way that this board has represented itself.”

He added that the afternoon meeting time needs to be changed, as it doesn’t provide time for the average taxpayer to attend.

In video recordings of the meetings, which the township posts to YouTube, trustees often break into arguments with each other and the township supervisor over Robert’s Rules of Order, trustee attendance and more.

The disagreements started on July 12, when a budget hearing was expected to be held. At the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that the budget hearing couldn’t be held because the budget hadn’t been published in a local newspaper, per Illinois law, due to it being sent in late.

At one point in the most recent meeting, Supervisor Allan told two trustees arguing over attendance to “shut up” during the public comment section of the meeting.

Efforts to reach Allan were unsuccessful.

At meetings throughout July, trustees argued, took shots at one another, tore up papers and slammed the table while discussing voting on a temporary budget, according to the videos posted online. At one point, Trustee Michael Foley asked Trustee Derrick Keith Cox whether he understood Robert’s Rules of Order.

The board still hasn’t passed an annual budget and plans to hold a public hearing for a tentative budget Aug. 23. A public hearing is required by law in order to pass a budget.

Cox, who regularly posts edited video of the meetings on Facebook, told the BND the board was ready to vote on temporary budgets after receiving the drafts five minutes before the meetings. He said he believes the township has broken the law several times in July.

He posts his own recordings of the meetings to bring attention to how taxpayer money is being spent in the township, Cox said.

“They get thousands of views,” he said. “Trustees are breaking the law regularly.”

Township Attorney Jack Daugherty, who has been guiding the township through the budgetary process, said it’s clear that improvements need to be made in the township office and at the meetings.

“The last meeting we can all acknowledge was a fiasco,” he said. “We’re not really communicating, we’re not on email, we’re not on the phone.”

Daugherty said to remedy that he’s planning on spending time in the office each week to help the township get on the right track, sitting down with the many departments and speaking with trustees privately.

“After the last meeting it became really obvious to me that more aggressive intervention needs to be taken,” he said. “I’m extremely reluctant to bill the township for my time unless its extremely necessary. My preference is not to, but I think we’re at a point now that we need to have a couple of hours a week where we sit down and get on the same page.”

He added that many of the issues with the board have been around for a long time, but the budgetary issues were due to new staff dealing with some “learning curves.”

“We’re trying to identify problems before they become problems which is not always easy,” he said.

Daugherty said the township isn’t in compliance as of yet but is taking every step possible and working with the Illinois Attorney General to get there.

“We will take all possible steps to ensure compliance,” he said.

The township has yet to pass an official budget, but at a meeting on July 25 approved paying old and current bills for the township’s town, general assistance and road district funds.

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Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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