“Call the Tune” by Mike Anthony
Crestwood turns opaque with city attorney’s guidance
Simple math apparently is a topic protected by attorney-client privilege in Crestwood.
It’s no secret that City Attorney Lisa Stump of Lashly & Baer has a cloudy interpretation of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law. In fact, Stump’s reading of the law often perverts its intent, as it is designed to promote openness and accountability.
That was never more evident than at the July 25 Board of Aldermen meeting when resident Martha Duchild posed specific questions about the city’s financial ability to make its required annual payment of roughly $550,000 to the Affton Fire Protection District.
In May, the city filed suit against the fire district, Gov. Eric Greitens and Attorney General Josh Hawley to challenge as unconstitutional two state laws requiring the city to indefinitely make annual payments to the Affton Fire Protection District for providing fire service to an area that Crestwood annexed in 1997. Ironically, city officials, by their own admission, were “instrumental” in helping to change those laws over 20 years ago, paving the way for the annexation.
Duchild posed a simple math question to city officials: Will the nearly $600,000 the city could receive from the county’s Proposition P sales tax for “police and public safety” and the projected $1.13 million from the city’s Proposition C 45-cent tax-rate increase be enough to cover the annual payments to the fire district?
Mayor Gregg Roby told Duchild he’s not certain the city will receive any money from Prop P — a prospect we consider highly unlikely, if not downright ridiculous on its face.
Regarding Prop C, City Administrator Kris Simpson noted the board has to make a decision on how much of the 45 cents the city will levy when it establishes the city’s tax rates later this year.
Yet Stump said, “… We are in active litigation with the Affton Fire Protection District and because of that, I don’t think they ought to be discussing in a public meeting specifically whether or not that’s sufficient to make those payments. So I would say, I would advise them as their attorney not to answer that question.”
The math is simple — the city could generate about an additional $1.7 million if it receives nearly $600,000 from the county and levies the entire 45 cents from Prop C — more than enough to cover the roughly $550,000 annual payment to Affton.
But under Stump, simple math is now an attorney-client privileged topic in Crestwood, as is the issue of who authorized the filing of the lawsuit against the fire district, a suit which in its infancy has already cost the city $14,000.
Simpson told the Call he believes the city could spend as much as $100,000 on the lawsuit, but he would not be surprised if that cost balloons to $200,000.
The city of Crestwood once was a regional leader in transparency.
But under Stump’s guidance, Crestwood is now opaque.