BY NICK MILLER
& ANGELA SIMMONS
O’FALLON – The public forum, put on by the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsored by the O’Fallon Weekly, for the O’Fallon alderman candidates for wards one, two, three, four, five and seven was held on Thursday March 2.
The ward one candidates participating in the debate were Ross Rosenberg and Dennis Muyleart.
Muyleart said he is not a politician, but is passionate about keeping O’Fallon a good place to live and wants to place prioritization on wants versus needs, good long term growth, fixing aging infrastructure and open communication.
Muyleart answered a question regarding balancing ward one residents vs. the whole of O’Fallon, and he said “It would be difficult, but those are my people, so I have to fight for things that they want.” Muyleart also spoke about redeveloping old parts of town so that there were no voids as the town grows.
Rosenberg also wants open communication and spoke about his passion for O’Fallon and it’s residents. When asked, he said the water sale/lease was a dead issue and he did not believe it would come back up.
Rosenberg also spoke to the idea of being able to add police officers to the force as O’Fallon grows, saying “I don’t know what availability or responsibility I would have to add officers,” and continued “It’s something I would be interested in and would definitely research.”
Ward two candidates at the debate included incumbent alderman Jerry Albrecht and self proclaimed “underdog” Mark Riley.
Albrecht introduced himself by speaking of his many years of service in numerous organizations throughout O’Fallon, of his pride in helping guide the city to being a premiere place to live, and his support for any and all efforts to lower property taxes.
Albrecht answered the first question about the presidential street sewer project, saying “We can’t afford to let the older parts of town decay.” He voiced support for the drainage improvements to help keep property values high and save historical homes.
In answering his second question, Albrecht said he wanted to encourage smart growth , and mentioned that increasing sales tax revenue was a surefire way to reduce property taxes. He cautioned residents to vote for experience to keep the city running smoothly.
Riley said it was important to note that he was an independent and has never belonged to either political party, and dove into O’Fallon’s debt increases and bonds to cover wants versus needs.
“It’s time to clean out city council and get a fresh start with new faces,” Riley said.
In his answers to both questions, Riley again said the city needed better prioritization of spending and needed to keep the burden off of taxpayers, and that he would “not kick the can of debt down the road to the next generation.”
Albrecht said he wanted to continue to serve the community and further guide O’Fallon to a bright future, again touching on his numerous years of experience in leadership.
Ward three candidates included incumbent alderman Matthew Gilreath and challenger Vern Malare.
Malare mentioned that his family had been in O’Fallon for eight generations, and said “I’m trying to do what I feel needs to be done for the town. It’s changed so much over the years, and I don’t feel like it’s necessarily for the good.”
Malare spoke about his lack of support for the Downtown O’Fallon project due to what he believes is an oversaturation of soccer parks, stating that the project is not a good use of funds. He also does not support either sales tax measure on the ballot, noting in his answer that residents are taxed more than enough.
Malare spoke of his work as a citizen in getting the alderman to work on the drainage and water problems in the presidential streets, that citizens of ward three told him they wanted increased police presence, and that he helped create a request form for services that he would help elderly ward three residents fill out if they did not own a computer.
Gilreath, who stepped up to replace Jerry Mouser last summer, said that he has learned much in his short time as alderman, noting that he may not know everything, but he knows how to get the right information, commended police efforts in reaching out to residents of all races, religions and backgrounds, and said he has learned that the alderman job is a job of oversight, leadership, and being the people’s voice.
“The best years of O’Fallon are yet to come, and people like me are going to make sure that happens,” Gilreath said.
He mentioned that he believes the water problems facing the town are not the sale/lease, but fixing the drainage and sewers in older parts of town, and that he wants to encourage conversations among city council, the township, school boards and other governing bodies to get creative to lower taxes and to collaborate on ideas.
Ward four candidates Nathan Hubbard and Mark Morton were in attendance. Candidate Lisa Harley was unable to attend.
Hubbard stated his objection with the portion of the Destination O’Fallon project tied to the Family Sports Park.
“I was totally against it with the soccer fields. That money could be better used in infrastructure or used by the city in general, whether it was for roads, sewer, or stoplights. As far as the downtown area with the pavillion, I think that could be good. But I think we’re focusing on wants, not needs. There are needs in this town that should be focused on before wants,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard also said he believes the city needs to bring down its debt load and stop issuing bonds. Again he pointed out the city needs to concentrate on needs over wants.
Morton, when asked about how the city should balance the interests of big box retail and small businesses, said the city needs to perform what he called smart growth and find ways to attract big box while still allowing small businesses the ability to grow and thrive.
When asked his thoughts on if the city should fully fund repairs in the older parts of town when other subdivisions pay for their own initial infrastructure, Morton said the city should reprioritize and use its finances for infrastructure over soccer parks. Morton said city government can influence a lot in a person’s life.
“The folks who lead at a local level have more of an impact on life than most people realize,” he said.
Ward five candidates Andrew Lopinot and Chris Hursey took part in the event.
Lopinot said the city has grown a lot in the last 20 years and he wants to be a part of its growth in the future. He specifically stated he is in favor of Destination O’Fallon and believes the soccer fields will be a big draw for the city. He also heavily emphasized communication between the residents and their government. Lopinot said one way he’ll increase communication is through door to door knocking.
“You’ll see me in your neighborhood. I want to meet with community groups and other parties to increase dialogue,” Lopinot said.
Hursey, who was appointed to replace Mike Bennett when he stepped down, talked about his roots in O’Fallon. When asked how the police department could look at adding more officers to deal with a rising population, Hursey said he had no doubt the police could handle it because “…they are the best around.”
Hursey was later asked his thoughts on the two sales tax proposals on the April ballot and he stated he had no official position.
During his closing remarks, Hursey made reference to his being kicked off the ballot and having to run as a write-in candidate.
“A wise man told me anyone who is having your name forced off a ballot is someone you should keep an eye on,” Hursey said.
Ward seven featured three candidates at the beginning of the night, but only two by the end. Dan Witt, Thomas Mitchell, and Jon Burgmann all took part in the forum. However, during his closing comments Burgmann stated he was dropping out of the race and throwing his support behind Witt.
“After hearing what everybody had to say up here I’ve actually decided that personally, based on my capacity to do the job, one of the best people for our ward is going to be Dan Witt. I believe Dan and I have similar goals and the same desire for our city. For me, it makes sense to bow out rather than to be a conflict in this thing and work with him rather than against him in the election,” Burgmann said.
Witt had previously stated during the question and answer portion that the people of the ward are his top priority and would listen to them on large city issues. He also said he felt as though the older parts of the city had been neglected and needed to see repairs.
“We need to do what is best for the citizens and taxpayers, not just individuals and their friends,” Witt said.
Mitchell, when asked how the city would look different if he’d been an alderman ten years ago, said he believes the leaders of the past may not have made the choices he would have made but he’s sure they had the city’s best interests at heart.
Mitchell also was asked how he’d work with the police to expand the force as O’Fallon grows. He said he’d do as he does in his day job and speak to the department head and work with him to determine the best course of action.
In closing, Mitchell said he hopes election day is a positive experience.
“I look forward to representing my neighbors, friends, and those living on the north side of O’Fallon,” Mitchell said.