Although the candidates for Crestwood mayor have long disagreed on the city’s economic prospects, at a forum last week residents heard their stances on other key issues, including the city-county merger and whether the mayor’s job should be full-time or part-time.
Incumbent Mayor Jeff Schlink and his challenger in the April 8 election, former Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby, squared off in front of an audience of 150 people at the March 20 forum, which was hosted by the Crestwood-Sunset Hills Area Chamber of Commerce and moderated by the League of Women Voters at the Community Center.
When an attendee asked how Roby and Schlink would approach the city-county merger, Roby said he would not address that hot-button issue.
“I’m not even going to touch that with a 10-foot pole — I think that’s for our county and our city of St. Louis to work through,” he said. “Other than just talks, I would venture to say nothing is going to happen any time in the near future. This could be a process that takes years, if not decades.”
Schlink, however, said the prospect of a merger is a major concern for Crestwood, and he serves on a select committee of mayors set up by the St. Louis County Municipal League that is examining whether the league should take an official stance on a merger.
One of the scenarios proposed by merger proponents would join the city and county under one government with a county mayor, disbanding all the county’s municipal governments, police departments and fire districts.
“This is a very, very important matter for the city of Crestwood,” Schlink said. “(Under a merger) those decisions aren’t ours anymore, because we won’t have a city government.”
Answering a question from the audience on transparency in government, Roby said the public has an “absolute right to know what we are doing at all times … I believe in open government completely.”
When an audience member requested that candidates list their top campaign supporters, Schlink said he is not accepting any campaign donations and is self-funding his campaign to show that he only works for the people of Crestwood, not for any potential campaign donors.
After Roby declined to cite any names of his campaign donors, the same person who asked the initial question submitted it again later in the forum, asserting Roby had not answered the question the first time.
Roby declined again to give specific names, but said his campaign is financially supported by former aldermen and told members of the audience they could file a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request for his donor information if they wanted to.
Former Mayor Roy Robinson is Roby’s largest campaign donor, according to Roby’s campaign filings with the county Board of Election Commissioners.
Schlink has been mayor since 2011, when he defeated Robinson.
Roby has also received financial donations from former Aldermen Chris Pickel, Mimi Duncan and Deborah Beezley, and his campaign committee is headquartered at Duncan’s house.
As they have at Crestwood Board of Aldermen meetings throughout the last year, the candidates staked out opposite sides on a key decision Schlink made in December 2012 not to break a 4-4 deadlock by the board to hire a planner to study mall owner Centrum Partners’ $121 million mall redevelopment plan and request for $34 million in tax incentives, including tax-increment financing, or TIF.
Roby said he would have broken the tie and is in support of TIF for the former mall property, calling the board’s handling of Centrum’s proposal the “biggest blunder we’ve had in years here.”
“This was too important of an issue to ignore half the citizens of Crestwood,” Schlink said in his opening statement, noting that a project so key to the future of Crestwood should not hinge on a tie-breaking vote. “My oath means more to me than doing what is merely politically convenient.”
Two rallies sponsored by Metropolitan Congregations United regarding the redevelopment of the mall led to a communication breakdown between Centrum and the city, the mayor added.
“Everybody’s entitled to free speech, and I support that 100 percent,” Schlink said. “The problem is that we attracted a significant amount of negative attention within the development community, and it created a horrible, horrible, poisoned — poisoned — line of communication between Centrum and the city … It wasn’t the residents — the residents frankly, I think, were duped into doing something that you thought was the best thing.”
“I believe that that was an opportunity from the citizens to speak their voice,” said Roby, who was listed as a contact on a press release for one of the rallies.
Roby, a lifetime resident of Crestwood who served as an alderman from 2006 to 2009, said he can work full-time at Crestwood City Hall since he retired from his job as an architectural salesman two weeks ago.
“I plan on being at City Hall as much as needed — full-time, if necessary,” Roby said. “I don’t believe the mayor’s job is simply to be a figurehead … I will be spending a lot of time in the community as mayor.”
Schlink, who is director of the Legal and Compliance Division at Edward Jones, countered that the job of mayor is a part-time one that should not be based on sitting in an office all day, but instead on getting things done.
The city-administrator form of government in Crestwood means that the government is run day-to-day by the city administrator, Schlink noted.
He added that since one of the key duties of the Crestwood mayor is to serve on the Ways and Means Committee and oversee the development of the city budget, his financial background at Edward Jones, where he manages budgets many times the size of Crestwood’s annual $8 million expenditures, helps him guide city finances.
“We talk a lot about what we’re going to do or what we want to do, but the difference in what I bring to the table is that I actually want to act on these ideas,” Schlink said.