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Neighbors United for St. Elmo's Future plans to address many issues

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

After Mayor Larry Tish fired Ken Thomason late last year, several factions of St. Elmo residents began efforts to get Thomason reinstated as police chief. Several months later, those factions came together to form one group.

And while the reinstatement of Thomason is currently the main focus of Neighbors United for St. Elmo’s Future, the president of the new group said it plans to get involved on all issues affecting the community and its residents.

About 50 people attended the group’s meeting last Monday at the St. Elmo Public Library, at which time the leaders of the organization that formed last month handed out membership applications.

The group also began at that meeting pulling together signatures on petitions circulated in recent months that ask Tish to put Thomason back into the police chief position.

During the meeting, members of Neighbors United for St. Elmo’s Future also discussed other city matters, including the council’s recent approval of a bill for a law firm that Tish hired without gaining prior approval from the council. The council approved the $1,600 bill in a 4-3 vote, with Tish casting the tie-breaking vote.

On that issue, David Maxey cited a city ordinance that states that the city will use the city attorney exclusively, and that City Attorney Rick Day was not brought into the issue of hiring another attorney until after Tish hired the firm.

“In the past,” Maxey said, “you go to the city attorney, then he will determine if you need another attorney.”

Alderman Jayson Porter, who preceded Tish as mayor, told the group he and other aldermen have had some difficulty in obtaining city documents that should be available at city hall, but were not.

“We’re heading down the wrong road,” Porter said.

The group also discussed Tish’s decision to include a salary of $37,000 in advertisement for the chief position without having that figure approved by the council or its safety committee.

Barb Kilzer, president of the group, said she has been filing Freedom of Information Act requests for city information, including that which has been transmitted via phone calls and e-mails.

Prior to the meeting, Kilzer concedes that the group was formed to fight Thomason’s firing, but said it wants to stay the course as a watchdog group on all issues in the community.

“This (Thomason) is the issue that we’re dealing with now, but if there is a situation that arises within the entire school district, we’re going to do our best to help.

“We had a few petitions before, people doing things on their own, so we were brainstorming and came up with the idea that maybe we could put our efforts together,” she said.

Kilzer said one of the group’s first projects was to get voter registration lists, “so we could do things legally, since it was mentioned at a couple of meetings that one petition wasn’t legal.”

The group presented to Tish at Monday’s council meeting a petition signed by 579 residents of the St. Elmo area. Included in that total are 409 registered voters, which the group points out are more than half of the city’s registered voters (809).  The total also includes signatures from rural people who operate a business in the city and live within the school district boundaries.

Tish supporters have claimed that the group’s petition is watered down by the fact that many signatures are those of people living outside city limits.

The group stands by its decision to invite into its membership everyone living within the St. Elmo School District.

“For example, I live outside the city, but I have a business in the city, so I feel like what goes on within the city affects me,” she said. “If there’s a safety issue at the school, that affects me and others who live outside the city but have children in the school.”

At their meeting last week, members of the group also showed that they want to be involved in other issues in the community. They discussed the proposal by the St. Elmo and Brownstown school boards to co-op for all sports teams in the two districts.

Members talked about asking St. Elmo School District officials to hold a public meeting on the co-op issue, to allow the group – and others in the community – to both learn more about the plan and offer comments.