Crestwood board tables options proposed by city administrator

Police Board chair believes restructuring was necessary

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood aldermen last week decided to wait until a full board is present to decide how to proceed with requested investigations of 10 Police Department pay raises and the use of city resources to promote a now-failed tax-rate increase.

At the suggestion of board President Chris Pickel of Ward 2, the board will wait until all eight aldermen are present to select one or more options laid out by City Administrator Jim Eckrich to address these issues. The board next meets on Oct. 14.

“Given the amount of discussion these particular issues have already gotten in the last month or so and the sensitivity of the issues, I think in fairness to everybody involved we should withhold discussions until we have full board representation,” he said.

Aldermen voted 4-2 to table discussion of Eckrich’s options until all eight aldermen meet. Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel and Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder were opposed.

While Ward 2 Alderman Michael Kelsch and Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby were absent Sept. 23, the board appointed Carol McGee to serve in her late husband’s seat as a Ward 1 alderman until the April election. Mac McGee, who was elected in April 2007, passed away Sept. 5.

Eckrich’s options revolve around the push for investigations approved Aug. 28 by the Crestwood Civil Service Board.

One investigation would involve the legitimacy of the 10 Police Department pay raises awarded in a restructuring that also included five promotions. While the restructuring resulted in a $77,000 savings due to one retirement and two resignations, some have questioned why the pay raises were awarded May 15 — nearly two months before aldermen approved them in a July 8 closed session.

The Civil Service Board also voted Aug. 28 to investigate whether any city laws or civil-service rules were broken when the July town-hall meetings for the now-failed tax-rate increase Proposition 1 were advertised in the city newsletter. Those meetings were led by Crestwood Residents for Prop 1.

While the Missouri Ethics Commission has agreed to a request from four residents to investigate whether the city or campaign committee violated any state laws, Eckrich wants aldermen to decide if the city also should investigate that matter along with the police pay raises.

At the same time, Eckrich believes that Crestwood’s municipal code and City Charter prevent the Civil Service Board from initiating these investigations.

Concurrently, City Attorney Rob Golterman of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh recently issued an opinion that the Civil Service Board’s investigative powers are confined to those approved by aldermen in April 2007 as an amendment of Section 18-7(2) of the municipal code.

On April 10, 2007, aldermen amended Section 18-7(2), which states that the Civil Service Board only can investigate “appropriate changes or additions to the Civil Service Rules for classified employees or procedures or general policies that unfairly or adversely affect classified employees.”

Miguel had questioned if an amendment of the civil-service code approved by aldermen later in the April 10, 2007, meeting allowed the Civil Service Board to “make any investigation which it may deem desirable concerning the administration of personnel in the municipal service.” That language was contained in a copy of the proposed civil-service code included in that meeting’s packet.

But Golterman noted in his opinion to the board that the revised civil-service manual distributed in May 2007 to employees does not include that broad investigative power in the Civil Service Board’s duties.

He also contended that because aldermen already had amended Section 18-7(2) of the municipal code to give narrow investigative powers to the Civil Service Board before the board voted later that evening to revise the civil-service code, “there would have been no reason to further discuss the powers of the (Civil Service Board) … given the fact that the board had already established the powers by adopting the changes to Section 18-7 of the code … It is presumed that the board did not intend to enact inconsistent provisions.”

In support of the restructuring plan that included five promotions and 10 pay adjustments, Police Board Chairwoman Debbie Beezley said at the Sept. 23 meeting that she believes the plan was necessary.

“For those who are in a concerned state, I suggest you come (to Police Board meetings) because the data the chief provided to us was tremendous,” Beezley said. “These people had not been given opportunities for advancement as far as increases and various other things … If you start messing with the infrastructure of your fire and police, you don’t have a community. So I strongly encourage everyone in this community to get involved and learn about it … Let’s get beyond this. Let’s start looking at something exciting like the mall. Let’s start getting excited about our community again. I love Crestwood … It’s time to stop this.”

Police Chief Michael Paillou restated last week that five of the pay adjustments were due to making up for officers who had been hired at 88 percent of average pay instead of the city’s standard of 90 percent of average pay. He also told aldermen the other five pay increases were given to officers who had not received raises “due to mismanagement” when the city adopted a pay plan in 2002. That pay plan since has been shelved.

Given these inadequacies, Nieder questioned if employees in other departments also would be deserving of pay increases.

“Basically, we accept the premise that there was some harm to the employees in the Police Department …,” he said. “Why was this not worked through the Civil Service Board? That is the … mode of operation under the rules that we have in the city.

“If they have a grievance, then they go to the Civil Service Board, who then works in conjunction with … the city administrator to, I guess, address the grievance. First of all, that wasn’t done. I was wondering why that was not done. And number two, since we found these grievances or these grievances were brought up in whatever fashion in the Police Department, are we sure that there are not other grievances within the city of other city employees that we’re overlooking? Has that topic been looked at?”

“Mayor, I have a point of order …,” Pickel said. “I just had a question for the city attorney. Previously, we tabled an item discussing the Civil Service Board rules and regulations based on the memo that the city administrator had written to discuss some of these issues we’re now discussing. My question is is it appropriate for us to be having this conversation?”

“Probably not,” Golterman said.

“Then we won’t have the discussion,” Mayor Roy Robinson said. “End of discussion.”