A Madison County board member has filed a lawsuit against the County Board and one of its committees over a resolution aimed at resolving lingering questions about the legality of a special meeting.
Granite City Democrat Michael Charles Parkinson’s two-count lawsuit against the board and its Government Relations Committee, filed Feb. 15 in the Third Judicial Circuit, alleges a violation of the Open Meetings Act. The suit states the committee and board violated state law by posting an agenda that lacked an adequate explanation of the resolution listed on the agenda.
“It’s my belief that they didn’t properly notify the public and other County Board members, for that matter, of what the resolution entailed, which is a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Parkinson said in an interview after Wednesday’s board meeting.
The suit asks the court to nullify the actions taken by the committee at its Feb. 6 meeting. The suit also seeks to recover attorney fees and other litigation costs.
The resolution in question is related to a Dec. 5 special meeting when newly elected County Board members were sworn into office. At that meeting, County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler allowed former board member Stephen Adler to preside because of Adler’s familiarity with the board’s procedures. But Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons has said Adler lacked the authority to preside over the meeting and advised the board to convene a new meeting to legitimize the actions taken Dec. 5.
Since then, Granite City Democrat Arthur Asadorian has twice attempted to call a special meeting to follow Gibbons’ recommendation. But both times Prenzler, who contends the Dec. 5 meeting was valid, overruled Asadorian’s motions.
The resolution lists three County Board findings about the Dec. 5 meeting:
• Prenzler’s actions Dec. 5 meet the definition of “presiding” in the county ordinance governing board meetings.
• The Credentials Committee report validating the seating of new members was properly submitted and approved.
• Board members were properly elected, seated and sworn in by the county clerk.
The resolution also states that if any part of the county’s ordinance is found to be inconsistent with the resolution’s findings, the ordinance will be amended retroactively to make it consistent with the resolution.
When the resolution came to a vote, Asadorian made a motion for a closed-session discussion about litigation. But, with 2 members abstaining, the board voted 12-11 against going into the executive session, after which members voted 16-9 to table the resolution. Four board members were absent.
Prenzler said he thought it was premature to discuss the lawsuit in closed session because the county had only been notified of Parkinson’s lawsuit during the meeting.
“We need to all take a look at this so we can review it at another time,” Prenzler said.
Over Democrats’ objections, the board approved two department head appointments but cut the salary for one of the appointees after a motion by a Republican board member.
By a vote of 14-11, the board approved Rob Schmidt as director of facilities management for an annual salary of $104,000. Schmidt has worked as department manager at R.P. Lumber in Edwardsville since 2002, overseeing the management of commercial, retail, office and hospitality properties, according to his resumé. He also has worked as a manager for Ellinger Winfield in Edwardsville, Construction Concepts Co. in Troy and Yungck Construction in Brighton. He has an associate degree in architectural design from Ranken Technical College.
“Rob has a lot of experience and a track record of bringing in construction projects not only on time and to specifications but also in a cost-efficient way,” Prenzler said in an interview.
One of Schmidt’s first tasks will be to reassess planned renovations at the Madison County Jail, Prenzler said.
By a 16-9 vote, the board appointed Todd Fulton as the emergency management director for a salary of $58,000.
Fulton, who grew up in East St. Louis, joined the Secret Service in 1995 as a special agent and retired from the agency in 2015. After retirement, he served as public safety director in East St. Louis for 4 months before being laid off for budgetary reasons. Most recently, he worked as executive consultant to Triken, a private investigative and consulting business in Belleville.
Prenzler said he believes Fulton is the first African-American to hold a department head position in the county’s history.
“After a lot of experience in (Washington) D.C. he’s returned to his home area, and so we’re very pleased to be able to appoint him,” Prenzler said.
Fulton’s salary was initially set at $85,000 but was reduced after Collinsville Republican Lisa Ciampoli made a motion to cut the salary. She also made a motion to reduce Schmidt’s salary to $95,600 but no other board members seconded the motion.
Democrats questioned Prenzler about why the county replaced former Emergency Management Director Larry Ringering, who Prenzler said resigned after Ringering learned of Fulton’s appointment. Ringering, whose annual salary was $68,743, received a severance package of 4 months salary and 4 months health insurance, Prenzler told the board.
“Why would we replace someone with such high integrity and who’s done an excellent job?” Asadorian asked.
Edwardsville Democrat Jack Minner questioned the wisdom of replacing former Director of Facilities Management Kurt Geschwend, a licensed engineer who has served in the post since 2010. Geschwend will return to his former position in the department.
“He’s doing a very good job,” Minner said. “Why are we installing a person with less qualifications?
“I think this is a job that’s strictly created for a political appointment,” Minner said.
Bethalto Republican Tom McRae defended Schmidt’s appointment, saying he will help the county save money.
“I honestly think he’s uniquely qualified,” McRae said.
Prenzler said more appointees may be brought for a vote at future board meetings.
“We are being intentionally methodical in terms of evaluating things,” he said. “I think the going-slow approach is better for us right now.”