Illinois State Senator Defends Job At Utility District, But Still Won’t Say What He Does
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Illinois State Sen. Christopher Belt defended his job as superintendent of a Metro East water and sewer district, but declined to describe what he does there when asked on Friday, citing ongoing litigation.
“I show up. I work. I do whatever needs to be done,” Belt told the BND. “There’s open litigation. That’s just the way it works. You can’t comment when there’s that process going on.”
For six years, the Democrat from Centreville has worked at Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water and Sewage District, which serves 7,000 residents in a largely impoverished and majority-Black community of the metro-east.
Two St. Louis-area attorneys filed suit against Commonfields on behalf of two residents last year demanding that the district repair problems that have caused decades of flooding and sewage issues in Centreville.
The BND reported Thursday that Belt works at the district in a position that doesn’t have a job description and where his brother-in-law is the chairman of the board.
Board chairman Curtis McCall Sr., general manager Dennis Traiteur and the attorney representing Commonfields all declined to discuss Belt’s role.
McCall was chairman when Belt began working for Commonfields, but his boss is the general manager and the person who hired him, the senator said. Belt assumed office as senator in 2019 and earns $69,000 a year.
Public officials are allowed to have jobs outside of serving in the part-time legislature, though they are required to disclose their work if it’s at a public entity.
Until Friday, Belt had avoided BND interview requests about his Commonfields work. He didn’t return phone calls, text messages or emails over more than a week seeking information about what he does for Commonfields, where he made nearly $58,500 in 2020, according to salary documents obtained through an open records request. Belt said he didn’t respond because he was busy in Springfield.
The General Assembly session began in early March and continues through next week. Belt serves on 10 committees.
Some citizens have criticized Belt and other elected officials for not attending meetings about flooding, but the senator says he has attended meetings and worked hard on behalf of residents in his capacity as a lawmaker.
“If they’re upset about anything, they just don’t know what we’ve been doing,” Belt said.
He said he communicates regularly with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s office, which became active in seeking grants to pay for repairs. He has attended some community meetings, but has missed others.
“I’m aware of (the flooding issues). We’re fighting to try to get it done,” Belt said. “Centreville does not have the resources to successfully deal with that issue. That issue has been going on for about 50 years.”
Belt said he “looks forward to working with the governor to get this situation taken care of.” Gov. J.B. Pritzker discussed the issues in Centreville at a recent visit to the Metro East. Pritzker pledged his administration’s support for a $22 million federal grant that local officials believe could fix Centreville’s flooding problems.
“We’ve done everything that we could,” Belt said.
Kelsey Landis is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.