Campisi appeals ruling on Oakville trash-transfer station

Redington: ‘I care about south county’

By BURKE WASSON

While County Counselor Pat Redington will not appeal a recent court ruling allowing a trash-transfer station in Oakville, one county councilman has decided to do so on his own.

Sixth District County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, filed an after-trial motion Friday seeking reconsideration of St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Ann Crancer’s Oct. 19 ruling allowing the construction of Fred Weber Inc.’s Oakville trash-transfer station.

Campisi’s motion alleges “serious professional misconduct” by Redington for settling the case on her own and not informing the County Council about Crancer’s ruling until weeks after the decision.

“Counselor Redington is the lawyer for the St. Louis County Council, a named defendant,” Campisi’s motion states. “However, she never informed the council of the judgment entered on Oct. 19, 2007, adverse to the council’s vote under review. Further-more, she never informed the council about any proposed ‘settlement agreement’ to waive all appeal rights in this case.”

The motion continues, “No lawyer, much less a counselor for a public body on a case of great public importance, has the right to sign away the client’s case without proper consultation and consent from the client.”

Campisi’s motion concludes, “In the absence of proper conduct by the attorney representing the County Council and in the absence of sufficient time for the County Council to digest the developments and react collectively, Councilman Campisi takes the emergency action of making this motion to preserve the council’s legitimate right to decide whether to appeal.”

The proposed trash-transfer station was one of three such facilities that Fred Weber Inc. had been denied by the county, spurring legal challenges in 2004. In 2005, the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the county used faulty logic in denying Weber’s request for the trash-transfer station.

After Weber petitioned for the station, the County Council instituted an ordinance prohibiting trash-transfer stations within 1,000 feet of churches, residences, schools, child-care centers, nursery schools or nursing homes. Weber’s site for the transfer station on Baumgartner Road is within 1,000 feet of Canaan Baptist Church, 5409 New Baumgartner Road.

But the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled the ordinance invalid because the county did not have a public hearing or receive a recommendation from the Planning Commission before amending its zoning ordinances.

With Crancer’s ruling and Weber’s attorneys’ willingness to now drop requests for attorneys’ fees and civil-rights damages that Redington quantified as “millions” of dollars, Redington believes she is acting in the county’s best interests by not pursuing further litigation to stop the facility.

“There’s a risk of loss to the county,” Redington told the Call. “And I understand that those particular residents in that area are unhappy with it. But I hope or try to look at it from the point of view of the entire county and not just one neighborhood. Not that every neighborhood isn’t important. But I’m just saying I try to look at it from the whole picture.”

As for not informing the County Council of Crancer’s ruling or her decision to not appeal it, Redington said that authority rests with the County Counselor’s Office and not the County Council.

“The County Counselor’s Office has never to my knowledge sought permission to settle the case,” she said. “It’s the responsibility, it’s my duty to make the decision to settle or to appeal or not to appeal … I did tell Councilman Campisi about the decision. And I understand he said I should have done it earlier. And I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend him on that … It’s not something that I thought: ‘Oh, I’m going to rush right down and drop everything and talk to the councilmen.’ I did not keep him out in order to offend him and I’m sorry that he was bothered … But no, it’s not something the council is consulted about, settling lawsuits.”

Campisi, however, said it is not unusual for Redington to update the council on litigation matters and questions why she did not inform council members of Weber’s allowance to construct the Oakville trash-transfer station.

“Since 2000, they’ve always shared with us the motions,” he said. “They’ve always shared with us the information that they are working on … If she does it for the other cases, why not this case? Why this one?”

Campisi’s motion comes on the heels of an unsuccessful attempt Friday from residents and businesses near Weber’s Oakville site to reopen the case. Crancer struck down those pleas and characterized them as “untimely,” noting that the case has been considered since 2004.

Jerry Wamser, an attorney representing those residents, said that while he is upset over Crancer’s original ruling, he also is “shocked” by Redington’s decision to settle the case without consulting the council, calling the move “government by stealth.”

“I’m entering my fourth decade in law,” Wamser said. “And I’ve never seen a betrayal of a client’s interest so starkly committed by an attorney on a major matter of public interest …

“I call it legal ethics 101. The government of St. Louis County found this to be a hazard. The phrase used was they found it to be a menace to public health and a nuisance. And government policy therefore said there shall be no garbage dump at this site. This attorney has, in effect, waived review of an adverse judgment contrary to that. In effect, she’s taken a dive without authority. And that is preposterous. That allows an irresponsible attorney to close out government policy.”

But Redington notes that Weber has adhered to concerns that county health, planning and highways officials originally had about the proposed site and now believes a permit should be granted to Weber because of those improvements.

“I care about south county,” Redington said. “But the health department was very satisfied that this is not going to be detrimental to the health of the residents and they are going to control all of the concerns that have been raised. I think most of the concern that I’ve been hearing about is odor, really … and trucks. And turning radius has been resolved. But I think until people see it in operation, I understand there’s going to be concern. And I’m certainly hoping and anticipating that once it’s up and running, people will realize that the health department and planning and highways have addressed those concerns and that their interests haven’t been compromised. I don’t presume to say that’s going to be the case. I’m not trying to tell people that they don’t have valid concerns. I’m just saying we’re hoping and anticipating that they will see this is not a bad thing.”

However, attorney Lester Stuckmeyer, who also represented residents in court Friday, said that Redington has trivialized the importance of the case out of concern for the potential damages that Weber was asking of the county.

“What really bothers me is the people are always being denied their day,” Stuckmeyer said. “The people are being denied their opportunity to speak because the county doesn’t want to face a civil-rights lawsuit. So really what the proposition that Redington stood for (Friday) is that if you have a counterclaim with enough zeros in it, you can get what you want …

“South St. Louis County is the dumping ground for everything noxious and ugly that the county has, including asphalt, RAP (reclaimed asphalt piles) and now trash. South county, unincorporated South St. Louis County, has become the county dump.

“Anything that anybody would object to, we’ll stick it in South St. Louis County because they have no political rights.”

Citing the County Council’s recent decision to implement trash districts in unincorporated areas by stripping residents of their right to choose their own waste haulers as well as Redington’s acquiescence to the Oakville trash-transfer station after three years of legal battles, Campisi simply hopes south county residents will see a victory in the near future.

“I wish south county could win one time in this kind of case,” Campisi said. “It just seems that for every corner I’m able to go around, I run into a brick wall. As far as the trash districting and the trash transfer goes … I guess it’s hard to win in south county. It really is.”