Crestwood aldermen reject motion seeking investigation of Prop 1 activities

Board acknowledges ‘mistakes were made,’ but believes investigation unnecessary

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood aldermen last week rejected a request for an investigation of whether city resources were used improperly to advertise town-hall meetings conducted by a campaign committee promoting a tax-rate increase that was defeated by voters Aug. 5.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-2 Aug. 12 to deny Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel’s motion to investigate the use of the city’s newsletter and reverse-911 telephone system to advertise the Proposition 1 town-hall meetings. Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder seconded that motion.

While the city’s Crestwood Connections newsletter advertised the meetings as “Prop 1 information town-hall meetings,” the presentations at such meetings were given by Crestwood Residents for Prop 1.

The group paid $160 to the city for the use of the Government Center and the Community Center at Whitecliff Park as sites for four town-hall meetings in July. Besides publishing the meetings in the newsletter, reverse-911 telephone calls were used July 12 to inform residents of the meetings. City Administrator Jim Eckrich has said it is common practice for the city to use its dispatching service for reverse-911 calls to advertise town-hall meetings.

While aldermen last week denied a request to investigate the matter, city officials said they would consider drafting a policy for aldermen to consider that would restrict the use of reverse-911 calls and prevent groups from publishing information in the city’s newsletter.

Though the board has rejected a call to investigate, four residents have asked the Missouri Ethics Commission to determine whether city officials and/or a citizens group acted improperly to inform voters about Proposition 1.

Crestwood voters convincingly defeated the proposed six-year, 35-cent tax-rate increase on real and personal property in the Aug. 5 election. A total of 2,159 residents — 71.66 percent — voted “no” on Proposition 1 and 854 residents — 28.34 percent — voted “yes,” according to unofficial election results. But Miguel told aldermen last week that “regardless of the outcome,” the use of city resources to promote meetings that turned out to be led by a campaign committee deserves to be investigated and might be in violation of city code and state law.

Additionally, charts that were published in the city’s most recent newsletter describing Prop 1 mirrored graphs used by Crest-wood Residents for Prop 1 during the four town-hall meetings in July.

“The newsletter in effect promoted the cause of the meetings,” Miguel said. “And to me, that was an inappropriate use of city resources. To me, it’s a clear violation of Missouri Statute 115.646, which states no contribution or expenditure of public funds shall be made directly by any officer, employee or agent of any political subdivision to advocate, support or oppose any ballot measure or candidate for public office …

“Page seven of the civil-service manual has a statement. Employees of the city of Crestwood are encouraged to exercise their right to vote. But no employee shall make use of city supplies, uniforms, logos, time or equipment to aid a political candidate, political party or political cause … I submit that the use of the city newsletter and the reverse 911 was use of city resources to promote the cause of a political committee.”

As for his request for an investigation, Miguel said he simply is trying to determine which city officials were responsible for authorizing the reverse-911 calls and publishing information in the newsletter that matched the campaign committee’s presentation as well as who allowed the group to make presentations at these meetings.

“I’m not on a witch hunt,” Miguel said. “But I am trying to get information as to how this came about. Citizens were misled and said so at various meetings and more than one. Credibility has been strained, and trust has been lost. Lines have been crossed.

“City resources have been misused. I feel the board owes people answers as well as a never-again commitment. So I, too, would like an investigation into the matter.”

But Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby said he believes an investigation would be unnecessary.

“If we admit that there was a mistake made, the smart thing to do is just basically come up with a type of written ordinance that states that this cannot be used for these purposes and be done with that,” Roby said. “I don’t know how many times you want to hit this dog with a two-by-four before it’s dead. It just seems like a waste of time to drag this thing through the dirt.

“We admit that there were mistakes made and they shouldn’t have been done, so let’s just enact legislation and get on with it. We’ve got other things that are more important in this city to worry about right now than whether or not something that was done in the past with regards to the newsletter or whether it was called a town-hall meeting and it wasn’t. You (Miguel) were there at all four of them. If you didn’t think it was right, you should have stood up and said: ‘Hey, this is not right’ and left. But you stuck around for all of them.”

When residents asked at the July 22 town-hall meeting how Crestwood Residents for Prop 1 was allowed to make the presentations, Executive Secretary Helen Ingold said while aldermen were the “host” of the meetings, the campaign committee “provided” the information to be presented.

“For these meetings, I was instructed to contact an alderman,” she said at the July 22 meeting. “I believe there’s an alderman from Ward 2 who is the host tonight. Are you not, Mr. Kelsch, the host this evening at the town-hall meeting at which everyone is here to express their opinion?”

Ward 2 Alderman Mike Kelsch nodded, but did not address the audience throughout the July 22 meeting.

“This gentleman, Mr. (Terry) Freeman, who I believe is a part of the group, not only contacted us, but provided every one of us and every one of the aldermen the information he would be presenting,” Ingold said. “That was my understanding of this process.”

Additionally, Crestwood Residents for Prop 1 Chairwoman Char Braun said at the July 22 meeting that perhaps the phrase “town-hall meetings” was not the best way to advertise the four meetings.

“Maybe we worded that incorrectly,” Braun said July 22. “Instead of town hall, it was supposed to be ward informational meetings. There’s a couple ways to say it.

“I’ll apologize and I will take the full brunt of that. That is not what it is intended to be. That is why Terry, a resident of our community, is doing it. That’s why we didn’t ask anyone else to do it. We didn’t ask the aldermen to do it. We asked them and invited them to come and answer questions if people have questions. We’re just trying to get information to people and let them decide for themselves.”