Randy Epperson and Andrew Tolch, both newcomers to public office, are running to replace Sunset Hills Ward 3 Alderman Nathan Lipe in the upcoming municipal election.
Epperson and Tolch will contend for Lipe’s seat Tuesday, April 6.
Epperson, 58, 9842 Barrington Drive, is married to Debbie and works in sales for a private company.
He has his undergraduate degree in business administration, sat on the Sunset Hills Police Advisory Board for over five years and has been a member of the Elks Club for 31 years.
Epperson said of why he is seeking office, “To ensure the city’s legacy of safe, spacious, well maintained neighborhoods while also maintaining a welcoming environment for businesses in our commercially zoned area.”
Tolch, 46, 11835 Twillwood Drive, and his wife, Sarah, have one daughter, Amelia.
He is the owner of Andrew Tolch Art & Antiques LLC, an estate liquidation consultation and appraiser of art and antique toys. He also owns Andy’s Toys, a toy shop.
Tolch earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in art, with a minor in art history from Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri. He is a member of the Kirkwood Methodist Church, St. Louis County Small Business and Industry CARES Act Work Group and the Rotary Club.
When asked why he was running for office, Tolch said, “The outreach to residents, including actively listening to their concerns is woefully lacking. I am running to change that dynamic.”
What issue do you consider the single most important in this race and why?
Epperson: “Retaining the Sunset Hills Police Department. I believe that the majority of the Sunset Hills residents want the personal, responsive, professional service that a municipal police department offers vs. just being part of a precinct in a larger department.”
Tolch: “Keeping the Sunset Hills residential areas protected with common sense zoning updates which do not hinder, nor hurt, the size and beauty of existing lots and includes transparent, neighborly service of utilities with direct input of the residents’ concerns.”
Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:
Epperson: “1) Maintaining the one (1) acre minimum building lots where feasible, where one acre is not feasible, require a minimum of one half (1/2) acre minimum. 2) enforcement of the city’s current codes and ordinances.”
Tolch: “I believe we need to keep the Sunset Hills Police Department intact and staffed. I believe we need more town halls and resident inclusion regarding issues affecting them.”
Should the public be allowed to speak at city meetings?
Epperson: “Yes, the Board of Aldermen exists to represent Sunset Hills residents in the governing of the city.”
In your opinion, have the Board of Aldermen and other city officials complied fully with the Sunshine Law? What will you do as an elected official to ensure compliance with the Sunshine Law?
Epperson: “As far as I am aware of, yes. I intend to comply with the Sunshine Law.”
Tolch: “I support transparency above and beyond what is required by the Sunshine Law.”
Should the city take over Tapawingo streets? Why or why not?
Epperson: “It is my understanding that the property was developed and sold as ‘private streets.’ It is also my understanding that the streets were not built to and do not currently meet the proper codes/specifications required for the city to assume responsibility for them, and the cost of updating the streets to meet these requirements is substantial. I am, however, willing to listen to both sides of the debate before making a decision on whether or not I would support making the streets in Tapawingo the city’s responsibility.”
Tolch: “No, not currently, but there will be a forthcoming issue if the Paraclete-Griesedieck buildings and property come under the control of the city in the form of a park or historic site. They are currently private streets and the economic investment and fiscal responsibility must be carefully weighed by the city.”
What is your position on the use of tax-increment financing and other tax tools?
Epperson: “As a rule, I am not a fan of TIF. However, I am sure there are always exceptions that would need to be evaluated for consideration.”
Tolch: “I would like to see TIFs and CIDs (Community Improvement Districts) used sparingly as it can have destructive results for tax funding for our public schools, the police department, roads and other basic services. It is currently being abused in many areas in the broader region.”
Should the city reject projects such as water towers or cell towers, even if it risks a lawsuit?
Epperson: “If the city has legal jurisdiction over a development, then the city can approve or reject projects based on public opinion and the welfare of the city. If the city does not have legal jurisdiction (such as with utility companies, i.e. the new water tower), then the city should work with that developer to ensure minimum impact and maximum benefit to the affected area.”
Tolch: “Water and cellular are two different classifications. The city cannot force zoning on a utility like water or power, but it has a duty to negotiate transparently and exhaust all avenues of communications with the said utilities to achieve the best result for the residents affected.”
Do you support the use of eminent domain for redevelopment projects? Why or why not? Please be specific.
Epperson: “No I do not. If eminent domain is proposed, I would have to be convinced that all other alternatives have been explored and that the proposed development is the best alternative for the residents of Sunset Hills.”
Tolch: “In general I do not; it is too often abused by officials to take away private property.”
Do you agree with the direction the city is moving under Mayor Pat Fribis?
Epperson: “To my knowledge Pat has not had any issues unique to her tenure as mayor that would not have been an issue for anyone else who would hold that office. So yes, I support Mayor Fribis.”
Tolch: “It is hard to visualize exactly what direction that is, currently.”
What is your vision for the city of Sunset Hills?
Epperson: “To continue being St Louis County’s preferred area that people want to live in, raise their families in, prosper in and hopefully enjoy their golden years in!”
Tolch: “My vision is for strong residential areas to remain residential, and within the commercial districts to add a grocery store which we are currently lacking. I would like to see the commitment to parks and green spaces remain and even strengthened, and a broader spectrum of transparency with more resident input in matters that affect them.”
Is the city of Sunset Hills business friendly? What do you propose to keep current businesses in the city and attract new economic development?
Epperson: “Overall, I believe that Sunset Hills is a business-friendly environment. However, I also believe that mistakes have been made in the past due to some of leadership’s lack of understanding on what support is needed for a business to open, operate and survive in today’s marketplace. I will work to educate myself and others on the board so that we can all gain a better understanding of what it takes to make Sunset Hills’ commercially zoned areas the preferred destination for new businesses. Possibly more importantly, can we do a better job of encouraging the success and longevity of our existing business?”
Tolch: “I think we can always improve; we need to continue to reach out to businesses and see what they need to grow in our community.”
Should the city of Sunset Hills be more bicycle friendly? If so, what would you propose?
Epperson: “I am not educated in the needs/wants of our bicycle community. I am willing to listen to any realistic ideas or suggestions for improvement(s).”
Tolch: “There are areas where we can add bike lanes to connect them to our beautiful parks and green spaces; the sidewalk additions last year are a good example of improving equity in mobility.”
Would you consider it unethical to tape record someone without their knowledge? Please elaborate.
Epperson: “Yes! Unless it is absolutely necessary for the safety of the parties involved or for a criminal investigation, I believe no one should be recorded without their knowledge.”
Tolch: “That would generally be considered unethical, but Missouri law rules differently in this regard.”
Are you satisfied with the performance of City Attorney and City Prosecutor Robert E. Jones?
Epperson: “Yes, I have limited experience with the city’s attorney but have no reason to doubt his performance.”
Tolch: “I think he is very knowledgeable and I have no current problems with his service.”
What are your thoughts on commercial encroachment of residential areas?
Epperson: “Any proposed encroachment would need to go through the proper rezoning process and be approved by the city’s leadership.”
Tolch: “This is an important topic and residents’ input needs to be bolstered with direct engagement and town halls. It appears the recent car wash development may not have put the residents’ concerns first.”
Should the Court Drive neighborhood bordering South Lindbergh Boulevard be residential or commercial? What about attached villas?
Epperson: “Those decisions should be made after all viable options are explored and evaluated.”
Tolch: “I understand the concerns of residents fearing commercial zones are moving too close to their homes. If the one plot was commercial for many decades, I think a tasteful, small building being rebuilt there is not out of the question, but the remaining lots appear to be better suited for single family homes; we want to keep the commercial area contiguous and listen to the residents directly affected by any development.”
What should the city do to help residents impacted by flooding?
Epperson: “Leadership should work with the residents and the appropriate utility companies to mitigate flooding where possible.”
Tolch: “Minimize and/or halt developments in the flood plains.”
Do you feel that town home or “cluster home” developments have a place in the city? Why/why not?
Epperson: “Yes, I do. However, I am not a proponent of inserting these developments into the middle of existing neighborhoods. I would be open to listening about the development of new areas.”
Tolch: “They are a viable option but only if they are located in a designated area which does not infringe on existing single family home lots.”
Should the city’s Police Department be retained or should police services be outsourced?
Epperson: “Retained! Sunset Hills is fortunate enough to have a professionally administrated Police Department that allows the residents to benefit from knowing our officers and them knowing us, faster response times and an overall service level that I believe would be diminished should the policing responsibilities be outsourced to St Louis County.”
Tolch: “I would like to keep the Sunset Hills Police Department intact.”
Traditionally, Sunset Hills has had a close relationship with Lindbergh Schools. Do you believe the city should maintain a positive relationship with the school district?
Epperson: “Yes, the school district is a vital part of the city’s attractiveness and property valuation.”
Tolch: “Absolutely, yes.”
Should the city collaborate with Lindbergh Schools when undertaking a development that would impact the school district?
Epperson: “Yes, the school district needs input on any development that could affect their operating parameters and/or budget.”
Do you support the performance of City Administrator Brittany Gillett?
Epperson: “I do not have enough experience with Mrs. Gillet to make any judgement(s).”
Do you support the city’s switch to a city-administrator form of government?
Epperson: “Yes, it’s done, why not support it?”
Tolch: “This form could benefit a city of our size.”
What do you think of the city leasing part of Bander Park for a rugby field? Should the city accept other donated properties?
Epperson: “It is my understanding that this project was rejected and is no longer on the city’s agenda.”
Tolch: “I do not think rugby fields, after talking with many of the neighbors, are wanted by most, nor wanted by those residents who would be most affected by the development. All potential donated properties must be thoroughly vetted on a case by case basis with fiscal responsibilities, transparency and the residents’ input at the forefront.”
What would you do to increase the city’s responsiveness on projects or provide public notice of projects?
Epperson: “I am not aware of the city’s lack of or slow response on projects or notifications.”
Tolch: “Town halls and direct emails would be more engaging than a small sign on a sawhorse, as is done currently.”
Should Sunset Hills fight any efforts by St. Louis County to regulate police departments and other city business?
Epperson: “Our Police Department follows best practices, state regulations, is P.O.S.T. certified (Peace Officers Standards and Training Program), and is certified by the M.P.C.A. (Missouri Police Chiefs Association). St Louis County has no certification or advantage above these credentials. Unless Sunset Hills is in violation of a St. Louis County ordinance, I see no reason or justification for the county’s involvement in our city’s business.”
Tolch: “Sunset Hills has proven not to be a trouble spot in St. Louis County and I don’t foresee a logical reason for disputes to arise with the county.”
Some residents of the greater St. Louis region advocate a city-county merger, a disincorporation of St. Louis County municipalities or, as proposed by Better Together, a regional merger of services such as police and/or fire districts. Do you support these efforts? Why or why not?
Epperson: “I do not! One of the most unique and attractive characteristics of the Greater St. Louis area is the individualism and autonomy offered by its municipalities.”
Tolch: “This is a complex issue which, for the time being, stalled with the former disgraced St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and the soon to be outgoing city of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and their lobbying forces. It was too top heavy in regards to control and ruined good-faith efforts by smaller groups. The most logical combination of services between the city and county would be the health departments.”
What would you do to increase the city’s financial position?
Epperson: “Our city requires funding, funding is provided through taxes. Property valuation and businesses provide those tax revenues. I will encourage our residents to properly maintain and improve their properties if desired. These steps will in turn increase property values. I will encourage commercial development where zoning allows and residential impact is minimized. I will reduce wasteful and/or inefficient expenditures where possible.”
Tolch: “One possibility is investing in a solar farm. The city could bring in revenue over $30,000 per acre, per month.”
The city’s zoning code is currently being rewritten. How would you change it?
Epperson: “At this time, I am not aware of specific problematic codes, or any new code proposals and/or revisions. I do believe that the city should be more diligent in overall enforcement of the current codes/ordinances. There is always room for improvement in any governing system.”
Tolch: “I would keep the large lot sizes intact, keep commercial zoning in the current areas away from residential and relegate town homes or cluster homes to areas not within our established single-family home areas.”