Democrats have moved forward to take control of the Metro East Sanitary District with the passage of a bill that changes how board commissioners are appointed.
Amendments to a bill sponsored by Sen. Rachelle Crowe (D-Wood River), SB 584 also take aim at the executive director of the district, who will lose his job immediately on its signing into law.
Executive director Stephen Adler, a Republican who had been appointed to the position by Madison County board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, also a Republican, said he has never seen a situation where legislation out of Springfield was used to target, in such a political way, operations within a county.
"At this point the Democratic Party in Madison County has long wanted to get back to control of the MESD and this will make that happen," Adler told the Record.
He added the MESD, under his leadership and a Republican-leaning board, has been operating in the black and smoothly. He said the district had previously been beset by financial problems, claiming it lost $8 million in 10 years under Democrat control prior to Prenzler's administration.
Adler said that early in his tenure two dozen jobs were cut, and then it ran a surplus budget in 2017 for the first time since 2007.
On whether a legal challenge might be mounted, Alder said he and all other staff and commissioners are concentrating on flooding concerns now, adding that after the waters subside, the board of commissioners may look into it.
The MESD board is currently made up of three members from Madison County and two from St. Clair County.
Under the bill, Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, a Democrat, would replace one of three Republican members of the board from Madison County, effectively delivering 3-2 control to the Democrats.
"Currently, the Metro East Sanitary District does not have adequate representation from the largest city in the district,” Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville), one of its sponsors, said during a committee meeting ahead of its full passage. "That is why the mayor of Granite City or his designee should be on the board.”
Crowe, who was an original sponsor of the bill but was removed, and then later added back again as chief sponsor, did not respond to a call for comment.
The bill, or the amendment to an amendment of what was the Non-Home Rule Municipal Retailers’ Occupation Tax Act, also targets the executive director of the district, Adler.
It requires the executive director to live in the district - on the day it is signed by Gov. JB Pritzker. Adler is under contract until 2020.
A similar bill passed the legislature last year, but was vetoed by then Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.
County Board member Mike Walters, a Republican, said this was an obvious power play by Democrats.
"This was a problem that was fixed and they want to go back to the old way," Walters said.
Walters also said there was also a conflict of interest with the appointment to the district board of the Granite City mayor.
MESD's biggest vendor, at an estimated $1 million annually, is the Granite City Wastewater Treatment Plant. Hagnauer is chairman of the wastewater board.
"There are so many things about this that could be deemed unconstitutional," Walters said, noting the provision that the director must be resident in the district on the very same day the bill is signed.
Walters believes there is a high potential for litigation, particularly from Adler.
He was hard-pressed to cite other legislation passed in Springfield specifically to change control of a county level organization.
"I have seen what the MESD is doing, how well it is being run, (and) it will be sad to see what was fixed going back to the old days just so they can have power," Walters said.