Board has issues with mayor’s appointees, moves to give itself more appointee power

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By Lucas Irizarry, Staff Reporter

The May 10 Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen meeting featured a contentious discussion about several nominations to city committees by Mayor Pat Fribis.

Prior to the meeting, aldermen gave notice to Fribis they would be voting to postpone the approval of nominations/appointments to five committees.

“I feel very disappointed in this, very discouraged. There was an election, I won the election, the city majority wants to go in the direction I’m taking the city,” Fribis said. 

Some of the reasons aldermen highlighted for postponing the vote include attendance by some of the re-appointees and lack of notice about the appointments.

Ward 4 Alderman Fred Daues said he studied city-approved minutes and found two of the Parks and Recreation Board re-appointees have missed more than half of the committee’s 11 meetings in the past year — something which is grounds for removal in city code. The code states “All members of the city park and recreation commission shall attend at least seven meetings per calendar year. Failure to attend seven meetings as set out above shall be just cause for removal from the commission after review and vote by the board of aldermen.”

“I find this as an alderman unacceptable. If we are going to follow the ordinance, which is the law, which we all took an oath to uphold, this is clear,” Daues said. “When you’re missing meetings how can you be effective?”

Daues said he’d like to see the city follow its own ordinances and look at the numerous other applicants for the board. 

There was some debate about whether City Administrator Brittany Gillett provided acceptable notice to the board regarding the expiration of terms prior to the appointments. Ward 3 Alderman Cathy Friedmann said the board was not given enough notice similar to last year’s planning and zoning appointments, which then-City Attorney Bob Jones said were approved unlawfully.

“The reason why there is this sort of timeframe is that the aldermen have adequate notice that there is an expiration coming up, because the next section says ‘Upon such notification the mayor and all members of the board of aldermen may submit nominees together with a brief resume or description to the city clerk,’” Friedmann said. 

The last point regarding the nominations was raised by Ward 2 Alderman Christine Lieber, who opposed Fribis in the April mayoral election. Lieber listed eight instances where people were passed up for an appointment by Fribis. 

“Every single person that I just mentioned supported me during the campaign for the run for mayor. It appears this is just retaliation,” Lieber said. 

Lieber motioned to direct city staff to draft a new ordinance giving the board and mayor power to nominate people for any committee, with the aldermen handling the appointments. The ordinance would not apply to the Planning and Zoning Commission and Parks and Recreation Board since state law requires the mayor to make the appointments. The motion was approved unanimously.

Fribis gave reasons for her new appointments, citing an interview with Leslie Weis — who was nominated for the Parks and Recreation Board — and the need to meet city diversity standards for  the planning commission, where she nominated Jennifer Geen, a person who had their resume submitted for a while. 

There are currently no women who sit on the city’s planning commission, which is made up of 10 members. 

“It’s my discretion and my prerogative,” Fribis said.

“Madame mayor, there is no argument it’s your prerogative, it’s just rationale our board is having a hard time getting around,” Daues replied. “When I looked at the people who were reappointed, Kelly Finney’s (not reappointed by Fribis) attendance at the meetings was in the top two in parks. People that were being reappointed had four times as many absences as Kelly Finney.”

The board will revisit the matter at its June 14 meeting when the new nomination ordinance is heard for a first reading.