The honeymoon has officially ended for East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III. After winning the thankless job by a landslide, the harder task of sailing the leaky ship of city government has finally set in.
Inheriting a $5.5 million deficit, Eastern has had to grapple with the reality of beginning his young administration in perpetual damage control mode, with little room for error.
He began his term by pledging to use campaign funds designated for the Mayor’s Gala to start a spring cleanup program.
Next, as a first step toward addressing the budget deficit, he voluntarily took a $5,000 pay cut to his $50,000 salary, with the new City Manager Brooke Smith also agreeing to cut her $110,000 salary by $20,000, with hopes that the City Council would follow their lead. Good luck with that.
And the optics are great, but a $25,000 sacrifice by two administrators is only symbolic, a mere drop in the bucket, when one is strapped with a multimillion dollar deficit and the very real potential of having to layoff city employees, including the possibility of deep cuts to the already understaffed police and fire departments.
It’s an ugly picture that won’t evaporate through symbolic gestures and wishful thinking but, most likely, must be solved through drastic measures, including steep staffing cuts and the possibility of state oversight.
Making matters worse was the recent hire of June Hamilton-Dean by Smith (without a vote from City Council) as the new Community Development and TIF director, effective July 16, at a salary of $73,000 per year.
For those who are unaware, Hamilton-Dean recently surrendered herself at the St. Clair County Jail and was processed for a felony loan fraud charge. She was originally charged on four felony bank fraud counts back in October 2017. Two of those charges have since been dismissed.
However, in September, Hamilton-Dean is scheduled for pre-trial hearings for forgery and felony fraud in the St. Clair County Circuit Court.
Calls to Mayor Eastern were unanswered at press time, but the obvious question is why such an obviously poor hiring decision was made at such a crucial time?
And, also, is this not more of the same in terms of hires at ESL City Hall resembling a casting call for “Goodfellas” or “The Godfather”?
Mayor Eastern must realize that he was elected not to engage in more of the same “poli-tricks,” but to end business as usual, and that this will do little to earn the trust of Governor Pritzker, Senator Durbin and others whose assistance he may very well need to attack the city’s fiscal crisis.
He started well, but the optics are already slowly descending into the abyss of the political sewer that has been and is ESL city government.
More questionable hires like Hamilton-Dean, with the stench of backroom wheeling and dealing, will only be a deterrent to salvaging the sinking ship of ESL.
At some point Eastern, Smith, the City Council, someone must finally have the integrity to take a stand and say “no more” to cronyism, nepotism and operate with a sense of integrity, accountability and transparency.
The question is will it be this administration?