EDWARDSVILLE — A bill that would automatically appoint the mayor of Granite City to the Metro East Sanitary District board is working its way through the Illinois General Assembly, and some local Republicans are raising questions about it.
Wood River Township Supervisor Mike Babcock, a Republican, who is running against incumbent state Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton, in the upcoming November election; Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler and County Board member Tom McRae were among those critical of the bill after details became widespread this week.
The sponsor of the bill in the house is Rep. Jay Hoffman. In the Senate, it is sponsored by Bill Haine. Bristow was among those who voted in favor of the bill.
In addition to taking away the power of the Madison County Board chairman to make the appointment, there have also been concerns raised that it would create an automatic conflict of interest because the Granite City mayor controls the city’s wastewater treatment board.
SB2368 started as a bill to allow the exchange of property in St. Clair County, but the bill has been gutted and now amends the Metro East Sanitary District Act of 1974 to immediately appoint “the mayor of the largest municipality in the county having the greater equalized assessed valuation” as an ex officio member of the board.
That would mean Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer would be appointed. At this point he would fill a vacant seat on the board. It would also require the executive director of the district to be a resident of the district.
Under current law there are two members from St. Clair County and three from Madison County. The Madison County board members are appointed by the County Board chairman with the approval of the full board.
McRae, a Republican County Board member from Bethalto, is among those questioning the bill.
“They’re taking it back to back-room politics,” he said, referring to the MESD’s long-time reputation of corruption as part of Madison and St. Clair county’s Democratic political machine.
“The district had been previously mismanaged for years under the Democrat machine,” he said. “They lost $8 million over 10 years, and in an astonishing fact, the very part-time board voted to give themselves a $15,000 salary and free health insurance for themselves and their family.”
MESD has been at the center of several controversies, including the question over insurance for board members, something to which McRae has been adamantly opposed.
The issue of appointments to the board has also been controversial.
Prenzler had been attempting to appoint of Charlotte Dixon to the MESD board, but action was delayed until this month, when the appointment was overwhelmingly shot down.
Part of the reason was that a group representing minority interests slammed the Metro East Sanitary District at this month’s County Board meeting over recent attempts at creating a special service taxing district.
The group, The Leadership Council of Madison County, listed several demands, including rejecting Dixon’s appointment in favor of an appointment from the Madison/Venice area.
One of the issues over Dixon’s appointment was whether she would have a conflict of interest because her husband serves on the Granite City Waste Water Treatment Board. The Granite City mayor is the head of that board.
Prenzler said he first heard about the bill late Wednesday afternoon. He said much of the issue is political.
“It’s no secret that one party has been firmly, firmly in charge of MESD as long as anybody remembers,” he said. “It has been very insulated from the voters. You’ve essentially had the party bosses in St. Clair County appoint two members, and the same in Madison County appointing three members.
The voters have not had a lot of say in this board.”
Babcock issued a press release Friday criticizing Bristow for supporting the bill.
“Rep. Bristow has shown repeatedly that whether the corrupt democratic machine is from Chicago or from her own backyard in Madison and St. Clair counties, she will support them and stick it to the taxpayers,” Babcock said. “This backroom, last minute maneuver from Rep. Bristow and others, to reverse the positive trajectory of the MESD and give power back to the patronage kings of the past is an example of where Rep. Bristow’s priorities lie.”
Bristow was unable to be reached for comment ahead of press time.
Reach reporter Scott Cousins at 618-208-6447.