A newly formed group that says its goal is to inform voters about the performance of local government and public institutions is championing bi-partisanship as a model of good government in Madison County.
"Madison League" also seeks to dispel a "common myth" that Madison County is a "Judicial Hellhole."
"...[O]utside groups spouting trendy catch phrases were working to unsettle the bi-partisan balance and progress our elected officials have achieved in Madison County," the group says.
"Madison County government is certainly not perfect, nor is it perfectly bi-partisan," said one of the group's founders, Stephen Jellen of Edwardsville. "Our local officials have not entirely avoided partisanship, but they have not let it keep them from doing a good job. That is what we need; it is all anyone can ask."
The first initiative of Madison League has been to plant billboards near Alton, Granite City, and Collinsville that picture an elephant and donkey, and says, "Working Together Gave County Government Zero Debt and Lower Taxes. Why can't state and federal governments do that?"
The group boasts the county's balanced budget, its cash reserves and reduced taxes as examples of good government. It also states that the county has encouraged business and industrial development.
Another group member is Charlie Bosworth, spokesman for one of the most prolific personal injury, class action firms in the area, KoreinTillery of St. Louis.
The group launched a Facebook page on March 1 and also established a Website, www.madisonleague.org.
Madison League is not registered as a political action committee, according to records available at the Illinois State Board of Elections.
It is not clear who is funding the group.
The Madison League says that people in Madison County have been "barraged by attacks on the county and its public institutions for years by groups from outside the county. The attacks are designed to persuade county residents to surrender many of their rights to these outside groups by convincing residents that Madison County is a terrible place to live and do business because its ineffective institutions are operated by corrupt politicians and biased courts."
Several phone calls seeking comment from Bosworth and Jellen have not been returned.
Other court-related myths that Madison League seeks to dispel are:
- "Judges and juries throw huge dollars at rich plaintiffs' lawyers while screwing over corporations, businesses, and healthcare providers," and;
-"Many doctors have fled Madison County because high malpractice costs and exorbitant malpractice awards to plaintiffs by juries."
In a press release, the group states that it recognizes examples of flawed conduct in government reflecting on both parties.
"We think that an electorate who knows their institutions will be able to distinguish between occasional individual misfeasance and systemic corruption," Jellen said. "Knowledge will allow voters to make necessary corrections without unduly disrupting a system that works well overall."
It is not clear from the group's release if it seeks to address the conduct of particular public officials.
In relation to Madison County government, last month Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons opened an investigation of property tax sales conducted by former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon. Under Bathon's administration, during a period between 2007 and 2008, tax sales generated average penalty rates of 18 percent, the highest amount allowed by law.
Reporting by the Belleville News-Democrat in 2010 detailed how Bathon had accepted large campaign donations from a small number of tax buyers.
The News-Democrat reported on May 7 that Gibbons is looking at a list of 45 county homeowners "who believe they were victimized by participants in property tax sales" conducted by Bathon.
In relation to Madison County courts, last December Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder was removed from her position overseeing the asbestos docket after it was learned she had accepted $30,000 in campaign contributions from the area's three top asbestos firms.
Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan called for the state's Judicial Inquiry Board (JIB) to conduct an investigation into Crowder's acceptance of the contributions.
A Dec. 28 letter from the JIB in response to Dunstan request confirmed that it had received a complaint against "an Illinois state court judge" and would determine if an investigation was warranted.
Details of "any investigation" are not to be shared, the letter stated, and only those documents filed with the commission during a prosecution become public record.
Crowder returned the contributions and has denied any wrongdoing.
Crowder, as well as Chief Judge Ann Callis, David Hylla and John Knight are seeking retention in November.
All elected judges in Madison County are Democrats. Most county wide elected officials in Madison County are Democrats.
Dunstan, a Democrat, also is up for re-election. He will face Republican Chris Slusser.