Former County Board Members Craig Hubbard and Dave Tiedemann
For the first time in two decades, the St. Clair County Board held a regular meeting in December where neither Republicans Craig Hubbard or Dave Tiedemann were elected members.
Hubbard, who was narrowly defeated in the March primary by Matt Smallheer, and Tiedemann, who chose not to run again for his Shiloh area seat, sat down with the Weekly to reflect upon their time in county politics.
For Craig Hubbard of O’Fallon politics has always been a way of life.
Looking back on 20-plus years in public service that also included a term as an O’Fallon Township trustee, Hubbard said that before he took elective office he was an avid “observer.”
“I would go to local county meetings and attend them but I never had the itch to run until I was asked,” Hubbard said. “I’ve been involved with politics for a long time.”
Hubbard said that a transition from township trustee to county board member was a natural step – graduating up to politics on a larger basis with greater responsibilities.
“People don’t realize it’s hard work, if you do it right,” Hubbard said about running for a seat. “Apparently I did it right because I was on for 20 years.”
Over the past two decades, Hubbard has faced nearly a dozen elections – some in which he faced Democratic opposition and several times unopposed.
“When you have competition, you have to get out and work,” he said. “My work was I had flyers and walked door to door in my district.” Hubbard represented District 18.
While he may not have accomplished all that he had hoped to do on the St. Clair County Board, Deve Tiedemann of Shiloh is satisfied that at least he helped “move the pendulum.”
Tiedemann was elected to represent District 19 in 1998 and served for two decades before retiring in November.
He was initially encouraged to run for the seat by former Shiloh Valley Township supervisor and District 19 County Board member, the late Richard Bossler. Tiedemann had served as a Township trustee for ten years before his election to the county board.
“He was in his late seventies and was wanting to retire,” Tiedemann recalled. “He wanted it to go to somebody who had his same views.”
District 19 includes most of the Village of Shiloh, with the east bordering Silver Creek and the west bordering Green Mount Road.
Tiedemann has lived most of his life as a farmer in an unincorporated area of Shiloh, on an 88-acre tract that he calls his home and livelihood.
Public service runs deep in Tiedemann’s family. His great grandfather, grandfather and great uncle all served terms as mayors of O’Fallon. His father also served on the Mascoutah School Board for close to 15 years.
Tiedemann said that he had some misconceptions when he first began his term as a county board member. He framed it as “being naive and not knowing how things work.”
Tiedemann said that the St. Clair County Chairman at the time he was elected, John Baricevic, called board members in to discuss what committees they were interested in.
“He would call you in on big issues and even if we didn’t agree, we would have a conversation prior to meetings,” Tiedemann said. “Now with Mark Kern, it’s his way or the highway.”
“The thing about John (Baricevic), he was black and white. He never lied to me nor me to him — we knew what our differences were,” he said. “Mark Kern operates in the gray area and he really doesn’t tell you what he thinks one hundred percent. It’s not uncommon to think you know where he’s coming from and you get to a board meeting and it’s totally different.”
Recalling his time on county board, Hubbard said that one of the decisions made during his tenure that he was opposed to was the construction of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport near Scott Air Force Base. The airport is widely criticized as an enormous drain on taxypayers – having cost more than $300 million to build and millions to operate – without much of a return on the investment.
“It was built obviously to get passengers – but it was a relief airport for TWA (Trans World Airlines). Then 9/11 hit and TWA went out of business so the airport is sitting there empty,” Hubbard said. “I was against the airport totally because it cost us $5 to $8 million a year [to operate].”
Hubbard said that “because of the makeup of the county board with nine Republicans and 20 Democrats” he knew his and other fiscally conservative voices on the board were not going to be heard.
“I tried to make people aware of the cost and what was going on and I was pushing for professional management as opposed to hiring somebody political for the airport,” he said. “That never got anywhere because there is an appointee in there.”
Hubbard said that he also worked against the election board in East St. Louis. He said that the county was required to give the election board a sum of $32,000 per year for operations.
“Ironically, the way the statute is written, the elected officials set their own salary,” he said. “We’re giving them $100,000 a year for the East St. Louis election board.”
“I made a point about that every single year and voted against (it in) the budget.”
Over the course of his term, Tiedemann said that big moments for him revolved around agricultural issues and “preserving land versus wiping out fertile farm ground to put homes on it.”
Tiedemann played a role in having the county purchase the Engelmann Farm property – off Shiloh Station Road – which now features a paved walking trail, and also the Silver Creek preserve.
Tiedemann said that the county took 240 acres of ground “that was always flooded” and planted all of it back to trees. He said that they paid $2,100 an acre and noted with pride that today it would be worth approximately $8,000 to $10,000 an acre.
“There’s actually migrating song birds that come from South America up to Silver Creek. These birds have to have a two mile wide forest to live and nest in,” he said. “We gave the migrating song birds some more habitat — with predators and sunlight they have to be deep in the woods.
“People will say Republicans don’t give a damn about the environment — but that’s not necessarily true.”
Tiedemann said that some challenging moments on county board revolved around issues with the county budget.
“Eight years ago we probably had $220 million in the reserves,” he said. “Since Mark Kern has been there, we are down to a $100 million in reserves.”
Tiedemann said that the disappearance of cash reserves came from different funds such as the landfill surcharge fund. He said that money in the landfill fund was supposed to be used for environmental matters but was instead used toward the county sheriff patrols.
“For the previous eight years (Kern) would say we were passing a balanced budget but he was draining five or $10 million a year on reserves.”
Tiedemann said that he voted 20 times against proposed budgets out of balance.
“I have a perfect record,” he said.
Tiedemann said that residents in the county are going to have to be “very vigilant” about their own property taxes and “keeping the assessor’s office in check.”
“I don’t see St. Clair County getting out of this hole we are in financially,” he said. “They are always going to be strapped for cash. They are always going to raise property taxes on off years.”
Tiedemann also spoke about a recent expansion to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, which he voted against from the start. He described the airport as an “amenity to the community,” but that “making money from the airport is not going to happen.”
Hubbard also spoke about the “nepotism” that he says is rampant at the county courthouse.
“I had nothing to do with it but I tried to make notice of it” Hubbard said, speaking of nepotism. “They have a lot of family members at the courthouse.”
Tiedemann said that the biggest problem with St. Clair County is the “one-party rule.”
“We have 29 county board members and now only eight Republicans,” he said.
Regarding his accomplishments serving on county board, Hubbard said he was proud to make the public aware of the airport expenses and the East St. Louis electoral board expenses.
Hubbard said that while he has no regrets about his time served, he would have liked to have seen the management of the airport privatized, which he believes would have gotten other airlines in the airport and increased its overall revenue.
“When you’re in a minority situation, it’s very frustrating. You have to take it for what it is,” he said.
As he was known as the “agricultural” board member, Tiedemann said that his background was useful in representing local farming groups over the years.
“I probably took as many phone calls from farmers over the years than I did from my own constituents,” he said. “I had two hats on the whole time.”
When asked what he will miss, Hubbard said that he will miss the relationships he has with other board members the most.
“I had a good relationship with all of the board members and I enjoyed that. I will not miss all of the meetings, stress and frustration of seeing nepotism in hiring and not being able to do anything about it.”
Tiedemann said that he will also miss some of the good friends he has made while serving on county board.
Asked why he chose to retire, Tiedemann said that when he ran for county board in 1998, he was going to give himself 20 years “to get things fixed.” He said that while he may not have fixed things county wide, he “moved the pendulum.”
“I ran the course and knew what I could and couldn’t get done,” he said.
Tiedemann said that he plans on taking a hiatus from any and all politics.
Since politics has been such an integral part of his adult life – will Hubbard stay involved on the sidelines?
“I’m out,” he said, enthusiastically.