By CARL GREEN
Godfrey, IL – Who could care about a board of trustees election for a community college district? Well, maybe anyone who cares about having good union jobs to keep the community strong.
Last April, Madison County voters elected mayors, councils, trustees, school boards and more on local election day. Overall, turnout was at the usual low ebb for these low-key elections.
But “low-key” doesn’t necessarily describe the results. As it turns out, union workers and their supporters in the Metro-East suffered a great loss by failing to turn out.
One of the more heavily contested contests was for the Lewis and Clark Community College District Board of Trustees, in which a three-person slate of self-described conservatives was running to win seats from the board incumbents.
They ran a campaign of economic resentment over the salaries paid to longtime college President Dale Chapman and his wife Linda, also an administrator – the team that has led a quadrupling of enrollment and brought a long list of new programs while steadily reducing the college’s debt.
LOW TURNOUT, NEW MAJORITY
On a day when turnout was about 12 percent, the challengers won, but not by much. Along with one holdover board member, they created a new 4-3 ruling majority.
What they’ve done since taking office has been to try to get rid of Dr. Chapman, who is credited with building a little-known college with about 3,000 students into a strong regional institution providing opportunities for 15,000 students and relying on skilled union labor to build and repair its three campuses. His contract now is scheduled end next June 30.
The matter came to a head on Oct. 8, when some 25 people spoke at the board meeting about what a great leader Chapman has been and implored the board to keep him on as president.
Chapman even offered to cut his own pay. But with little comment or explanation, the “conservative” majority, in a 4-3 vote, chose not to renew Chapman. (Student representative April Tulgetski voted to keep Chapman, but her vote did not count.)
IS THE PLA NEXT?
The vote has Metro-East Labor and political leaders concerned about the future, including the college’s Project Labor Agreement (PLA), which has kept campus construction on-time, on-budget and well-built by skilled local residents through their unions.
East Alton Mayor Joe Silkwood, now the Democratic candidate for St. Clair County auditor, told the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council that these Republican-allied “conservatives” are on a campaign to get rid of unions and union workers in public places.
“This isn’t the end, it’s the beginning for them,” he said. “They’re not going to be happy until they take over every one of these small boards.
“They want to control those districts, and those are the ones that pass out work,” Silkwood added. “We’ve got to stop them right now.
They’re not electing people to do what’s right for the kids. They have a mission – and their mission is to get rid of you guys.”
Trades Council head Totsie Bailey noted that reports from the Oct. 8 college meeting showed that those in the new majority did not explain themselves but instead continually questioned whether items had been put out for bidding.
“These four Republicans, that’s all they said all night long. Did you bid this out? Did you bid that out?” he said. “They’re going to go with the low dollar, and your PLA is probably done up there.
“They want to get rid of unions,” he said. “They had their minds made up.”
.34 PERCENT DIFFERENCE
In the election, three board seats were open in the district, which is home to about 220,000 residents. The ballot included three incumbents – George Terry, Pete Basola and Marlene Barach – plus the three challengers, Charles Hanfelder, Kevin Rust and Julie Johnson. When the counting was done, Johnson was clearly the leader with 6,906 votes. Hanfelder was second with 5,399 and Rust third with 4,960 – a mere 102 more than Barach.
So with just 103 more votes – or .34 percent – the union-supporting president and his program would have held a 4-3 majority on the board. But that didn’t happen. (Terry had 4,583 votes and Basola had 3,654.)
“I kind of blame all of us for that because only 12 percent of the people came out and voted in that election,” Bailey said. “That’s how important these local elections are. If we’d had 25 percent of our people show up, we’d have won.”
The three newcomers were joined in voting against Chapman by the newly chosen board chairman, David Heyen, who was elected to the board in 2017.
LABORERS TAKE A STAND
At the Oct. 8 meeting, Laborers Local 218 Business Manager Bob McDonald joined the many speakers supporting Chapman, according to the Alton Telegraph account, which can still be seen on the newspaper’s website. McDonald explained how the college and union have had a mutually beneficial relationship.
“We haven’t had a labor dispute at this college in over 25 years,” he said. “Dr. Chapman has worked side by side with the labor unions, and we’ve brought you a skilled labor trade.”
McDonald pointed out a large group of union members wearing orange T-shirts to the meeting in support of Chapman.
“We trained these men and women back here you see in orange,” he said. “We trained them for a highly skilled workforce.”
State Rep. Monica Bristow, (D-Alton), also spoke, spelling out the major economic contribution to the region the college has made under Chapman’s leadership.
“Lewis and Clark Community College creates a much larger economic impact than the taxes it uses to accomplish its mission, and that’s due to Dr. Chapman’s vision and leadership,” she said.
John Keller, president of the RiverBend Growth Association, said before the vote that without Chapman, the college stands to lose up to $37 million in pending grant funds.
“If the future of the institution, students and community is what is actually behind what we feel could be your decision, it is in the best interest of this board to compromise and negotiate a lower base pay and benefits package,” he said – to no avail.
NO LABOR TIES
The college’s bios of the four trustees who made up the majority that voted to get rid of Chapman showed no evident ties to the Labor Movement. Heyen owned a business and served on a bank board, and Johnson, Rust and Hanfelder all worked as accountants or financial advisers.
The college district is a mixture of urban and rural areas that includes most of Madison County (except for Collinsville) plus Greene, Jersey and Calhoun counties.
The remaining trustees who supported Chapman were Robert Watson, an attorney from Brighton who has been on the board since 1977; Brenda Walker McCain, a trustee since 1999 and CEO of the Madison County Urban League; and Dwight Werts, president of Werts Welding & Tank Service, Wood River, a trustee since 2009.
At the meeting, Werts decried the politicization of what had always been a community-minded board.
“We’d leave our politics at the door,” he said. “We didn’t care, nor did we ask, what someone else’s politics are.
“You can thank the Republican Party of Madison County for supporting them with ads and social media, and my thought is, ‘Just remember when the next election comes around.’ ”
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