Crestwood aldermen approve revised meeting-room policy

Any group can rent rooms, but may pay fee starting next year.

By EVAN YOUNG

Any group or individual can use rooms in the Crestwood Government Center under the city’s revised meeting-room policy.

Beginning next year, however, they may have to pay to do so.

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously May 24 to approve the policy, which applies to the use of the aldermanic chambers and Fire Department training room at the Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.

While the policy became effective immediately, aldermen voted to delay implementation of an undetermined usage fee for the two rooms until Jan. 1.

Officials drafted a meeting-room usage policy last fall that prohibited political, religious and commercial groups from using the board chambers and Fire Department training room.

The move came after an anonymous phone caller questioned the appropriateness of using the aldermanic chambers and the city’s overhead projector to show a video about Islam.

The New Gravois Township Conservative Republican Party had screened “The Third Jihad,” a documentary that purports to expose “radical Islam’s vision for America,” at the group’s September meeting in the board chambers. While officials saw nothing wrong with the video, they were concerned there was no policy in place governing the use of the aldermanic chambers.

Aldermen approved the meeting-room usage policy in October but suspended it the following month after Republican club members criticized the measure as unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The board sent the matter to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which early last month recommended aldermen approve a nonrestrictive meeting-room policy and charge a fee.

City staff recommended the board approve a flat rate of $20 that would be charged for non-city groups and individuals to rent the two Government Center rooms. The fee would cover one hour for a custodian — $15.78 — and a nominal fee for utilities and wear and tear of the room, according to Jim Eckrich, director of public services and acting city administrator.

Republican club leaders have said they’ve chosen to meet in the board chambers since 1997 because the location is easy to find and is accessible to senior citizens, the group’s largest contingent.

“We’ve never had an issue or incident. We’ve never been out of control. We don’t use food or drink in here. It’s strictly informational in the agenda …,” club President Dave Wissler told aldermen May 24.

Wissler said he did not object to paying a “reasonable fee” to rent the chambers.

Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild suggested the city charge an hourly fee to rent the board chambers and Fire Department training room as it does for room usage at the Whitecliff Park Community Center.

“In my opinion, we’re competing against ourselves,” Duchild said at the board meeting. “If somebody wants to rent a room, they would go with the cheapest option which would be this room (board chambers) or the Fire (Department) training room versus going to the Community Center.”

Eckrich replied that there are different guidelines for renting rooms in the community and government centers.

“We didn’t look at it as this room competing with the Community Center,” Eckrich said. “They’re very different. We don’t allow food and drink in here. The Community Center, the way it’s set up over there, you have to have a custodian or some parks and rec staff over there at all times; that’s not done over here. The usage is different.

“So we simply looked at the cost to cover the room, and it’s difficult to tell that.”