East St. Louis to lay off eight police officers, talks with union continue

EAST ST. LOUIS, IL • Eight police officers here have been given layoff notices, but continued union negotiations could save their jobs, city Public Safety Director Todd Fulton said Thursday.

“There is still time,” Fulton said, referring to the layoffs effective Oct. 28. “Negotiations are ongoing, and it’s not too late.”

City Manager Alvin Parks released a letter to city staff Tuesday confirming the layoffs and warning that others may follow as the city tries to close a $5.7 million operating deficit. In August, Parks announced the city would eliminate the jobs of the eight officers and 17 firefighters, but then canceled the layoffs as talks continued with the fire and police unions.

The city did lay off six administrative employees. At the past two City Council meetings, Parks reported continued talks with the fire and police unions.

Parks said the city negotiated a deal with the firefighters’ union to avoid layoffs. Fire Chief Jason Blackmon said the agreement reduces the minimum number of firefighters on duty from 12 to nine, cutting overtime expenses.

Blackmon said the department may have to close one of its four firehouses on some days but will not operate fewer than three. He expects to save additional money over time through attrition. East St. Louis has 50 firefighters and 53 police officers.

Even if the city does lay off the eight police officers, Fulton said “the long-term purpose is to bring everyone back to work.”

Parks, in his letter to employees, warned “more staff reductions may be necessary,” adding, “the city doesn’t have the population or money to continue business as usual.”

A major problem has been the continued loss of fee revenue from the Casino Queen, the city’s biggest single source of income. Parks said the city also is making “smaller but important savings” by reducing travel expenses, cellphone contracts and use of city vehicles, and is working to increase tax and fee revenue.

Parks, the past mayor, was appointed city manager in August by the City Council in a 3-2 vote. Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks, who had succeeded in having Parks removed from the April mayoral ballot, opposed the hiring. The city’s form of government empowers the council to hire the manager, who has day-to-day authority over city operations.

From East St. Louis Post-Dispatch