By Randy Pierce
After being brought forward in May then postponed and voted down twice at the committee level since then, the proposed appointment of Alan Secrest to the Troy Fire Protection District Board of Trustees was defeated last week.
That appointment had surfaced on the Wednesday, July 19 agenda of the Madison County Board as one of eight brought forward from its government relations committee chaired by Stacey Pace of Troy.
It did not take long after being introduced before it became obvious that there is some contentiousness connected to this matter with County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler having proposed Secrest for the trustee position to replace Ryan Cunningham whose term expired May 1.
Pace initially reported to the county board that the appointment failed by a margin of 6-0 when the committee met earlier this month then added that Cunningham has been attending the TFPD Board meetings and remains an active member.
She further noted, “There is another opening on that board and we’ve asked many times for you (Prenzler) to please replace the member who’s no longer attending these meetings with Mr. Secrest. However, this is the appointment that you brought forward (referencing the removal of Cunningham instead).”
Pace did not specify by name, during this conversation, the individual member she said does not attend the fire district board meetings, but he had been previously identified, at a government relations committee discussion, as Kevin Byrne.
County board member Paul Nicolussi spoke to the issue by first stating, “Alan Secrest is a highly qualified candidate and I think at this time that’s all that should matter.”
Nicolussi went on to provide an account of his communication with Cunningham about the situation. Nicolussi stated he called Cunningham “to see if he would like to be reappointed. I think we have a good relationship. We met during last year’s campaign season.”
“I even said if he would reach out to the chairman, he will probably reappoint you and he said he would.”
Subsequent to that, however, Nicolussi said he called Cunningham three more times and did not get an answer. At a board committee meeting the previous week, Nicolussi said he asked Cunningham if he had talked to Prenzler about the appointment and the answer was no.
“Then he went on to call you (Prenzler) an evil tyrant,” Nicolussi said about Cunningham, “multiple times during the public speaker comments. I thought that was a little much.”
“For some reason, Mr. Cunningham’s spot on the (fire district) board is being protected and I have no idea why,” Nicolussi remarked.
In elaborating that he felt the positioning of Cunningham on that board was being protected by Pace, Nicolussi alleged that Cunningham was the “largest individual donor” to her last election campaign.
“I’m not saying this is why she has to appoint him,” Nicolussi continued, “because he donated to her, but other board members and appointees have been accused of quid pro quo and other wrongdoing with a lot less to go on.”
For the 18 fire districts like this one scattered throughout Madison County, the members of their respective boards, appointed similarly to what was discussed here, receive a stipend of between $1000 and $2000 annually depending on the district size.
“I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy of it,” Nicolussi went on. He further referenced how some county board members stated they could not vote to approve Prenzler’s appointment of former State Representative Dwight Kay to the Madison County Transit Board because of a Facebook post he had written that was highly critical of how some matters were being handled.
Kay, according to Nicolussi, “did not name any names. He did not go nearly as far as Mr. Cunningham, so I just want people to vote on whether a candidate’s qualified or not.”
Pace answered these statements by saying she lives in the applicable Troy fire district and that Cunningham and she are friends, stating, “I don’t see how that affects this because many of you have friends in your communities that you deal with as well.”
Cunningham, as Pace directed to Nicolussi, donates the salary he receives for serving on the Troy fire district board, leading her to comment, “I think that’s pretty admirable.”
Additionally, Cunningham has the experience to serve in that position, Pace said, preferring that he get reappointed for another three-year term, “He’s gone in there and turned the ship around and is actually doing great. We have a new chief. I’m pretty proud of how the fire district is actually working and I’d like to keep that going.”
Pace said she also feels Alan Secrest would be a great addition to the board but not if it means replacing Cunningham.
Dalton Gray, a county board member who represents other parts of Troy not covered by Pace’s district, commented he “appreciates Ms. Pace’s perspective” but believes Secrest is qualified enough to warrant the appointment as suggested by Prenzler. This amounted to a reversal of Gray’s vote at the committee meeting and when the entire county board voted on it.
Board member Frank Dickerson of Worden expressed his sadness over the way this matter was proceeding after saying he did not “think we’re using our true abilities to make the choices” for such appointments.
Terry Eaker, a county board member from Bethalto, offered his support of Pace’s idea to replace Byrne, not Cunningham, with Secrest on the fire district board.
When Nicolussi asked Prenzler during the July 19 county board meeting about Cunningham’s desire to be reappointed or not, the chairman said, “I met with Mr. Cunningham about two months ago and he said, ‘It’s your decision.’ He did not indicate a desire to be back on the board.”
Dickerson further said he is supportive of the concept that the board member whose district is affected by such an appointment is relied upon for feedback concerning such issues, stating, “That’s what I felt like was done with me” when he was named to fill a county board seat vacated by the death of Bill Meyer in January.
Prior to the vote resulting in the defeat of Secrest’s appointment in place of Cunningham, a motion by board member Bill Stoutenborough of Alton to postpone it was made but then withdrawn by him following additional discussion.