Crestwood board eyes measure formally hiring city administrator

Eastman discusses management style, responds to questions from aldermen

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen was scheduled this week to consider an ordinance formally hiring Petree Eastman as city administrator.

The Board of Aldermen was scheduled to meet Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Aldermen voted Sept. 27 to approve Mayor Jeff Schlink’s nomination of Eastman to succeed Jim Eckrich as city administrator. The board’s 7-0 vote directed that an ordinance be drafted setting forth the terms of employment and compensation for Eastman, who will be the city’s first female city administrator. The board’s vote also waived the city’s residency requirement for Eastman, who lives in University City. Ward 2 Alderman Steve Knarr was absent from the Sept. 27 meeting.

Details on the terms of Eastman’s employment were not available before press time and a closed session of the Board of Aldermen to discuss legal and personnel matters was scheduled before the start of the regular meeting Tuesday night.

The board’s open-session vote to hire Eastman on Sept. 27 came after a roughly 40-minute closed session called to discuss personnel matters.

Eastman is a consultant for the St. Louis Area Municipal League. She served as University City’s assistant city manager from April 2007 until June 2010.

Earlier during the Sept. 27 meeting, Eastman addressed the board and fielded questions from aldermen.

She said she wanted to introduce herself to aldermen “so that you can hopefully get a little bit better feel of who I am and what kind of leader I hope to be for the city of Crestwood, should you decide to appoint me to that position. There’s three points I think that I’d like you to walk away with as you go forward and that is my philosophy about public service, my philosophy about city management and my philosophy about and the goals that I would hope to bring to this Board of Aldermen.

“My philosophy about public service is essentially that it is a calling, as you probably are aware. It’s an honor and it’s a privilege. It’s not a volunteer job, but it is driven to be acting for the best interests of the citizens of the city. My philosophy of city management is pretty simple as well. I hope that we will provide excellent service, upgrade infrastructure, provide a quality of life for the citizens who live, visit and work here,” Eastman said.

“I would like to see the city strive for continuous improvement. I’d like to make sure that there is financial stewardship of public funds by providing services at reasonable costs. And fourth, which is often overlooked, is to promote, retain and reward outstanding employees. These four main goals in my philosophy of city management should be directly linked to the city’s mission statement, its strategic goals and objectives. How I would do that is through a continuous system of learning from all sources — data, from citizens, from other cities and from sheer creativity.”

Eastman also discussed what type of relationship she would like with the board.

“My relationship with the board I hope will be one of collegiality …,” she said. “But it’s to unite you — unite you with the citizens and with the staff to make wise, thoughtful and enlightened decisions to move this city forward in making a better place for people to live work and visit. I have an idea about my first hundred days and it would be to learn, to listen, to get input from all of you, from department heads, from employees, from citizens, from stakeholders, business owners, to see where Crestwood is today and where they hope to be …”

Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach asked Eastman what interested her in the city administrator’s post.

“Well first of all, I’ve been a fan and an avid public servant for many years in various forms, from being an attorney to running a homes association that had many of the same issues that cities have to being an assistant city manager in a very, very complex city that is University City nearby,” she said. “I grew up not far from here. I spent many a day in Crestwood at Crestwood mall as a teenager.

“I feel like I know the people here. I know the environment and I find that it will be a challenge to my intellect and my experience and so that is the primary motivation to be here. I look forward to having a long, productive relationship with the Board of Aldermen and the citizens. This is not, in my view, a stepping stone to something bigger, grander. To me, I’m here to stay as long as you would have me.”

Ward 1 Alderman Mimi Duncan asked Eastman what she believes is the biggest challenge facing Crestwood.

Eastman responded, “Well, I think the biggest challenge in reading the materials that I have had access to is that like nearly every city except for a handful in the area is that there are, in actuality, probably declining revenues and increasing costs and there has to be some discussion over the long term and the short term how we’ll resolve that gap. You cannot run a business, and this is sort of a business, and expect to retain good employees and … have their salaries and their purchasing power diminish over time and expect superior service.

“So, to me, figuring out how we can be more efficient, and that doesn’t necessarily mean cutting personnel — but it can mean that — but being more efficient, being smarter about the way we do business, but also looking at the revenue side. We have to go both ways and so, to me, the long-term financial health of this city, which ultimately will affect how it is run and perceived is the priority.”

Duncan later asked, “… It seems that there’s some divisions on this board. As the city administrator, how would you handle those situations?”

“Well, I would say that again with my managerial style is that I think that when you’re faced with a particular issue and there are varying viewpoints, that ultimately you can come up with enough information, enough data, and have learned advice, hopefully, and bring people together and look at the long term view of whatever that particular issue is …,” Eastman said.

“I have to say I’m a planner at heart, so data is a big deal to me. And I don’t mean I’m a data wonk like I have to see numbers, but I do like to see facts and figures, input from professionals and experts to help me and inform my decision making. Will you be unanimous all the time? I hardly think so. I don’t think that would be true of any board. So my goal would be to unite you as best possible to move forward and do the right thing.”

Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel said, “… Just in terms of development, over the last many years we’ve lost our economic engine. You talked about going to the mall. We hope to have that back some day. So my question for you is what’s your experience in development?”

Eastman said, “Well, I would say that my experience is not as great as I would like. I’ll be honest with you about that. But I would tell you a couple of observations that I’ve made about development and that is that dysfunction on a council or a board … can have a negative impact on bringing in business. It is a process that is long usually, especially for a big development such as the Crestwood mall project. And so a united front and clear idea of what you want to do in having less discord is really important. We had a project in University City that sat there for — I mean everybody loved it, thought it was great. There was just so much dysfunction on the City Council and infighting and situations in which staff was talking to one side and City Council members were talking to the other side. And it was very difficult and to this day, it’s still not done. That’s one observation.

“The second observation is that credit is very difficult. We had an award-winning development that was supposed to take place for some green housing. I spearheaded that and we had, again, a terrible time getting banks to even look at our project …”

Pickel also asked Eastman about her position on such tax tools as tax-increment financing for development.

She said, “… I will tell you this. I think businesses should come to cities because they think they’re good cities to be in. But that’s the perfect world. We don’t live in the perfect world. I would hate to give away tax dollars to any business that could viably come here without them. But the fact of the matter is that they’re here and if you don’t use them, someone else will. And that is a reality I think

that we all don’t really like but I think is a reality.

“They do pay off well,” Eastman continued. “We had a development in University City. It was a grocery store, Schnucks, in a part of town that nobody wanted to be a part of … We used TIF. It was paid off early and it’s flourishing, providing great service to the community and it really didn’t cost us anything. And if it hadn’t been for those incentives, it would still be an abandoned lot today, and that’s the reality. Is that getting better? Are their rules more strict? It’s not going to make any difference. There is always going to be those folks that want the incentives even if they can make a gazillion dollars without them. And so I would say reluctantly you have to play the game.”