Ayouaz qualifies for city ballot, according to his legal counsel

City attorney’s law firm bills city for qualification question

Lisa Stump

Lisa Stump

By Mike Anthony

Crestwood Ward 4 Board of Aldermen candidate Ismaine Ayouaz told the Call that his attorney says he meets the city’s requirements to be on the April 5 ballot.

Ayouaz has declined to identify his attorney.

Another Ward 4 candidate, former Alderman Steve Nieder, told the Board of Aldermen last week that Ayouaz does not meet the requirements of the city Charter and city code to be on the ballot.

Besides Ayouaz and Nieder, Ryan Pascoe and Tony Kennedy are vying for the Ward 4 seat.

Ayouaz is an information ­technology professional at the Washington University School of Medicine. In October, he issued a press release announcing his intent to run a write-in campaign for the Ward 4 aldermanic seat.

“The candidate, who was born in Paris, France, became a U.S. citizen earlier this year. To be an alderman, he also must reside in the ward he will represent and he must be a registered St. Louis County voter for at least 12 months,” the release stated. “Ayouaz will meet all requirements by the time of his election in April 2016, but he will not have been a registered voter for 12 months at the time of the filing deadline in mid-January. Because he cannot meet the filing deadline, he will conduct a write-in campaign for the Ward 4 seat.”

But on the advice of his attorney, Ayouaz filed Jan. 19 — the last day of filing — to be placed on the April 5 ballot. He first began inquiring about the filing requirements for alderman in late March, according to information Nieder received in a public-records request he made to the city.

Ayouaz and City Clerk Helen Ingold exchanged a series of emails on March 27, including one in which Ayouaz asked Ingold to check with City Attorney Lisa Stump about the filing requirements.

Ingold wrote to Ayouaz, “Charter and code says you have to be (a) qualified voter for one year. Are you registered to vote? …”

“I am a registered voter since I became U.S. citizen on Feb. 6, 2015. I would appreciate your discretion about that. Many, many thanks,” Ayouaz wrote.

In a March 31 email, Ayouaz asked Ingold, “Hi Helen, have you had a chance to talk to the city attorney?”

Ingold replied, “She will be in the office next Tuesday.”

In an April 7 email to Ayouaz, Ingold wrote, “I heard from the city attorney. Since you became a registered voter on Feb. 6, 2015, the one-year period would end on or around Feb. 6. The final date for filing for alderman in the April 2016 election is Jan. 19, 2016. Therefore, you would not be eligible to run for alderman in April 2016.”

During the Feb. 9 board meeting, Nieder cited the April 7 email and asked Stump how Ayouaz could be on the ballot.

“… In April, the city clerk was asked a question by a patron, and the city clerk answered to the best of her ability — like a lot of people call and ask her questions about different interpretations of the Charter and of the code,” Stump told Nieder. “She was asked to confirm that interpretation with me and asked for my opinion. I briefly looked at it and I gave her my opinion of what it was and that was the end of the situation. There wasn’t any legal opinion issued …”

In a Feb. 9 email to the Call, City Administrator Kris Simpson wrote, “The previous communication to Mr. Ayouaz that you refer to from April 2015 was Helen’s interpretation of the code. Later, our attorney, during her office hours, agreed with Helen’s interpretation. Our attorney did not perform a researched legal opinion, it was just a brief analysis of the circumstances as Helen described them.”

Stump’s firm, Lashly & Baer, billed the city $162 under “legal opinions” on April 1 to “review question from Ms. Ingold regarding potential candidate for alderman in 2016 and requirement that candidate be qualified voter for one year as of date of filing; draft email response regarding same.”

Emily Slaten, a Lashly & Baer attorney, spent 0.9 hours working on the question.

Simpson also wrote, “In response to the situation at hand concerning Mr. Ayouaz’s presence on the ballot: we received specific guidance from our city attorney informing us that the city clerk is not permitted to investigate a candidate’s qualifications.”

In June, the Call made a public-records request to the city seeking:

• Email(s) from Stump to Ingold regarding candidate requirements for alderman, along with email(s) from Ingold to Stump on the same subject.

• Email(s) from Ingold regarding potential candidate for alderman in 2016, along with email response from Slaten.

While the city retained documents responsive to both requests, Ingold responded that the information was exempt from disclosure under the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, citing, “Legal actions, causes of action or litigation involving a public governmental body and any confidential or privileged communications between a public governmental body or its representatives and its attorneys …”

After Ayouaz filed, the Call asked Ingold how Ayouaz was placed on the ballot given his previous announcement that he didn’t qualify.

On Jan. 21, Ingold wrote, “I would suggest you contact Mr. Ayouaz directly to get information about his decision to file.”

In a Feb. 5 email, the Call again asked Ingold about Ayouaz’s candidacy, citing her April 7 email.

Ingold responded Feb. 5, “Mr. Ayouaz, a resident, sent me an email asking a question about eligibility to ‘run’ for office. I interpreted the language of the code and Charter to the best of my abilities at that time.

“The city attorney did not provide a ‘legal opinion,’ but rather shared a likewise interpretation, which I took as an affirmation of my interpretation. I would suggest you contact Mr. Ayouaz for any information on his decision.”

The Call then asked Ingold if she could check with the city attorney about Ayouaz’s status as a candidate.

In his Feb. 9 email, Simpson wrote, “Regarding your request to ask our city attorney to look into Mr. Ayouaz’s status as a candidate: It would be a bad practice for us to start fielding research requests for our city attorney from the public.

“For legal opinions, our attorney’s firm bills at $180/hour, and I do not feel that is a productive use of public resources. As stated above, our city attorney advised us that investigating Mr. Ayouaz’s qualifications as a candidate is something we are not permitted to do. In order to protect the city’s reputation and finances, I will not direct the staff to knowingly do something that will likely result in the city being sued.”