Crestwood officials will not respond to questions or comments about a Ward 4 aldermanic candidate’s qualifications for office.
Former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder told the Board of Aldermen Feb. 9 that another Ward 4 candidate, Ismaine Ayouaz, does not meet the city Charter and city code requirements to be on the April 5 ballot. Ayouaz filed for office on the last day of filing — Jan. 19 — and is on the Ward 4 ballot along with Nieder, Ryan Pascoe and Tony Kennedy.
During the Feb. 23 board meeting, City Attorney Lisa Stump read a statement that essentially imposed a gag order on city officials regarding questions or comments about Ayouaz’s qualifications.
“Before proceeding this evening, the Board of Aldermen has asked that I read a statement on behalf of the city,” Stump said.
The statement said, “… Based on Missouri law and controlling legal precedent, the city has determined that once Mr. Ayouaz filed his written, signed and sworn declaration certifying under oath that he met all the qualifications to serve as an alderman, the City Clerk (Helen Ingold) was legally obligated to certify Mr. Ayouaz’s name to the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners.
“The Board of Aldermen has not judged the qualifications of Mr. Ayouaz or any other candidate for office pursuant to the Charter. The Board of Aldermen has reviewed and discussed its legal obligations on this matter, and neither the city nor the Board of Aldermen will respond to any further questions or provide any further comment relating to the qualifications of Mr. Ayouaz, or any other candidate, prior to the municipal election to be held on April 5, 2016.”
Despite Stump’s assertion that the board asked her to read the statement, aldermen have not taken any votes in closed session since Dec. 15 when they hired Kris Simpson as city administrator, according to information the city has provided in response to public-records requests.
The state’s Sunshine Law stipulates that any votes taken during a closed meeting shall be taken by roll call, and the law does not permit consensus votes.
Nieder contends that Ayouaz’s name should not have been placed on the April ballot because he was not a registered voter for one year before the Jan. 19 filing deadline. Nieder cites a press release that Ayouaz issued Oct. 13 announcing his plans to run as a write-in candidate for the Ward 4 seat.
“The candidate, who was born in Paris, France, became a U.S. citizen earlier this year,” the press release stated. “To be an alderman, he also must reside in the ward he will represent and he must be a registered St. Louis County voter for at least 12 months. Ayouaz will meet all requirements by the time of his election in April 2016, but he will not have been a registered voter for 12 months at the time of the filing deadline in mid-January. Because he cannot meet the filing deadline, he will conduct a write-in campaign for the Ward 4 seat.”
The city Charter states, “No person shall be elected or appointed to the Board of Aldermen who is not at least 21 years of age, a citizen of the United States, an inhabitant and a qualified voter of the city for at least one year, and a resident of the respective ward for at least 90 days.”
Ayouaz, who registered to vote on Feb. 6, 2015, has told the Call that he filed for office on Jan. 19 on the advice of his attorney. He has repeatedly declined to identify his attorney.
In his signed notice of candidacy for the office of alderman, Ayouaz acknowledged, “I certify that I am a registered voter and that I meet all the qualifications prescribed by law for the office mentioned above.”
During a period for public comment Feb. 23, former Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel said Ayouaz appeared before the city’s Charter Review Commission on May 27.
“He asked the board to change the Charter so that he could run for office,” said Miguel, who is seeking election in Ward 3 on April 5 and was a member of the Charter Review Commission.
Miguel then cited the approved minutes of the May 27 meeting, which state, “Mr. Ayouaz responded that the time frame to meet the qualifications written in the Charter had prevented him from running because he was 19 days short.”
He also cited the commission’s Aug. 12 minutes in which the panel further discussed aldermanic qualifications: “Consider age 18 rather than 21; inhabitant and qualified voter of the city of Crestwood for at least one year at the time of election — rather than at the date of filing for election …”
“It’s clear that Mr. Ayouaz knew … the qualifications that he had to meet …,” Miguel said, noting that ultimately the panel took no action to recommend changing the filing qualifications for aldermen.
Nieder said Feb. 23, “With regard to the election when it’s finished, let’s take the case, the scenario that Mr. Ayouaz and his honesty and integrity wins the election. (Are) you prepared to seat him against the Charter? This board …”
Mayor Gregg Roby said, “Sir, you just heard the attorney say we’re not answering any questions.”
Nieder interjected, “I didn’t ask you. I didn’t ask you. I asked the board.”
Roby said, “… You’re directing to the board and I represent the board here …”
Nieder said, “No …”
Roby said, “And that is your answer. We’re not answering any questions.”
Nieder said, “Yeah, hide behind the law, don’t you?”
A woman in the audience laughed, and Nieder said, “Shut up, there.”
Ayouaz started yelling from the audience, “Shut up … shut up, now …”
Roby said, “All right, that will be enough.”
Asked after the meeting if he believes he is qualified to be on the ballot, Ayouaz declined to comment to the Call.
In a Facebook post after the May 27 Charter Review Commission meeting, Ayouaz wrote, “… I also explained to the commission that in a few situations, legal immigrants who became U.S. citizens could be prevented to run for office and be on the ballot. As an example, I became a U.S. citizen on Feb. 6, 2015.”
Filing for the April 6 election ran from Dec. 15 to Jan. 19.
“With the current Charter, 19 days prevent me to (file) for office if I wanted to run that year,” Ayouaz wrote. “If the current Charter had the same language as I proposed, I would be able to (file) and run and have my name on the ballot.”
In another Facebook post that announced his write-in campaign, Ayouaz described his run for office as “an atypical candidacy.” He wrote that he was running as a write-in candidate because he would not be a registered voter for one year before the filing deadline.
“As (a) consequence, I am not able to file for election,” Ayouaz wrote. “However, the state law allows me to run as a write-in candidate …”