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Thursday, March 25, 2004 04:38 am

Aldermania: Pending matters

Along one wall of the City Council chambers, a half-dozen Springfield firefighters stood poised to provide crowd control. Downstairs in the lobby a TV monitor and rows of folding chairs were set up, ready to accommodate overflow. Outside, a handful of protesters marched in the drizzle, their chants providing a buzz in the background of the council meeting.

But the throngs expected to descend on city hall Tuesday night failed to materialize, as did several hot-button items on the agenda. Instead, a crowd that merely filled (rather than flooded) the chamber sat solemnly through a meeting that was mostly ho-hum.

Did anybody notice the new fire chief Bob Bartnick was confirmed? That was on the consent agenda.

Many familiar faces from Unity for Our Community, Union Baptist Church, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Black Guardians were in attendance, there to convey a silent message that they want the racial discrimination lawsuit filed by black police officers resolved.

Anticipation of a fat turnout may have been raised by a new East Side group called Citizens for Change. Headed by Gloria Johnson, the group held a town hall meeting at Union Baptist on Saturday night that drew sparse attendance according to other community leaders. Johnson did not return calls.

But just because the scene wasn't what city officials envisioned doesn't mean it should be discounted. After all, you can't expect a grassroots movement to have the uniform appearance of a putting green.

"We're not going to heal as a city until we resolve some of these issues," said Roy Williams, of Unity. "There were protesters; they just decided on a silent protest."

Other controversies were postponed. The big fight over the historic property on South Seventh slated for demolition got put on hold. Ward 2 Alderman Frank McNeil asked the council to table his ordinance that would have reduced the mayor's newly-passed budget. And ordinances that would have given the Springfield Department of Public Health a $137,310 appropriation plus raised licensing fees got sent back to committee due to lack of support from Aldermen Frank Kunz (Ward 3) and Mark Mahoney (Ward 6).

On this officially non-partisan body, both Mahoney and Kunz belong to the party with the 6-5 advantage, the Democrats. But Kunz later said the mayor can't assume the Democrats will automatically fall in line. "We've raised taxes, and they're just going to have to live with what they've got," he said. "I'm not going to just keep raising everything."

And finally, a sad note: Jason Piscia has passed on. No, not like that. Piscia, the 28-year-old State Journal-Register reporter -- the one who looks like one of those kids from

'N Sync -- is still alive and healthy. Quite cheerful, actually. But apparently, the grind of spending up to three nights a week glued to the most uncomfortable chairs in Municipal Center West lost its appeal after almost four years, and Piscia asked his bosses to transfer him off the council beat. So Tuesday night, while the rest of us were trying to scratch some kind of story out of a meeting that failed to live up to its hype, Piscia was out enjoying dinner in a restaurant.

He did make it home in time to switch on Municipal Channel 18 and catch the last few minutes of the council meeting -- the part where ordinary citizens have a chance to address the council. And what emotion swept over Piscia as he watched?

"I didn't miss it," he said, in his usual deadpan, dry as a sack of salt. When I told him some council chambers are equipped with colored lights, to let speakers know when their five minutes was up, he sounded envious. "We need lights," he said. "And a trap door."

Jayette Bolinski now fills Piscia's old chair, equipped with this sage advice from her predecessor: "I just told her to check the agendas and learn to read between the lines."

Piscia is covering cops.

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