Metro East Coverage | St. Louis Public Radio

Metro East Coverage

East St.  Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

East St. Louis employees across all departments could be facing layoffs due to a budget deficit approaching $5.7 million by 2016.

“We will make every effort as an administration to review all legal options and only look at layoffs as a last resort. However at this point we really do not see how the city will avoid layoffs,” said Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks in a prepared statement to news outlets Sunday afternoon.

(Via Flickr/Rosemary)

Illinois has yet to pass a state budget, and an East St. Louis health-care facility is facing layoffs and other tough decisions as a result.

The East Side Health District, which provides services to area residents, could lay off up to 30 workers, (an amount totaling up to two-thirds of the staff) and may end up closing altogether if it does not receive state funding soon.  

Flickr | Taber Andrew Bain

July 1 marked the official start of a new fiscal year, and the state of Illinois is without a working budget for most state services.

For now things seem to be in a holding pattern in the Metro East. Illinois State Troopers based in Collinsville are reporting to work and expect to get paid as normal. Cahokia Mounds remains open on its reduced Wednesday through Sunday schedule.

But many area service providers are on pins and needles as they wait to see if and when they’ll get reimbursed.

Worker at one of Community Link's workshops for adults with developmental disabilities.
courtesy Community Link

Social service agencies that provide support to thousands of people in the Metro East will be operating without state funding starting Wednesday if Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner can’t reach a budget compromise before the start of the new fiscal year.

Funding for most state programs, including child care subsidies and early intervention for children with developmental disabilities, have yet to be approved.

Jacob Lawrence. The Migration Series. 1940-41. Panel 22.
Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art

Harlem Renaissance painter Jacob Lawrence created his Great Migration Series 74 years ago, but his frank depiction of those events and the African-American experience of the time could be about current events in St. Louis and the United States. And as artists look to conceptualize what happened in Ferguson, they would do well to study Lawrence.

(Courtesy of the City of Belleville)

The board of Belleville Township could soon be voting to dissolve itself.

Currently an Illinois township can only be dissolved by a referendum of the people and approval from surrounding townships, but a bill awaiting consideration by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner would allow the Metro East township’s elected officials to vote for dissolution instead.

Alex Heuer

Representative John Shimkus, a Republican who represents Illinois' 15th Congressional District, joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to discuss some of the issues he’s dealing with as a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and other matters in Washington. Shimkus represents a large portion of the Metro East as well as parts of eastern and southeastern Illinois.

Former East St. Louis mayor Alvin Parks, Jr. joined "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh.
Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

Alvin Parks, Jr. joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to discuss his two terms as mayor of East St. Louis and his plans for the future.

Councilwoman Emeka Jackson-Hicks unseated Parks in the April 7 election. After a court order removed his name from the ballot, Parks was forced to wage a write-in campaign. Jackson-Hicks is the daughter of Democratic state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson. She was sworn into office on Monday.

     

"Get to Know M.E." http://www.get2knowthemetroeast.com

In March 2015, 23 businesses and organizations collaborated to create the “Get to Know M.E.” campaign (M.E. standing for “Metro East”) to counter the negative images some people may have about the Metro East.

Founded by Carol Bartle, the campaign’s goal is to help everyone in the Metro East get to know their communities better and to embrace each other as neighbors, all while working to improve the overall image outsiders may have about the region.

Mascotoutah Mayor Jerry Daugherty speaks at a news conference Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Daugherty is the current chair of the Illinois Municipal League.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

A dozen Metro East mayors are asking Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to reconsider a cost-saving measure in his proposed state budget. Rauner ran for office on a pledge to balance the budget, and has proposed cutting in half the amount of state income tax given to municipalities next fiscal year.

Debate over late-night club hours resurfaces in East St. Louis mayor’s race

Mar 18, 2015
(Joseph Leahy/St. Louis Public Radio)

The outcome of East St. Louis’s mayoral election next month could play a major role in the city’s efforts to boost economic development and public safety. One key issue in the race involves the operating hours of the city’s late-night clubs and liquor stores.

Two-term incumbent Alvin Parks Jr. wants to allow the businesses stay open until at least 6 a.m. to generate extra tax revenue. Parks' name has been taken off the ballot by a court, but he's still running.

Solar panels are showing up more often on farms. File foto from Fickr
David Goehring | Flickr

A solar power project slated for East St. Louis is waiting on the Illinois General Assembly to pass specific legislation so it can get funding to move forward.

S. Wray Clay of the United Way of Greater St. Louis, speaks during a presentation of the annual Kids Count report in East St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

“We need to do something different.”  

That was S. Wary Clay's message to parents during a presentation Thursday of the 2015 Kids Count report at the Lessie Bates Davis Family Development Center in East St. Louis.

St. Clair County, which includes East St. Louis, has a 30.3 percent childhood poverty rate, the second-highest for all counties in Illinois. Nearby Marion County's rate is 30.5 percent.

Hofbrauhaus, Shrine, Belleville
(courtesy Keller Entreprises)

A new convention center, two hotels, and several restaurants are being proposed for development across from the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, all with the Catholic organization’s blessing.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate own the 177-acre proposed site north of Illinois Route 15, just across from the Shrine. The Oblates said at a news conference Monday the development will augment their own conference space at the Shrine.

Guest services and marketing manager for the Shrine Chris Diel said it would also allow them to close an old hotel on the grounds.

Lawmaker: Close East St. Louis Election Board

Jan 23, 2015
Proposition B asks to voters to allow their local city or county to continue collecting sales tax on cars bought out of state
File photo | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s a new effort underway to shut down the East St. Louis Election Board.

Illinois State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) is sponsoring a bill to close it. Kay’s district includes portions of Madison and St. Clair County, but not East St. Louis.

If the bill passes, the St. Clair County Clerk will take over responsibility for elections in East St. Louis.

A Level I Trauma Center at St. Louis University Hospital.
Provided by Saint Louis University Hospital

Get in a car crash, take a gunshot, or survive a farm machinery accident in rural Illinois or parts of the Metro East, and you’ll likely be taken to St. Louis University Hospital, across the river.   

“The quicker you get somebody here, the better they’re going to do,” said Helen Sandkuhl, who directs the Emergency Department. More than half of the hospital’s trauma patients come from Illinois, and the trip can be a long one. Broad swaths of the state do not have certified trauma centers within 50 miles, creating "trauma deserts" in southern and central Illinois.

Illinois Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner shakes the hand of a diner at Red Apple Family Restaurant in Maryville, Ill. on January 10, 2015.
Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio

With the countdown to inauguration day down to two, Illinois Governor-Elect Bruce Rauner stepped into Red Apple Family Restaurant in the Metro East Saturday with a Carhartt jacket on his back and a smile on his face.

The discerning eye could note a silver Illinois-shaped pin stuck to the lapel of the tan work coat.

The crowded red-roofed eatery in the village of Maryville was the Republican’s first stop Saturday—the second day of his pre-inauguration tour.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon talked to reporters Thursday in Belleville about the impact of military spending throughout the state.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

A new report shows that Illinois’ military and defense industry contributes roughly $13.3 billion to the state’s economy – a figure that officials say could serve as a deterrent against federal cutbacks. 

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Foundation helped produced the study, which looks at the statewide impact of military installations, Department of Defense contracts and National Guard facilities.

(Read the report here.)

Illinois state Rep. Mike Bost's impassioned floor speech from 2012 is getting some attention. Democrats are using it to paint him as an ill-tempered extremist, while Republicans say it showcases his passion for his constituents.
Mike Bost's campaign

On the surface, Mike Bost and Moses don’t have that much in common. But some not-so-flattering political ads may create a different impression.

Bost – a Republican state representative from Murphysboro – is engaged in a highly competitive race against U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, for the 12th congressional district seat. It’s become vigorous enough to force the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to spend lots of money to paint Bost in a bad light.

(via Flickr/evmaiden)

The Highland, Illinois teachers’ union reached a settlement with the district’s board of education late Thursday afternoon, ending a week-long teacher strike.  Students will be back in class Friday after missing six days of school.

In a press release, Highland Superintendent Mike Sutton said the new teacher contract is good for three years and includes a provision to make up the missed school days. With school back in session Friday, school-sanctioned activities are now back on the weekend schedule, including the high school football game.

Michael Allen, Preservation Research Office

A part of downtown East St. Louis will likely be listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the end of September, and city officials hope that designation will spark revitalization.

The Downtown East St. Louis Historic District encompasses two blocks of Collinsville Avenue, a block and a half of Missouri Avenue and the south side of one block of St. Louis Avenue.

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Governmental and religious officials rallied Thursday for the Illinois Department of Transportation to build a high-speed rail stop in East St. Louis. 

IDOT working on a high-speed rail line connecting St. Louis to Chicago. Construction is already underway on rail improvements between Joliet and Alton, where a station is under construction. 

EAC/Portfolio’s “Ebony Creations”

St. Louis-area art openings this Friday explore the beauty of nature, teapots and African-American works. “Ebony Creations” is a joint project of Portfolio Gallery and the Edwardsville Arts Center.

Illinois Bill Takes Aim At 'Knockout' Game

Dec 17, 2013
(via Flickr/steakpinball)

A state representative in the Metro East wants to stiffen the punishment for random assaults often referred to as the 'knockout' game. The so-called 'game' involves punching an unsuspecting person in the head with the goal of rendering them unconscious.

East St. Louis Pays Down Decades-Old Bonds

Nov 20, 2013
Flickr/Rob Lee

East St. Louis has paid off more than $20 million in bonds it’s owed Illinois for nearly two decades.

Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. says the $21.4 million it borrowed 19 years ago helped bail out the city in a time of crisis, but paying them off has been a financial burden ever since.

“This is a huge deal,” he said. “What it does is send a message that East St. Louis has handled its responsibilities to the state of Illinois and we have never defaulted on our loan from the state of Illinois in terms of refinancing the bonds.”

Toxic Site In Metro East Enters New Phase Of Cleanup

Oct 30, 2013
(via US Environmental Protection Agency)

The US Environmental Protection Agency held a community meeting in Hartford, Illinois, on Wednesday, to inform residents about the ongoing cleanup of the former Chemetco copper smelter.

This is the second of three open houses being held this year. Another will be held in December.

(Erin Williams / St. Louis Public Radio)

An East St. Louis museum dedicated to late choreographer and civil rights activist Katherine Dunham is getting a $100,000 state grant for fix-ups, but an unpaid utility bill could cast the site into darkness.

The Belleville News-Democrat reports administrators of the landmark need to pay St. Louis-based Ameren $486 by Thursday to keep the lights on. Dunham considered East St. Louis her adoptive home. She pioneered a dance technique combining Caribbean and African styles. She died in 2006 at age 96.

Legacy Of Katherine Dunham In Danger In East St. Louis

Oct 17, 2013
Erin WIlliams / St. Louis Public Radio

    

When Katherine Dunham - world dancer, former professor, and part-time East St. Louis resident - died in 2006, she made it a point to make sure that her legacy was remembered. She held workshops and gave personal instruction to other dancers on how to perform her flamboyant, graceful, Africa-influenced Dunham Technique; she wrote books, gave talks, and did interviews at length on overcoming racism and 

  discrimination while traveling the world with her troupe, the Katherine Dunham Company; and, most importantly, she oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Katherine Dunham Museum in East St. Louis, housed just across the street from the three homes she owned and occupied during her time in Illinois.

Unfortunately, memories can’t make money. And that’s what you need in order to run a museum.

Though the museum receives grants from time to time, there’s no trust or steady income, visits are by appointment only, and paying members of the museum are few. In fact, if you call the number listed on the website to book a tour, you get the cell phone of Laverne Backstrom, board president of the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities - and tour guide for the museum. Unlike the lights and the phone line at the museum, she can guarantee that her phone won’t be turned off.

“I think that her plan was by continuing to certify instructors, she then had these persons understand that they were more than dancers, that they were perpetuating a way of life, and it was the way that she thought that life ought to be lived,” says Backstrom, a retired schoolteacher.

Ideally, Dunham envisioned the museum as a bastion for artist to dance, make music, and learn about other cultures – and for the most part, that’s still happening.  The studio located in the backyard still serves as a place for instruction and weekly classes, and there’s still a yearly intensive held at Wash U every summer. If she were ever in financial trouble, Dunham could quickly call on friends like Harry Belafonte to help her cover costs. Her daughter, Marie-Christine, lives in France and leaves the day-to-day operations of the Museum in East St. Louis to the Board.

“You’re always subject to losing all of it. But you don’t think about that on a day to day basis. You continue to think where the next grant is going to come from or where the next resource might be,” says Backstrom. “I’m not going to be very effective screaming and yelling by myself that this is what needs to happen.”

U.S., State's Attorney Address Public Safety In Metro East

Oct 11, 2013
Paul Sableman / (Via Flickr/pasa47)

Over the past six decades, the Metro East has gained a nasty reputation for dangerous crime. The news headlines reflect a cycle of poverty and crime made worse by a lack of local resources for adequate governance.

Three government officials charged with tackling these problems joined us to discuss their vision for creating a more positive future for the Metro East: U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, Stephen Wigginton; State's Attorney for St. Clair County, Brendan Kelly; and the mayor of Washington Park, Ann Rodgers.

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