Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, October 18, 2019

State legislature passes bill that reshapes Republican-controlled board in Metro-East

By Ann Maher | Jun 5, 2018


Democrat lawmakers pushed a bill through Springfield last week that will reshape a local government board under Republican control.

Senate Bill 2368, sponsored by Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) and Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville), requires that one of five commissioners on the Metro East Sanitary District (MESD), in effect, be the mayor of Granite City, Democrat Ed Hagnauer. It also requires the board's executive director, currently Republican Steve Adler, be a resident of the district on the date of enactment.

The MESD is a levy maintenance district that provides flood protection, surface water drainage and sewage treatment to communities near the Mississippi River in Madison and St. Clair counties. It was created in the 1940s to protect munitions, refining and steel operations essential to the war effort.

Control of the board is political. The board chairman in the county that has the greatest equalized assessed valuation - which has been Madison County in recent years - appoints the executive director and can choose three of five commissioners from his or her political party. The other two commissioners the board chairman picks must be from the opposing party.

Adler, who stands to lose his position because he lives outside the district in Alton, is now pinning hopes on a veto by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner..

"He told me (Saturday) that he would read the bill and consider it," Adler said, adding that Haine's bill "is not good government."

Adler, appointed to head MESD by Republican Madison County Board chairman Kurt Prenzler, says that since assuming leadership last year he has reformed operations. He said that financial problems had beset the district, which lost $8 million in 10 years under Democrat leadership.

"We had to go in and make tough decisions," Adler said. "We had to lay off 10 individuals and we cut management in half."

Under the prior administration, he said, "they were hiring willy-nilly without concern for ramification on budgets."

Haine's bill passed the Senate on May 30 along party lines, but before a vote was taken two Republican senators pushed back.

Sen. John Curran (R-Woodridge) called the residency provision in the bill "a termination clause masked as a residency clause."

"...[T]his board is being reconstituted... The Illinois General Assembly is going to make that decision to terminate this person's employment.

"Before you cast that vote, ask yourself one question. What just cause that this legislative body believes it has... what just cause do I have to terminate this person."

Curran said that residency clauses normally are applied to new hires, or if not grandfathered, allow a person time to move, perhaps six months or a year.

Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) said that since a Republican administration has assumed leadership in Madison County, the MESD is running in the black, and has gotten rid of patronage hiring.

Prior to Prenzler's administration, McCarter said the district wasted money and provided poor service. As for the partisan nature of the bill, he said, "You wouldn't apply this to any of your commissions. You should treat this like you treat your own...just pull this (bill)."

He also said that it was not fair because it does not give the executive director an opportunity to make any adjustments.

While Haine made remarks critical of his own - saying the district has been a bed of political patronage and lacked competent leadership "when Democrats ran it" - he said "I still have a total lack of confidence."

He was particularly critical of a recent attempt by the board to establish a special service area that would have taxed properties at 43 cents per $100 in Caseyville, Fairmont City, Brooklyn, Washington Park, and part of East St. Louis. The special area would not have included Madison and Venice.

But St. Clair County Associate Judge Julie Katz last month granted judgment against the sewer district, declaring the establishment of a special service area void, invalid and unenforceable.

Haine called the plan, which was advanced by Adler and supported by Prenzler, "ill-fated" and would have created an "illegal special tax on the poorest area of the district."

He said his bill would "shake it up" by putting on the board the mayor of largest city in Madison County - Granite City - which is entirely dependent on the function of the levy operation.

"It's time to have someone on board who runs for office, someone who is accountable and that is the mayor of Granite City," Haine said.

"It's time to cut bonds with a county machine whether Democrat or Republican. It's time to establish accountability for those who hold this important office."

He said it was important that the executive director live in the district to shoulder effects of a tax levy and face consequences if levies are not maintained, such as flooding.

If the bill goes into effect, Hagnauer would assume an open position on the board that has been pending before the Madison County Board - the nomination of Charlotte Dixon of Wood River, a Republican. If the county board approves Dixon, however, Hagnauer would replace Dixon who would be terminated as the last appointed commissioner.

Haine called it a "failure" that a Republican county chairman cannot get a Republican commissioner approved.

"It's a Republican county board by the way, which is shocking to me, but it is," Haine said.

The hold-up, according to Adler, is related to Republican board members who object to a benefits package that MESD commissioners are currently entitled to.

"They get free family health insurance and Republicans object to that," Adler said. "The GOP members of the county board are trying to get more taxpayer control over health benefits. They can long-term, but the contract is bid periodically with commissioners already in it. When we re-bid, we can."

Once a bill arrives on the governor's desk, he has 60 days to take action. If he takes no action - neither signing or vetoing - the bill becomes law and its provisions are effective immediately. If he vetoes, supporters could attempt to override during the legislature's Fall veto session.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois General Assembly Madison County Madison County Board Metro East Sanitary District