Can things get much worse for East St. Louis and Mayor Robert Eastern III?
On October 22 his political ally and recently appointed community development and TIF director June Hamilton-Dean was convicted in St. Clair County Circuit Court on charges of felony forgery and public misconduct charges, with the jury bringing back a guilty verdict after only 46 minutes.
Eastern defended the hiring of Hamilton-Dean back in July, acknowledging the felony charges she faced, while citing her experience as an ESL councilwoman, consultant to the township board and her work with the Department of Defense as his rationale for appointing her to the $73,000 a year post before knowing the outcome of her case. He also said, at the time, that he would revisit the hire should she be convicted.
According to City Manager Brooke Smith, Hamilton-Dean was terminated immediately following her conviction. Smith further stated that ESL will not fill the vacant position due to a budget shortfall created by the current financial crisis facing the city.
That crisis is based upon a state revenue intercept, resulting from an ESL fire pension board request back in September. The city had fallen behind in payments to the pension funds of both firefighters and police officers to the tune of $3.9 million.
So, until that deficit is erased, the Illinois Comptroller’s Office will collect and redirect all of the city’s revenue. In response, the city laid off nine firefighters on Halloween and closed one fire house to make up for the budget shortfall.
This will create delays in response time during a time of year when fires are most likely to occur due to the incorrect use of space heaters and other methods of heating homes, thus creating fire hazards.
The city kicked the pension issue down the road for years prior to Eastern’s administration. Funds ($500,000) from the continued maintenance of an unnecessary city board of elections could have been redirected toward the pension funds, but wasn’t done because St. Clair County bigwigs depend on the ESL vote to maintain their power base.
Does a city with a mere 26,000 residents require both a city manager and a mayor? No. That’s another $100,000 that could be saved.
The apparent lack of remorse by June Hamilton-Dean following her conviction doesn’t instill confidence in ESL voters in their elected or appointed officials.
“This is the classic example of voter intimidation,” she stated. “It’s classic harassment and malicious prosecution motivated by corrupt individuals who use the justice system to settle the score.”
Perhaps Hamilton-Dean simply refused to listen to her attorney Lloyd Cueto. Perhaps she believes that Judge John O’Gara cannot read or that he won’t take her remarks into consideration when he sentences her on December 17.
To paraphrase the late, great Donny Hathaway, I predict that this Christmas won’t be a very Merry Christmas for June Hamilton-Dean, following her post-conviction rant. Nor will it be for the unemployed firefighters or the citizens of ESL who continue to be taxed more, receive less services and consistently see a cesspool of corrupt politicians disappoint them.