Aldermen deadlock 4-4 over election of new Crestwood board president

By BURKE WASSON

While the newly elected members of the Crestwood Board of Aldermen have been sworn in, the question of which alderman will lead them is tied up — literally.

The Board of Aldermen currently is without a president after members split 4-4 April 25 on the question of whether Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel or Ward 4 Alderman Pat Duwe should fill the position. But voting was done by secret ballot during the public meeting, and no individual votes were made public.

City Attorney Rob Golterman informed Mayor Roy Robinson that the board has 45 days from the April 4 election to decide on a new board president. That 45-day deadline is May 19.

The board decided by a 7-1 vote to delay the decision until that time. Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher, who made the motion to nominate Duwe for board president, was the lone “no” vote. Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding nominated Miguel for the position.

Robinson said he hopes that aldermen will have made a collective decision to choose a board president by May 19. Audience members in attendance at the April 25 board meeting were overheard telling Robinson to “break the tie.” Despite their wishes for the mayor to make the decision on board president, Robinson said at the meeting that he believed the City Charter prevented him from doing so.

But after further review, Robinson said Monday that the City Charter provides that he can break ties on any vote taken by the Board of Aldermen. Section 4.4 of the City Charter states: “The mayor shall preside at meetings of the Board of Aldermen, but shall not vote on any question except in case of a tie.”

With that in mind, the mayor said while he believes he has the power to break the tie, he would prefer not to decide the board president.

“I would rather stay completely out of that,” Robinson said. “That’s the board’s decision. A mayor should keep in mind that that’s the last thing they want to get involved in. But if they’re so stubborn … and I would hope they’ve got it worked out. Surely somebody’s contacted somebody else to see if they can work this thing out on their own. I’m hopeful anyway.”

As for the secret ballot method that aldermen used April 25 to vote for board president, Robinson said he has mixed feelings. While he sees no provision in the City Charter permitting the anonymous selection of board president, he believes it was necessary for the board to maintain a civil nature.

“It wasn’t secret when I was an alderman,” Robinson said. “I think people ought to come out in the open. But I think the reason they do that is that so there won’t be any hard feelings. And I see both points. To me, I think people ought to stand up to what they’re voting for, even if it’s a board president. But I also understand we don’t need people PO’d at each other because they didn’t support them or whatever.”

The job of president, which was vacated April 25 by former Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood, who was ineligible to seek re-election because of term limits, essentially is to preside over board meetings in the event that the mayor cannot. Each board president serves a one-year term.

While he is currently the only person in Crestwood who can preside over a Board of Aldermen meeting, Robinson said he is not discouraged that aldermen lack a president because the board meets only one time — May 9 — before the deadline.

Duwe, who has served the Board of Aldermen since 1996, twice has been elected by her fellow aldermen as board president — in 1999 and 2000.

Miguel is in his first term on the board since elected in 2004, and this is the first time he has been nominated for board president.

Besides voting on a new board president, city officials recognized the April 4 election results, and each of the city’s four new aldermen took the oath of office.

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland defeated fellow challenger Darryl Wallach by 28 votes with a 338-310 victory, or 52.16 percent to 47.84 percent. Bland replaces former Ward 1 Alderman Richard LaBore, who had served as an alderman since 1983 and was forced out due to term limits.

Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel was the people’s choice over challenger Tom Ford by a vote of 460-267, or 63.27 percent to 36.73 percent. Pickel takes the place of Trueblood, who had served since 1993.

Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby won the election unopposed and received 823 votes. He replaces former Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox, who chose not to run for a third term after first being elected in 2000.

Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder beat fellow candidate Charles Berry by a vote of 647-380, or 63 percent to 37 percent. Nieder takes the place of former Ward 4 Alderman Joseph O’Keefe, who chose not to run after being appointed in 2004 and elected in 2005.

Pickel said on his first night as a Crestwood alderman all he wants to do as a city official is to ensure that the city so many residents love is maintained properly.

“During the campaign, I had the opportunity to talk with people,” Pickel said. “They shared their emotions with the good and the bad. What I also heard, though, was the overwhelming passion for this community.”

Roby said even though he is the only new alderman who was unopposed, he nevertheless appreciates the 823 people who did vote for him as well as the passage of Proposition S — a 20-cent-per-$100 property tax increase designed to pay off $3.5 million in Crestwood’s debt and credit expenses.

“As the only unopposed alderman that was running during this election, I would like to thank all of the citizens of Crestwood who showed their support to me on election day by giving me their vote and also for supporting Prop S,” Roby said. “I can assure you that myself and aldermen and constituents up here will utilize those dollars to the best of our abilities.”

While incoming aldermen are still making their presence in the city known, all four former aldermen also wanted to make sure they were heard once again.

In his farewell speech, LaBore stressed that aldermen must never underestimate the will of the public and the enlightening discussion in which fellow aldermen participate. He said his opinion has been changed many times during a Board of Aldermen meeting simply based on such discussion and hopes that current aldermen will keep an open mind.

“Once in awhile, somebody will say: ‘You had your minds made up,'” LaBore said. “And I’m always tempted to say: ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about because you don’t know the minds up here.’ Rarely are things so locked that you cannot talk.”

Trueblood outlined four key concerns that he wishes the board would address in the near future. These include placing the city’s Charter Review Commission’s recommendations on the next city ballot, finding ways to make additional spending cuts, hiring a quality police chief and realizing the political influence of Crestwood’s local firefighters union.

“The board must come to grips — and when I say the board, I mean all elected officials — with the growing political influence that the firefighters’ union has had in the past few years,” Trueblood said. “It will be up to the elected officials of Crestwood to determine if this influence is a good influence or a bad influence. But they need to decide. Failure to do so could change the future financial stability of our city and what type of services we have to offer.”

Trueblood also proposed looking outside the Police Department for the best possible new police chief and possibly consolidating the city’s police force with surrounding communities to reduce spending.

Maddox also had several words of wisdom for both new and current aldermen. He asked aldermen to avoid believing the position is any easy job, not be afraid to question recommendations of the city’s administration, not participate in mayoral elections, never initiate a lawsuit based on an emotional response and “don’t let time wear you down.”

While Maddox acknowledged that the board has “made some very serious mistakes” during part of his time served since 2000, he also said that a new, fresh board can look at the city’s affairs in perhaps an entirely new light.

“New blood can be very good for the board,” Maddox said. “And I hope each of you new aldermen will be as proactive as you would want. Some have criticized detailed review of the administration’s recommendations as being bean-counting. But I believe such review is necessary if you are to truly know what you are approving and how that will impact the city staff, residents and businesses. I don’t advocate this kind of approach as one of opposition to this administration. I’m sure you’ll find this administration to be very easy to work with. I simply advise you that you approach your job as alderman with caution, trust, a let’s-verify attitude and some good common sense.”

O’Keefe said if there is one thing he learned as an alderman, it’s that disagreement is sometimes the most effective way to carry a discussion on city matters and to ultimately make decisions. While he said he hopes the board will work well together, he also asked aldermen to not be afraid to oppose each other if they believe it is in the city’s best interests.

“It’s OK to disagree with people, and that’s what makes this work,” O’Keefe said. “I think when I as a citizen start to see everybody here agreeing on every single thing that happens, then I think we all need to have serious concerns. So when you see debate up here, people have different ways of debating things. Some are more spirited than others.

“I just think that’s something we should all remember. Just because you see debate up here doesn’t necessarily mean that people have personal feelings on issues. I have a feeling that contrary to a lot of people on the board here, there’s been spirited debates. But after the meeting’s done, we move on and move on to the next issue.”