South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Casey Wong faces former Ward 2 Alderman Christine Lieber for Sunset Hills BOA

Lieber is a former Ward 2 alderman for Sunset Hills
From left: Christine Lieber and Casey Wong

Sunset Hills Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong is seeking fourth term on the city’s Board of Alderman, and is challenged by former Ward 2 Alderman Christine Lieber. 

Election Day is April 2.

Christine Lieber is a former Sunset Hills Ward 2 alderman. 

She served on the board from 2021-2023, during which part of that time she was the board president. 

She is self-employed, and is the owner of the Christine Lieber Agency, LLC. She received her undergraduate degree from Webster University, and is a financial services certified professional through the American College of Financial Services.

Lieber unsuccessfully campaigned for mayor in 2022, and lost to the other Ward 2 alderman, Marie Davis, in the 2023 municipal elections.

Casey Wong is an attorney for a governmental agency. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame, and his law degree from Saint Louis University School of Law.

Wong has served as a Sunset Hills Ward 2 alderman since 2018, and was reelected unopposed in 2020 and 2022. 

The candidates gave the following responses to The Call’s candidate questionnaire: 

Editor’s note: The following responses appeared in the March 14 and March 21 print editions of The Call. Some responses may have been edited for grammar and shortened due to print space constraints. Keep reading for more from the candidates. 

Reason you are seeking office?

Lieber: “I am running for office because I am deeply committed to the well-being and progress of our community … My decision to run is rooted in a genuine desire to contribute positively to the community that has been my home for three decades. Throughout my tenure as the former Sunset Hills board president and Ward 2 alderman, I have actively worked towards fostering cooperation, collaboration and transparency in local governance. … In essence, my decision to run for office is driven by a genuine passion for service and a steadfast belief in the potential of our community. I am dedicated to fostering a sense of unity, advocating for the needs of our residents and ensuring that Sunset Hills continues to be a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Wong: “To keep Sunset Hills sunny. Sunset Hills is a wonderful place to live, work and play, and serving as alderman is a privilege and small contribution to our vibrant community.”

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race?

Lieber: “The single most important issue in this race, in my view, is giving Sunset Hills the best choice for directing all decisions to put residents first … My former board experience uniquely positions me to lead efforts to address all residents, especially those in Ward 2 … If elected, I will prioritize collaborative initiatives, engage with the community to understand their perspectives and work tirelessly to implement effective policies.”

Wong: “I do not think there is any particularly important issue in this race or upcoming generally for the City of Sunset Hills. The city is as strong, healthy and robust as ever. Sunset Hills has excellent leadership with each of our directors and chief, and city staff who deliver excellent work and services for our residents and businesses. The city has a wonderful Mayor Pat Fribis and the Board of Alderman is a solid, dedicated group that I have had the privilege to work with.”  

Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Lieber: “No. 1: Transparency. Leading the board to establish a transparency portal on our website is a step towards openness. However, I am committed to going further. I believe that financial information for our city should not only be accessible but also presented in a format that is easily understandable for every citizen. 

“No. 2: Integriy. Upholding integrity is paramount for the city’s conduct, and if reelected as alderman, this principle will always be at the forefront.”

Wong: “Having served with Christine Lieber for two years when she was an alderman, I think she is an excellent candidate and brings much passion. I think the largest differentiator in the race and my position on issues generally is that I strive to best represent and protect residents by frequently pushing for more and better conditions on proposed commercial and other developments. I have been occasionally criticized in the past for casting a dissenting vote on certain projects and developments … I think my questions, comments and positions make clear that while I may have been in favor of the particular project or development overall, if I believe certain additional or better conditions would best serve and protect residents, I urge such conditions and vote accordingly … Oftentimes, a development is good and desirable, but conditions should be imposed to best protect residential interests.” 

Should the city reject projects such as water towers or cell towers, even if it risks a lawsuit? 

Lieber: “While I understand the importance of ensuring the well-being and aesthetics of our community, any decision to reject projects like water towers or cell towers must be approached with careful consideration. It’s crucial to weigh the potential legal ramifications against the impact on our residents and the overall character of our city. In making such decisions, we should prioritize open communication with residents … Collaborative efforts with stakeholders, including legal experts, can help strike a balance between preserving the community’s interests and avoiding unnecessary legal challenges. Ultimately, my approach would be to find a solution that aligns with the best interests of the community while minimizing the risk of legal action … We also need to follow the laws set forth by the city. In the past, this has not been done, and that is why we have seen litigation in Sunset Hills regarding the water tower.”

Wong: “Officials must evaluate any proposal or project on the particular merits presented and it is not possible to offer opinions generally or in the abstract.”

Do you agree with the direction the city is moving under Mayor Pat Fribis?

Lieber: “The city has encountered numerous lawsuits during Mayor Fribis’ tenure, including a $500,000 settlement with land developer George Despotis, and an ongoing lawsuit with the Rugby Bombers Association due to her signing a lease not in favor of the city, Missouri American Water Company and others … Non-compliance with city laws, coupled with inadequate legal counsel from a former attorney, has led to substantial financial settlements. Additionally, her leadership style fails to foster unity within the team … She is proficient in withholding or omitting information.”

Wong: “The City of Sunset Hills has been blessed to have Mayor Pat Fribis at the helm. Her commitment, service and professionalism are second to none, and she is extremely helpful and responsive to residents and businesses.”

What is your vision for Sunset Hills?

Lieber: “My vision for the City of Sunset Hills is one of vibrant community engagement, sustainable growth and inclusive governance. I envision a city where residents feel empowered and heard, where local businesses thrive and where our natural resources are preserved. I am committed to fostering a sense of unity, embracing diversity and ensuring that Sunset Hills remains a safe, welcoming and prosperous place for all its residents.”

Wong: “Sunset Hills is a truly wonderful community that is extremely strong, healthy and desirable. The city continues to prosper and flourish, being an excellent place to live and raise a family with an extremely robust business community.”

Is Sunset Hills business friendly? What do you propose to keep current businesses and attract new economic development? 

Lieber: “In my view, we are business-friendly, but it is imperative that the Board of Aldermen, as decision-makers, be informed about businesses engaging with city hall. There should not be restrictions preventing the board from communicating with city staff. Withholding of information from aldermen has, on numerous occasions, led businesses to invest additional resources in redesigning, repositioning or making significant adjustments to their projects. Enabling aldermen to be aware of and engage with businesses beforehand allows them to better represent their residents and offer insights before a project advances to planning and zoning.”

Wong: “Sunset Hills, helped in no small part by the interstate highways and major roadways that run through the city, is a very attractive and desirable place for businesses. Bass Pro Shops is a prime example.”

Do you believe the city should maintain a positive relationship with Lindbergh Schools?

Lieber: “I am a Lindbergh alum and I have maintained a positive relationship by funding yearly scholarships. I would definitely continue and encourage the city to collaborate with our school district for the success of our next generation and to preserve our property values.”

Wong: “Absolutely, and I believe the city continues to maintain a great relationship with the Lindbergh School District.”

Should the city collaborate with the school district when undertaking a development that would impact it? 

Lieber: “Yes.”

Wong: “Yes, and the city has very much done so during my tenure, particularly when developments or proposals involve public tax incentives. The city should continue to communicate and collaborate as it has done.”

Keep reading for web-exclusive questions and answers from the candidates

Editor’s note: The following questions are as they were submitted to The Call by the candidates in their entirety. They have not been edited in any way, other than to ensure appropriate language and no direct attacks on opponents or other candidates. 

Should the mayor strictly adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order during meetings? Should the public be allowed to speak at city meetings?

Lieber: “Robert’s Rules should be followed.   The citizens of our city should always be allowed to speak.  I have successfully advocated for a new hybrid system that will allow residents interactive, online access to meetings which has increased meeting attendance and participation.”

Wong: “I believe Mayor Pat Fribis does follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Reasonableness, common sense, and good judgment should always be utilized. Our residents and the public are very much allowed to speak at City meetings and our community is small enough that flexibility is exercised to encourage more and longer public and resident comments, which I think is appropriate and desirable. Our level of resident engagement is excellent in Sunset Hills.”

Do you agree with the decision not to take over Tapawingo Streets? Why or why not?

Lieber:The issue regarding the city take-over of Tapawingo Streets has been resolved through a vote, resulting in denial. Moving forward, I am committed to thoughtfully and responsibly considering any proposals from our residents, in accordance with our ordinances that mandate proper evaluation.

I extend my sincere hope that the residents of Tapawingo can collaboratively find a solution to manage their private streets. I assure them, as with any other residents, that I will actively listen and consider their perspectives in a fair and open manner.”

Wong:Officials must evaluate any proposal or project on the particular merits presented. In the applications submitted during my tenure, there has not been one that satisfied all criteria and made sense for the City.”

What is your position on the use of tax-increment financing and other tax tools?

Lieber:Careful and informed evaluation with the board is essential for any proposal. Convincing me of its alignment with the city’s best interests and its minimal adverse impact on residents is crucial. Community improvement districts, which have been successful in our city, are often more suitable. Generally, the utilization of Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) should be exercised sparing.”

Wong:They should be used sparingly and only in the most compelling cases. Bass Pro Shops was one such extraordinary case in which it made sense to utilize a CID sales tax incentive.”

Do you support the use of eminent domain for redevelopment projects? Why or why not? Please be specific.

Lieber: “Eminent Domain should only be invoked when private property is absolutely essential for a public need. It should never be utilized to transfer private property from one party to another for their exclusive private use.”

Wong:While any official would have to evaluate the particular merits on a case by case basis, I cannot think of a situation generally that would make sense to use eminent domain for private, commercial redevelopment projects.”

Should the city of Sunset Hills be more bicycle friendly? If so, what would you propose?

Lieber:I envision our city becoming more bicycle-friendly, prioritizing safety. A dedicated committee, comprising the Parks Director, Parks Board, and engaged citizens, can proactively investigate grants and other resources to transform this vision into reality. This proactive approach aims to address this concern without the need for it to be raised every two years.”

Wong:Most if not all of the roadways people ride bikes (or want to) are not in the City’s right-of-way or jurisdiction. I do not have any particular proposal(s).”

What are your thoughts on commercial encroachment of residential areas?

Lieber:Sunset Hills is a wonderful place to live. While we want to be friendly towards our businesses and see them succeed, this is our home. I do not favor commercial encroachment on residential areas, and I believe I stand with the vast majority of the residents in this regard.”

Wong:Opposed. I think my votes on such issues have made my position clear.”

Should the Court Drive neighborhood bordering South Lindbergh Boulevard be residential or commercial?

Lieber:My opinion on this subject is not relevant after Friday, May 12, 2023, Judge Gaertner of the Eastern Missouri Appellate Court orchestrated a mediation session involving all decision-making members of the Olga Depostis Trust and Perpetuities, along with representatives from the City of Sunset Hills. The purpose of this gathering was to facilitate an agreement between both parties, fostering a positive direction for the city and averting severe financial consequences.

After a lengthy session, a resolution was reached, resulting in several key points outlined in the final settlement:

A) The initial $509,000 attorney fees judgment against the City was successfully negotiated down to $330,000. The City’s insurance policy covered $150,000, thereby reducing the financial impact to approximately $180,000 for the attorney fees judgment. Although a significant amount, it stands considerably lower than the initial $509,000 plus interest.

B) The city was directed to vacate the zoning for the lots involved in the case. Subsequently, the plaintiff commenced the process of re-zoning and developing the lots situated at the corner of West Watson Road and Lindbergh Boulevard.”

Wong:This is a moot issue. My comments and votes at meetings have demonstrated my position. The court has ruled against the City in favor of commercial use.”

What would you do to increase the city’s responsiveness on projects or provide public notice of projects?

Lieber: “To enhance the city’s responsiveness on projects and improve public notice, I would implement a multifaceted approach. Firstly, I propose streamlining communication channels between city officials, staff, and the community. This involves regular updates through newsletters, emails, and social media platforms to keep residents informed about ongoing and upcoming projects.

Additionally, I advocate for the establishment of a centralized platform where residents can easily access project information, timelines, and provide feedback. This transparency ensures that the community is actively engaged in the decision-making process.

Furthermore, I would promote proactive communication with residents, seeking their input before major projects are finalized. Conducting town hall meetings, surveys, and public forums would allow us to gauge community sentiment and integrate valuable perspectives into the decision-making process.

In terms of public notice, I support exceeding the minimum requirements for project notifications. Utilizing various communication channels, such as official notices, signage, and digital platforms, we can ensure that residents receive timely and comprehensive information about upcoming projects.

Overall, my strategy involves fostering a culture of openness, accessibility, and collaboration. By prioritizing effective communication and involving the community in decision-making, we can enhance the city’s responsiveness on projects and provide robust public notice.”

Wong:I believe the City utilizes appropriate methods to provide public notice of proposals and projects. If there are any best practices or other methods that might improve how residents and the public receive notice, I would love to hear them!”

Do you feel that town home or “cluster home” developments have a place in the city? Why/why not?

Lieber:Of course, cluster homes and townhouses have a place in our city – I should know – I live in a PD-RC cluster home district! The key is to restrict such developments to appropriate locations and to ensure the highest standards. This is why we must be careful to retain the highest zoning standards as defined in”

Wong:The right type and location of development can absolutely have a place in the City. I cannot comment in the abstract about future developments, but Courtyards is a great example of an excellent development that is not traditional single-family homes.”

Do you support the performance of City Administrator Brittany Gillett?

Lieber:As Sunset Hills City Administrator, Brittany Gillett effectively manages a $12 million budget and oversees over 70 full-time employees across four departments. Under her leadership, the city achieved a successful salary restructure for the police department, ensuring a fully-staffed commissioned force. Brittany played a key role in attracting Bass Pro Shops to Sunset Hills, contributing to increased revenue and tourism in south St. Louis County.

Beyond her duties in Sunset Hills, Brittany serves as the treasurer and co-founder of Missouri Women Leading Government, advocating for greater equality in public service roles throughout the state. On weekends, you’ll often find her cheering on her children at various sporting events. I wholeheartedly endorse Brittany’s contributions and look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts under her capable leadership.”

Wong: “Yes, Brittany Gillett has rendered excellent service to the City.”

Are you satisfied with the Bass Pro Shops development at the former Toys “R” Us?

Lieber:Yes, I am pleased with the new Bass Pro in the City of Sunset Hills. Serving as the Board President and Ward 2 Alderman during the decision-making process to bring Bass Pro to our city, I played a crucial role in this significant initiative. The decision has proven to be not only financially beneficial for our city but has also enhanced our community by attracting a multitude of visitors. Personally, I take pride in the positive impact it has had, and as someone who enjoys shopping there myself, I am extremely happy with the outcome.”

Wong: “Absolutely, and my kids love the place! Bass Pro in short order has demonstrated itself to be a wonderful business in Sunset Hills with extraordinary community support.”

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?

Lieber:I do not endorse any of the proposals I have encountered regarding the city-county merger with police and fire districts. Our residents value our city services, underscoring the necessity for a financially responsible mayor with the backing of the Board of Aldermen. I am confident that with prompt and effective changes, we can revitalize the city and restore its financial stability.”

Wong: “Adamantly oppose the previously contemplated merger proposal.”

Do you believe the city is in a strong financial position? Why or why not?

Lieber:While the City of Sunset Hills faces challenges, including potential liabilities such as the rugby lease lawsuit, our overall financial position requires careful consideration. The presence of lawsuits underscores the importance of prudent financial management. The financial portal, a collaborative effort with the Board, serves as a crucial tool in our journey towards a stronger financial standing. Through strategic decision-making and enhanced collaboration with the Board, I am optimistic that we can navigate these challenges and guide the city toward a more secure financial future.”

Wong: “The City remains in a great financial position which I expect will continue. One important element most are not aware of is the extraordinary changes made to the City’s financial transparency and adoption of modern best practices. The City’s Finance Director has accomplished great things in her service to the City that were an important fundamental shift that will carry forward indefinitely and will help ensure the City’s financial position remains strong (and transparent!). “