East St. Louis police chief among city leaders fired. ‘It was political,’ he says
Editor's note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat.
Two days after being appointed East St. Louis’ interim city manager, Calvin Riley began firing key city employees, including high-ranking police department and code enforcement officials.
Among them was Police Chief Kendall Perry.
Perry said he learned of his dismissal from the photograph of a letter that he received by text on Jan. 18. Otherwise, he says, he has not spoken to either Riley or East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III about losing his job.
The reason for Perry’s firing, the letter says, is “insubordination,” but Perry and others say they lost their jobs because they won’t pledge their support for Eastern’s reelection on April’s consolidated ballot. Eastern is being challenged by community activist Marie Franklin.
”I had heard from various sources that the mayor and Councilman Tommy Dancy have been trying to do this for a while,” Perry said. “We have a job to do to protect the city. It shouldn’t have anything to do with politics.”
Public Works Director Tim Lockett, Assistant Chief Randadore Fogg, and code enforcement officer Harry Hollingsworth also have been fired. Perry also named other leaders in other city departments who left their jobs voluntarily because of the “hostile work environment.”
Eastern has so far declined to confirm the firings or resignations because he says he cannot discuss personnel matters. He also would not address the personal allegations regarding his reelection campaign.
Riley became verbally hostile with a veteran News-Democrat reporter in his refusal to provide the public information that was requested. Subsequent attempts to reach him at his city-issued phone number were not successful.
Hollingsworth said he and others were fired within days of Riley’s appointment less than two weeks before Christmas. “It’s all about politics,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, on every level of wrong.
“He fired people during Christmas when he knows it is already tough and people need their money. To fire people at Christmas because they don’t want to support your ticket is not right.”
How Riley was hired
Riley was hired during a special council meeting on Dec. 13 to fill in for Carlos Mayfield, who is on a leave of absence due to an undisclosed illness.
Council members Joann Parks and Charles Powell Jr. were not present for the vote on Riley’s hiring because, Parks said, the four-member city council was not properly notified of the special meeting. The Illinois Open Meetings Act mandates that public bodies provide notice and an agenda at least 48 hours prior to any public meeting.
The other two council members, Tommy Dancy and Ryan Cason, voted in favor of Riley’s hiring, leaving it to Eastern to cast the decisive vote. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Parks said she does not support the firings, saying Perry and the others worked daily with Mayfield and understood the direction in which city administration was trying to move the city. She also questioned Riley’s $7,000-per-month salary since Mayfield remains on the city’s payroll at more than $100,000 annually while the city remains cash strapped.
Before taking leave, Mayfield sent the administration an email memo, a copy of which has been obtained by the News-Democrat, delegating his duties among other members of his staff. Fire Chief Jason Blackmon was to handle the day-to-day operations of the city manager’s office, according to the memo.
Eastern pushed instead for Riley as an interim hire. Parks says Riley and the firing of department leaders have been “disruptive” to city business.
Caught by surprise
In the meantime, Hollingsworth says his dismissal came as a surprise because there had been no warnings, write-ups or other disciplinary actions taken against him.
“(Eastern) found out that I was not for him and he came to me to ask for my support,” Hollingsworth said. “Instead of firing people he should have tried to continue to talk to people to see if he could actually win their support.
“... I was doing my job. My boss was pleased with the job I was doing but he fired him too.”
Perry also defended his record as police chief, but said he wasn’t surprised by his dismissal. It’s what Riley was hired to do, Perry said.
“In the past 20 years I haven’t been insubordinate, but in the 30 days that he’s been there I’ve been insubordinate,” Perry said. “It doesn’t make any sense. It was political. The city manager was hired to fire certain people and that’s what he is doing.
“My record speaks for itself. Everyday, I took pride in the work I was doing together with my team. It is a joint effort between the police and the citizens. I gave my best to create and keep a safe environment for the people of East St. Louis.”
A year of disruption
It’s been year of disruptions within the East St. Louis Police Department.
First, the city delayed implementing terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, even though officers had worked more than six years without a contract. That was followed by a protracted fight over back-pay claims by rank-and-file officers.
Then, in March, 13 of the local police union’s 28 members met to discuss other issues with the department’s leadership. Eight of them voted in favor of a no-confidence measure against Perry.
The measure had little impact, however, because the Fraternal Order of Police petitioned to withdraw its representation of East St. Louis Lodge 126, which is among the oldest local chapters in the state.
The Illinois Labor Relations Board granted the petition, leaving East St. Louis officers with a rank of sergeant and below without a union.
Individual officers also have been the subject of controversies:
- In March, Illinois State Police probed allegations by a Belleville man that two East St. Louis police officers used excessive force and sending him to the hospital for stitches. The man has not been charged with a crime.
- In June, video from 2019 surfaced on social media that shows an East St. Louis police officer entering a holding cell and spraying a sleeping teenage detainee with a substance that caused him to repeatedly rub his eyes and jump around the cell in distress.
- The incident remains under investigation by state police. In August, Officer Leland L. Cherry Jr. was arrested and charged for allegedly assaulting a Washington Park police officer at a nightclub.
Carolyn P. Smith is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.