Crestwood aldermen nix code of conduct

Mayor, aldermen say proposed code ‘unnecessary’

By BURKE WASSON

Instead of adhering to a newly proposed code of conduct, Crestwood aldermen last week decided they would rather use existing guidelines to conduct themselves.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-2 during a July 24 work session to dismiss a proposed code of conduct. Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland and Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel were the only aldermen to vote against dismissing the issue.

The proposed code of conduct would have applied to all elected and appointed officials in the city.

At a February meeting in which aldermen engaged in a heated debate over the development of Big Bend Crossing, aldermen unanimously directed the administration to prepare such a code of conduct.

“I think there was a concern that individual board members were not properly showing respect to other board members,” City Administrator Frank Myers said. “There was also feedback I’ve gotten that board members were concerned that if an alderman was to come to the administrator with an inordinate amount of requests that somehow there at least be some procedure or discussion or guidance regarding the protocol of getting information from the administration. And I think those were the two issues that initially drove the request for a code of conduct. Some time has passed since that initial meeting where there was that dialogue. I believe it was over, my recollection, there was an economic-development proposal that some aldermen felt very strongly the city should move forward on and a couple of aldermen did not. And it led to, I think, a pretty intense, kind of a personal debate, which this request kind of spawned out of that …

“And it was through that meeting that I believe it was Alderman Bland said we need a code of conduct to avoid some of those dynamics. That was the context I recall that kind of got this started.”

Knowing that new aldermen would be elected in April, Myers said he chose to delay preparing a proposed code of conduct until after that election.

Because the city already has such measures in place to control meetings through Robert’s Rules of Order and to ensure elected officials’ proper working relationships through the city charter, Mayor Roy Robinson and the majority of aldermen said they believe the code of conduct is unnecessary.

“As far as being divisive and having heated debates, that’s what this country was built on,” Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder said. “So there’s nothing wrong with that. If this is meant to subvert that, forget it. I’m not in favor of that.

“Limitation on requests for information? You know, this board needs to question things and find value in them. If you’re going to limit their capabilities of asking questions and seeking information, I’m not going to rule for that. The personal debate that happened here and the slinging of personal accusations back and forth in public, that’s no longer happening. That person or persons is no longer on the board. Thus, as I said before, the voters took care of that and/or that individual decided not to continue. So, again, even at that particular debate at that time and moment, Robert’s Rules of Order could have taken over. And had it been enforced, we wouldn’t even be sitting here discussing that because it would have been cut, the conversation. So that being said, I really see no value in this document to the city, number one, and I see it conflicting with a lot of different rules, orders, whatever you want to call it that we already have in place.”

But Pickel said he views a code of conduct as not undoing any existing provisions, but rather enhancing them.

“This board, or at least the members of this board that were in caucus in January or February of this year, unanimously directed the city administration to prepare a document like this,” Pickel said. “So this is something that we asked for. I think this document expands, for instance, on the city charter. There are certainly some stipulations made down in the charter about board members and their participation and conduct. I think this provides some additional guidelines for us. I think it also, keep in mind, this is for all city elected and appointed officials. So it’s broadening that pool of people … Whether or not this document was drafted because of any previous board member and any previous conduct really doesn’t factor in here because this is from a going-forward perspective. And that’s not to say in the next election or the election after that, a new alderman could come on board that there could be somebody with that type of personality. And I think we need to have some policies in place where we can address that.”

However, Robinson said because he presides over discussions at board meetings and residents already have the option of a recall vote if an elected official is “unruly,” he opposes the code of conduct.

“This document’s unnecessary,” Robinson said. “It states nothing. If people get so unruly that the public decides they’ve had enough of that individual, whether it be mayor or anybody else … there’s a recall.

“And they can gather the signatures and take that person, no matter who it is, off the board … We do have the recall method of removing someone that’s uncontrollable … We also have the censure now because they gave it to you with the charter. So you do have methods to try to control it. The last thing we want to do in a small community like this where we all argue is we don’t want to be restricting our elected officials from speaking up.”

At the same time, Bland said he views a code of conduct as beneficial to prevent the type of “character assassination” that has previously occurred during public meetings. He also said the code would ensure that city employees would not be overly interfered with by elected or appointed officials.

“As far as stifling or limiting information, definitely not,” Bland said. “That’s not what this is designed to do. What this is designed to do, however, is to allow city staff to do their jobs, which are full time, and without interference. I think there needs to be a vehicle by which if there’s in-formation, we can sure request it. But when it gets to the point where the requesting of the information is interfering with the ability to do the day-to-day job, we have a problem. And then I think we are overstepping our bounds a little bit, which might lead to taking a look back at the charter. This is not designed to create controversy. This is simply designed as an affirmation that we’re going to follow the rules that we said we’d follow.”

But Nieder believes the city already is “as self-regulating as we can possibly be without being restrictive. And if you make it too restrictive, which is what I think this document begins to lead us on the path on, it would destroy everything that we’ve built in the last two or three years.”