• The mayor and the City Council are at odds over the proposed appointment of a deputy chief to the Alton Police Department.
City Council members voiced opposition to a late change in the city’s budget, just before it was to vote the budget resolution into effect. Some members say they felt “bullied” into accepting the changes, which would pave the way for Police Chief Jason “Jake” Simmons’ recommended appointment of Sgt. Terry Buhs to deputy chief.
6th Ward Alderman Gary Fleming expressed concern over Buhs “jumping over” other employees of the police department, including a captain, Scott Waldrup, and five lieutenants, to be appointed.
“We need to know, as we usually do, when we have major things like this come up,” 5th Ward Alderman Charles Brake said. “Now, all of a sudden, we have to have this deputy. This is not the way we do things, and I won’t stand for it.”
“Every other department head has a deputy, including the fire department,” Mayor Brant Walker said. “The police department is growing, and we need a deputy.”
Walker told the board blocking the amended city budget would adversely affect public safety.
“It is disappointing that some members of the City Council have chosen to single out two well-respected and distinguished officers for what appear to be purely political reasons,” Simmons said. “The mayor and I have been attempting to discuss this issue with the aldermen for over two months, but to our disappointment, some aldermen have refused to meet with us to gain all of the facts with regard to the position of deputy chief.
“The assertion that promoting a deputy police chief would increase the pension liability, or the city’s budget, is simply false. In fact, it would be a cost savings to the taxpayers over filling a sixth lieutenant position.”
While addressing the council, Cheryl Rauschkolb of Alton proposed the city pass a resolution requiring public notice of appointments before they happen.
“Communities such as Bloomington, Illinois, post their finalist’s qualifications in the newspaper prior to selection to inform the public that their leaders are making fair decisions,” she said. “These decisions should be based on qualifications such as years of service, education, training, and residency.”
On Wednesday, the City Council eventually passed the budget, but only with provisions and after much wrangling with the mayor.
The council initially turned down the budget, at which time the mayor exercised his right to vote, turning the vote from a 4-3 to a tie. 6th Ward Alderman Gary Fleming attempted to make an amendment blocking the deputy chief appointment.
Following a recess, the two sides formed a compromise, with the council unanimously approving the budget ordinance, which was required by state law by the end of the month, with the stipulation that no money from the budget would go for a deputy chief position for the police department.
"It is clear the council has spoken tonight on this issue," Corporation Counselor Jim Schrempf said. "They want no funding for the position of deputy chief."
He said with the new agreement, there will be no available funds within the total police department payroll for a deputy chief position.
"I am strongly against not having a deputy in this department," Walker said. "They serve an important function."
The budget can be amended at any time during the second quarter of the fiscal year.
• Mayor Brant Walker has announced admission will be free to the July 3 Fireworks on the Mississippi Party at the Liberty Bank Alton Amphitheater.
“We have been working to secure sponsors so this can be a free event for quite some time,” Walker said. “I’m proud to announce today that this is made possible by a combination of tourism taxes, sponsorship dollars from local businesses and philanthropic donors. We look forward to welcoming everyone for a fantastic evening.”
The Fireworks on the Mississippi Party at Liberty Bank Alton Amphitheater will have three bands plus patriotic music playing during the fireworks. Soft drinks, food and beer will be available for purchase with prices starting at $3. Doors open at 5 p.m.; music begins at 6 p.m.