Cahokia Heights Leaders Take Office, As Life Begins In Metro East’s Newest City
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
On Thursday morning, about 50 people gathered at Cahokia Village Hall to watch elected officials take the oath to become the first leaders of Cahokia Heights, the newest city in southwest Illinois.
Cahokia Village Hall will be Cahokia Heights’ new city hall.
The beginning of the meeting was officiated by Curtis McCall Jr., the former mayor of Cahokia. He’s also the son of Curtis McCall Sr, the first mayor of Cahokia Heights who was sworn in on Thursday.
“It has been my extreme pleasure and honor to serve the residents of the village of Cahokia for the past six years,” McCall Jr said. “Over these past election cycles, these residents have spoken and have spoken loudly as to a new change in government. Today is a historic day. Today is a new day, a new beginning for the city of Cahokia Heights.”
The formation of the new town is the result of a merger of Alorton, Centreville and Cahokia, which voters approved last November. Curtis McCall Sr, the former supervisor of Centreville Township, was a proponent of the merger.
McCall Sr. ran unopposed for last month’s election along with other candidates under his New Vision Party Ticket. Tami Brooks, an independent candidate who originally ran against McCall Sr, was removed from the electoral ballot earlier this year after failing to have enough petition signatures.
“It’s a bittersweet day, as my son said, the previous mayor,” McCall Sr. said after being sworn in. “There is roughly over 150 either appointed or elected employees that lost their job starting today. As I stated, it’s bittersweet.
“Some of you may ask how did we get here. There was a meeting between myself, Alorton Mayor Reed, Mayor Jackson from Centreville (and) Mayor McCall from Cahokia. There was a meeting amongst these three individuals and myself to discuss the finances of each and everyone of these villages and cities, and it was decided three years ago that if, in fact, we could not fix the finances of these municipalities, that we would think about doing a unification.
“We decided to do a unification and at that time we decided to cut salaries, and to cut salaries, the only way you can do that is eliminate jobs,” McCall Sr said. “Not only did we eliminate jobs, we eliminated these mayors’ positions, all of their clerks, all of their treasurers, all of their alderpersons. They gave up their positions so that we may have a future for our children.“
McCall Sr. said that the three cities had a deficits of about $1.8 million and another $4 million in old debt. However, by letting go of some city employees, McCall said Cahokia Heights currently has a budget of about $2 million and no deficit.
“We will not start this new city off with a deficit,” McCall Sr said. “We will start this new city off with a balanced budget.”
The new mayor mentioned that he’d make it a priority to ensure former employees of the three towns would find a new job. He also said he’d assess various departments of Cahokia Heights to see if some employees need to come back.
“I will be calling every one of those employees (and) letting them know that my first order of business is to set up an office to assist them, helping them fill out their unemployment, helping them do job searches. I will do everything in my willpower to help them find jobs.”
The new leaders ended the ceremony by holding a meeting in which they approved new directors of the city departments. The mayor mentioned that elected officials, including himself, and new department heads will have a 5% pay cut on their salaries.
The other candidates sworn in on Thursday were: Debra Duncan for clerk; Jan Scott for treasurer; and Tiffany Pearce, Lisa VanMeter, Sheree Jethroe-Franklin, Gloria Liddell-Ware, James Haywood, Tonie Townsend Sr., Gwen Mccallum and Demario Weeden for board of aldermen.
However, during the meeting, the board approved the resignation of Debra Duncan in favor of Richard Duncan, her husband, becoming the new clerk. Richard Duncan previously served as the clerk of Cahokia. It wasn’t stated why the change occurred.
Additionally, aldermen drew a lottery during the meeting to determine if they’d serve two or four-year terms. Haywood, Mccallum, Weeden and Townsend Sr. will serve two-year terms, and VanMeter, Ware, Pearce and Jethroe-Franklin will serve four-year terms.
McCall Sr.'s term will end in 2025.
DeAsia Paige is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.