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Government, Politics & Issues

A state senator, mayor’s family are on the payroll of Metro East’s newest town

050621_DH_mccall congrats mayor.jpg
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Curtis McCall Sr, the first mayor of Cahokia Heights, is congratulated after being sworn in. McCall's sons and his brother-in-law, State Sen. Chris Belt, are all on the new city's payroll.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

CAHOKIA HEIGHTS — The former mayor of Alorton, a state senator and Mayor Curtis McCall Sr’s sons are among the 112 employees working for the new city of Cahokia Heights.

McCall Sr, who was sworn in as mayor of Cahokia Heights in May, said he’s confident in everyone he’s appointed to serve in his administration so far, given that several have previously worked for the three dissolved towns and associated entities included in the merger.

“Since I’ve been the mayor, we’ve probably hired 100 people in the new city of Cahokia Heights, and that should tell you a little bit about my ability to be fair,” said McCall, who is paid $85,025.20 annually to be mayor.

Former Alorton Mayor JoAnn Reed works as the director for the city’s nutrition center. Illinois Sen. Chris Belt (D-Swansea) is the director of compliance, risk management and safety, according to 2021 documents obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat. Both positions are full-time.

Reed and Belt previously worked for Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District — making $29,400 and $58,500, respectively, in 2020 — which the new city absorbed under its own water and sewer department.

In their new positions with Cahokia Heights, Reed will be paid $72,000 and Belt will make $64,000. Belt also earns $69,000 as a part-time state legislator.

Neither of them did not return the BND’s multiple calls to their office and cell phone numbers for this story.

Mayor McCall’s sons, Kerchavian and Nathaniel McCall, are employed full-time for Cahokia Heights Water and Sewer department.

Kerchavian McCall, who previously made $27,439 as a laborer for Commonfields of Cahokia, will be paid a salary of $67,450. Nathaniel McCall is paid $20.42 an hour, or more than $42,000 per year.

Roy Belt, who also makes $20.42 an hour is McCall’s nephew-in-law. Chris Belt, whose job description for the city includes managing “risk management and safety related to storm sewers, water mains, sanitary sewers”, is McCall’s brother-in-law. He’s married to Belt’s sister, Yvonne.

McCall declined to comment on hiring family members to work for his administration. Kerchavian and Nathaniel McCall could not be immediately reached for comment.

Who are the highest paid? 

Other full-time employees for the new city include Assistant Police Chief Benjamin Callahan, who’s the highest-paid employee for Cahokia Heights, making $93,932.80 a year.

Police Chief Steven Brown, who previously served as the police chief for Centreville, is the second-highest earner at $91,400. This rate is an increase from the $84,075 salary that was reported to the BND for Brown in May.

The salary for Francella Jackson, director of city operations who previously served as an administrator for Cahokia, is also an increase over what was reported to the BND. Jackson is the fifth-highest earner on the city’s payroll at $83,950 per year, an increase from the $80,560 reported in May.

McCall attributes the salary increases to the establishment of a new city, though he said he and his team are working swiftly to get the best employees working for his administration.

“I think it’s going great,” McCall said about forming the city’s staff. “Of course, like anything new, especially a city, a government, there’s been some ups and downs.”

Former mayors given jobs in new city

Ninety-two employees are full-time and 20 are part-time. Cahokia Heights did not provide the BND a list of salaries for all part-time employees as previously requested, but did send a list of salaries and wages for all full-time employees and payroll sheets for July, from which the BND was able to determine the names and July wages for all part-time employees.

On August 3, the BND sent a Freedom of Information Act that requested the names and salaries of all full-time and part-time employees, including elected officials. The city’s response, which wasn’t received until Aug 20, included July payroll of all employees. The documents didn’t include salary information nor did it specify which employees were full-time or part-time.

On August 23, an additional FOIA request was sent to the city requesting the same information. The city’s response, which was received on Sept. 2, included only the salary information for full-time employees.

Former Centreville Mayor Marius Jackson is among the part-time employees. He’s the director of the city’s emergency management agency and made $2,740 in July, which would total $32,880 over a full year. In May, his reported salary to the BND was $25,000.

Jackson and JoAnn Reed are two of three former mayors McCall praised for selflessly giving up their elected positions for sake of the new town. He’s still praising them, even though they found a place on his administration’s payroll.

“Actually, it’s a huge sacrifice,” Mayor McCall said. “They gave up their elected positions. I did not say that they would not become a part of the city. I think that both of those individuals are going to serve Cahokia Heights admirably in those positions. I think JoAnn Reed is going to do a great job as the director of senior and youth activities, and I think that Mayor Jackson is going to do a great job of Emergency Management (Agency) director.”

Jackson and McCall previously told the BND that they’re confident in Jackson’s appointment as Emergency Management Agency Director, even though both are named as defendants in a 2020 lawsuit alleging that local officials were negligent in handling constant flooding issues in former Centreville.

Still building water, sewer department

McCall said fixing the issue is among his top priorities and that he’s been in contact with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’m pleased to announce we have a good working relationship with these entities and am looking forward to some things to come from those departments,” McCall said. “Our water and sewer department is probably about 90% at capacity when it comes to manpower. We have some equipment that we need to get so that those men will have the proper equipment they need. I can clearly say that working with these agencies, we’re probably at about 70% where we need to be as far as moving in the right direction.”

He added: “The water has taken precedence over the sewer in my administration now even though the sewer is a close entity that we’ll be working on in conjunction with the water. Of course manning up the police department as well (is a priority).”

The new mayor also wants to ensure residents that he’s hired the best people to serve them.

“I feel confident in every one of these hires, from my administrators, to the men and women that are out there working every day,” McCall said. “I think that we owe it to the taxpayers of Cahokia Heights to pay our employees a decent salary so that they can raise their families and at the same time require that these employees come to work and do their job.

“As the mayor, I will make sure that each and every one of these employees do just that.”

DeAsia Paige is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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