In the News

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East St. Louis in the News

 

Nothing is static in East St. Louis. Buildings we photographed in June were burned down by the end of August. Housing projects with gaping windows were boarded up. The Hughes Quinn Junior High School was closed and boarded. The adult evening school was moved and the old Park School site boarded up. The sidewalk project on Missouri Avenue from Collinsville Avenue to the Federal Building progressed. Vandalized schools were repaired. There hardly is a day that East St. Louis is not on the front page of the area dailies. Then there was the ridiculous news St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Roger Scrivner had given City Hall to a creditor!

To keep this book as current as we can, we capsulate the news that has occurred since we began preparation of this book last Memorial Day and is not covered elsewhere.

Sept. 27 Judge Scrivner awarded East St. Louis City Hall and the Alcoa property deeded to the city to Walter DeBow, who was awarded a $3.4 million judgment against the city in 1985 for permanent brain damage suffered when the man was beaten in the city jail. That award also was by Judge Scrivner. The city issued $5.2 million in bonds to pay DeBow who would receive more than $4 million in annual installments including interest until the year 2003. DeBow's attorney, Clyde Kuehn, went back to court arguing that the bonds, not marketable, were worth only $2.8 million and asking the judge to award DeBow the real estate to make up the difference. Eric Vickers, attorney for the city, said the city has never missed a monthly interest payment of $20,000 on the bonds, already had paid DeBow $656,000 in bond money in the last three years. Judge Scrivner authorized quitclaim deeds transferring the property to DeBow, and Kuehn in turn "sold" it to a blind trust. A quitclaim deed quits the claim of the issuing party, but does not necessarily negate the claims of other parties, a question that has not been raised. The city hall cost about $10 million, was financed in a major part with federal funds, and the other land has a possible value of $5 million. The award of property valued by the city at $15 million is in addition to the bond obligation, which continues.
Oct. 5 Vickers struck back and at a press conference announced he was seeking a federal court injunction prohibiting the transfer of the property ("You cannot give away city property because it belongs to the citizens") and seeking $125 million in damages ($25 million actual, $100 million punitive) from St. Clair County Circuit Court, contending the court and Judge Scrivner engaged in racially motivated actions against East St. Louis; filing a motion in circuit court to reverse the decision and that he was asking the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Joseph R. Biden, already investigating charges of harassment of black officials, to investigate racial actions against Carl Officer and the city.

Who cares about the

citizens, Carl?

Who cares? Who cares?

The action by Vickers reportedly was taken without consultation with the aldermanic council, which President Oliver Hendricks was quoted as saying planned action of its own.

With no one -- including Judge Scrivner showing any concern for the citizens of East St. Louis or that the legal mumbo-jumbo failed to pin responsibilities for any action on any person or officer, but would tend to damage institutions and citizens instead of those who might be responsible for any misdeeds - or even identifying the misdeeds - Mayor Officer added to our sense of outrage at the tragic comedy when he posed for a photograph in the Post-Dispatch dressed in a frenchcuff shirt and wearing a tie, "slam dunking a toy basketball" at his desk, with five golf clubs leaning against the wall. The display evidently was intended to show his personal disdain for the whole mess - but also indicated a lack of concern for the image of his city and the harm done to his people! Sorry, Carl, we have tried to be understanding and impartial in this book, but we couldn't contain that editorial comment. You must see yourself as you appear to others. Why didn't you hold the press conference in a partially burned building in the South End surrounded by jobless people to show who really is hurt by these legal shenanigans? Who cares? Who cares?

State Rep. Wyvetter Younge has gotten the question of city manager government on the city ballot for the April 1991 election. Also on the ballot is a proposal to stagger the terms of the aldermen they now all expire simultaneously. Some council members said they will not support the proposal because Younge did not consult with them in advance. Especially critical was Percy McKinney.
Gov. James R. Thompson signed the Distressed Cities Act in East St. Louis Aug. 30 and appointed Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville President Earl Lazerson, 59, chairman of the five-member East St. Louis Advisory Authority to oversee the city's finances. Other members are Ron Bean, 47, executive director of the Illinois Development Finance Authority; Ronald Thompson, 41, president of the GR Group Inc.; Claudia Thomas, 72, retired East St. Louis teacher and Rev. Jerome Jackson, a minister at the Southern Mission Baptist Church. Thompson urged the city to create the revenue stream to repay the $34 million loan from the state, $4 million for infrastructure and $30 million to refinance debt, but gave no specific suggestions as to how the taxpoor city could achieve that payback. Nevertheless, Mayor Carl Officer praised Thompson: "This man has the heart to help." He said to the governor "I share with you a renewed vision."
It would take 10,000 truckloads to haul away trash strewn on city streets, alleys and vacant lots, according to the Metro-East Church-based Citizens Organization (MECCO). The city discontinued providing trash pickup in 1987. Ken Mensing of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said it would take four trucks operating eight hours a day nearly a year to clean up about 120,000 cubic yards of garbage and trash. MECCO hopes some of the state loan money from the Distressed Cities Act will be used for cleanup.

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The St. Clair County Board Taxation Committee voted Aug. 2 to discontinue payment on maintenance and security bills at Gateway Community Hospital - formerly Christian Welfare Hospital - in East St. Louis. Meanwhile, many employees still are owed as much as six weeks back pay. Since the owners also owe the IRS, few expect to get any of the pay.

Circuit Judge Jan Fiss awarded a $2.7 million punitive judgment against Samuel and Larry Ferguson, owners of the former Morris Paint & Varnish Co., and ordered them to pay $900,000 for a state cleanup of hazardous waste at the plant.

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State Rep. James F. Keane, chairman of the Legislative Audit Commission, said legislation will be introduced next spring to place State Community College under Belleville Area College or SIUE if it doesn't correct its financial problems before then. An audit showed the college gave $100,000 in grants to students who were not eligible, paid employees who did not work, allowed students to register and get their grades who had not paid tuition or fees. More than 70 discrepancies were found in the latest audit in June.
Three homeless shelters in East St. Louis in June received grants from the Illinois Shelter Grants Program: Call for Help $25,752; Catholic Urban Programs $7,535 and Second Chance Shelter $65,878.
Financially pressed St. Mary's Hospital announced 60 layoffs effective Aug. 24. In June, 20 were laid off. President Charles Windsor said 20 more may be let go. The hospital had 500 employees, but has only about 100 patients. It is East St. Louis' largest private employer. Sixty per cent of the hospital's patients are eligible for Medicaid, another 23 per cent for Medicare. The Department of Public Aid has said it will raise payments for Medicaid patients to give the hospital another $2.45 million a year. The hospital planned a 20-bed inpatient drug and alcohol abuse center to open in October.
The Post-Dispatch reported the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has scheduled cleanups at the former Lansom Chemical Division, where more than 100,000 gallons of waste oils, sludge and solvents, including PCBs, are stored; the Lefton Iron and Metal Co., scrap salvage site with soil contaminated with PCBs, and Wastex, Inc., a defunct blending operation with storage tanks containing liquids contaminated with PCBs and 7,000 drums with waste oils, solvents and sludge.

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Alderman Percy McKinney, 44, one of the more vocal members of the council, announced Aug. 30 that he will run for mayor. Gordon Wish, a member of the St. Clair County Board of Review, said that he has re-election to win, but then he will look at a race for mayor. Incumbent Carl Officer's aides and Township Supervisor Will McGaughy already have said Officer will run and he has had one unofficial fund raiser. The filing deadline is Dec. 17, the primary will be Feb. 26 and the general election April 2.
Aug. 27 the News-Democrat reported that the City of Centreville donated three used police cars to the East St. Louis Park District, which embraces the city. The donation means that the park district's four park policemen can each have a car, Leonard Johnson, parks director, said. The park district also includes Washington Park and Alorton.
East Side Health District employees volunteered to distribute 2,200 free condoms to East St. Louis prostitutes after an outbreak of a penicillin-resistant gonorrhea. East St. Louis policemen say some of the prostitutes, including homosexuals, are known to have AIDS. The East Side Health District reported Aug. 27 that it had given out $7,000 worth of condoms since January.
The East St. Louis School District voted to pay McIntosh & Co. $70,000 for patching and plastering jobs in 1986-87 less $15,000 for an exterior veneer on a north wall of Rock Junior High School. It fell down a year after it was applied.
Police Lt. Robert Dean told the News-Democrat that TIF (tax increment financing) funds have been used to provide off-duty policemen at $18.75 an hour patrolling in the downtown entertainment district (Collinsville Avenue area) which attracts 2,000 to 3,000 visitors on weekend nights. Later the city was warned this may be a questionable use of TIF funds. The city had been spending about $2,000 a week on the program for about a month, Dean said Sept. 3.
Sept. 6 the News-Democrat reported police volunteers on their own time collected at least $1,000 in suspected drug money and made 56 arrests during a "sweep" of street corners the previous week. Chief of Detectives Lester Anderson said "We think the riff-raff, deadbeats and some of the drug dealers have gotten the message. If they think this is the end of it, they're wrong." Anderson lead the detail of volunteers from the detective, patrol and canine divisions for two nights. Shots were fired at policemen once but no one was hurt. Nine officers volunteered Thursday, the first night; 13 Friday. State Police Capt. Bobby Henry praised the sweep, said it showed the policemen's dedication and determination, but said the state patrolmen were not told of the plans.
The Post-Dispatch Sept. 9 reported that dead people are voting regularly in East St. Louis; that there are more voters than adults in the city; that there are a minimum of 2,717 and a maximum Of 12,735 "phantom voters." East St. Louis has not been conducting the legally required canvass of voters every two years. James Lewis, executive director of the East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, said the canvasses were delayed for financial reasons, and with approval from the State Board of Elections, according to the Post. State's Atty. John Baricevic has charged that East St. Louis has not been required by the state to meet its legal obligations in many areas, and many of the city's problems are a consequence. While the Post disclosure raised a hue and a cry and some News-Democrat stories, there was no indication the rolls would be cleaned up before the November 6 general elections. State's Atty. John Baricevic said that there would be vote fraud even with the rolls cleaned up. Gubernatorial candidate Jim Edgar chided his opponent Ill. Atty. General Neil Hartigan for not cleaning up the mess, and clucked in amazement at Baricevic. The board did remove the names of voters who had died in Missouri and asked the city for $10,000 to purge the voter lists. Similar articles could be found in the the files of the old East St. Louis Journal 20, 30 and 40 years ago, when the whites were in control.
Mayor Carl Officer, Centreville Mayor Riley Owens and Washington Park Mayor Sylvester Jackson met to consider supporting Ted Farmer for County Board chairman because they question Baricevic will represent the best interest of blacks, the News-Democrat reported Sept. 2.
Legislation to permit East St. Louis to levy a land tax was considered as part of the Distressed Cities Act, and evidently discarded. It would have taxed land on its best use, rather than on its use. Thus owners of vacant land would have been taxed most heavily, spurring development. The tax method was taught in economics classes at the University of Missouri in 1950, but has been adopted in very few places.
State Community College received a $91,400 grant to enclose a second-floor walkway in its library with Plexiglas, decreasing the noise level in the rest of the library.
The Illinois State Board of Education approved the financial plan of School District 189 as "financially acceptable." Supt. Lillian Parks testified that the district had a deficit of $17 million when the state declared it in financial difficulty in December, 1988. By the 1989-90 school year it was down to $9.5 million. By the end of this school year it will be down to $2.4 million and by the end of 1991 92 down to $1.1 million. But she told us that this depends on the continuance of funds from the "temporary" state income tax increase. Parks and the district were praised by State School Supt. Robert Leininger.
Unofficial census returns gave East St. Louis 40,253 residents, down almost 15,000 from 55,200 in 1980. St. Clair County also dropped, from 267,531 to 261,084. The figures are not final and are subject to adjustment.
Gov. Jim Thompson in September signed legislation that assured East St. Louis of a gambling boat when it found a qualified applicant. An application by Riverboat Development Corp. is being reviewed. The company promised to hire 500 to 1,000 residents and train them at the State Community College, and to generate $4 million to $7 million for the city annually, including a setaside of 50 cents for each patron in a special fund to be administered jointly by the city and the developer.
A "Focus" article in the July 1 News-Democrat on SIUE President Earl Lazerson noted that during his administration, SIUE appropriated $445,600 for an optometric clinic on its East St. Louis campus in 1989 and had completed a $1.3 million dental clinic there in 1990.

"At its first meeting, the East St. Louis Financial Advisory Commission voted unanimously to withhold state loans until the city submits budgets and a financial plan to the authority. The aldermanic council slashed the budget over the objection of Mayor Officer to show the oversight group if s intent to cooperate.

On the crime front, Carl Lawson was sentenced to death by Judge Michael O'Malley for the brutal knifing and killing of Terrance Kevin "TJ" Jones, 8, son of his estranged girl friend; city policemen said Lawson was a distributor of drugs and the founder of one of the East St. Louis gangs. State police said the stab wounds were in the shape of the gang's symbol. "He has shown no mercy, neither will I," O'Malley said. O'Malley sentenced Derrick Brown, 30, to 35 years for stabbing to death his girlfriend Genelle Howard and burying her body in a shallow grave in his back yard at 764 N. 72nd St. Brown's attorney said his client has "strong provocation," he was in love. He stabbed her 13 times. O'Malley sentenced Mark Wysinger, 19, of 1941 Gay Ave., to 30 years for the shooting death of Louis Dooley, 46, of Edwardsville during a robbery. Dooley was shot in the back of the head as he fled after being robbed. His body was found in a trash heap at 14th and Wilford. Both Brown and Wysinger pleaded guilty.
Alderman Percy McKinney wants to rename Lincoln Park after the late boxing trainer Theodore "Pop" Myles. Meanwhile Jackie Joyner-Kersee wants to help reopen Mary Brown Community Center in Lincoln Park, where Miles trained his boxers. McKinney remembers timing boxing matches at the Pop Myles Athletic Club on Goose Hill.

 

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