Editorials

Silencing township sewer customers fails the smell test

St. Clair Township Supervisor David Barnes should have done more to accommodate residents who wanted to attend a board meeting in 2015 to discuss sewer bills, an Illinois Attorney General opinion states. He hired security, but wouldn’t move the meeting to a larger space and people were crowded out.
St. Clair Township Supervisor David Barnes should have done more to accommodate residents who wanted to attend a board meeting in 2015 to discuss sewer bills, an Illinois Attorney General opinion states. He hired security, but wouldn’t move the meeting to a larger space and people were crowded out. znizami@bnd.com

They call it a “New York minute” because it seems to go by faster. We all just discovered another unconventional measure of time: the “Illinois Attorney General epoch,” which is more than two years.

St. Clair Township violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act on Feb. 24, 2015, by ignoring a warning four days in advance that many residents wanted to discuss their sewer bills drastically rising. That fact was just confirmed by Assistant Attorney General Teresa Lim.

But the decision comes two years after the fact. What’s the point? What’s the remedy?

We at least hope other government units take seriously the need of their constituents to be heard. If a crowd is coming, so large that you arrange for security, then you need to move the meeting to a larger space.

The opinion slaps down the township leaders for what appears to be a stark effort to minimize residents’ ire and silence their complaints. The sewer rate deal with Swansea was years in the making, but township leaders gave hardly any time to residents whose money they had poorly negotiated away.

Bob Trentman, a St. Clair County Board member and township resident, was part of the group that filed the Open Meetings Act complaint.

“Struggling families get their water shut off in a New York minute over an unpaid sewer bill,” Trentman said. “(Township Supervisor) Dave Barnes could hire security and chain the doors shut at a township meeting and gets by with nothing but a slap on the wrist, and it takes years to find out he couldn’t do it.”

He could and did. He shouldn’t have, and neither should other government leaders.

Thick skin and patience are expected of public servants.

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