Davis and Lieber are vying for Sunset Hills Ward 2 alderman

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Marie Davis, left, and Christine Lieber.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

Marie Davis and Christine Lieber are vying to replace Sunset Hills Ward 2 Alderman Steve Bersche in the upcoming election April 6.

Davis, 73, 9405 Parklind Drive, is an entrepreneur who has been working with nonprofit companies. She spent 20 years as executive director for the JDRF Foundation and is a volunteer for several businesses.

Davis attended the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University to study business management for nonprofit organizations. For nine years, she was an adjunct professor in the University of Missouri and St. Louis Community College systems teaching entrepreneurship and other business courses.

She is the board president of the Southwest Area Chamber of Commerce, board secretary for the Sunset Hills Conservation Foundation and board member for the Mary Culver Home for Visually Impaired Women.

When asked why she was seeking office, Davis said, “I want to serve my community. Get to know more of the citizens and encourage them to help our city thrive.”

Lieber, 41, 12432 Courtyard Lake Drive, is the president, CEO and founder of Christine Lieber Agency, LLC-Shelter Insurance.

She earned her associate’s degree in interior design, as well as an undergraduate degree in education and undergraduate degree in art from Webster University. She is licensed for life, health, property and casualty insurance in Missouri, Illinois and Ohio. She earned her Financial Service Certified Professional designation from the American College last year.

Lieber is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Crestwood/ Sunset Hills Rotary Club, Guns N’ Hoses committee member, BackStoppers Saint Louis member, Shelter Insurance Scholarship Foundation donor, member of the Saint Louis Hero Network, The National Association of Professional Women and the Little Bit Foundation.

“I was raised in Sunset Hills and I am committed to keeping Sunset Hills a great place to live for my family and for yours. I want to be an alderman in Ward 2 to make sure residents always have a voice.  Residents deserve respectful and responsive leadership. It is a top priority for residents to have transparency in Sunset Hills, while having leaders that address the issues that put our residents first,” Lieber said on why she was running for alderman.

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why?

Davis:Experience. When working either as a leader or a follower— melding together counts. I look forward to moving from volunteering for the city (Foundation, Art Committee, SunCrest Fest, Earth Day, etc.) to being a decision maker.”

Lieber: “I see the most important overall issue that is sometimes lacking on our current board is listening to and being responsive to residents.  I believe it should be the priority of all elected officials to be our residents’ voice and give consideration to those who pay taxes, raise their families and/or own property in the city of Sunset Hills.  Not considering the views of residents seems to be an overarching theme in our city which has led to divisive rhetoric and leaves residents feeling frustrated and hopeless.  The only hope for change is in the elective process.”

Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Davis: “The future of our city as it grows. Finding common ground between businesses and citizens. Using my knowledge of business ownership and community action to help Sunset Hills succeed.”

Lieber: “Again, I believe the concerning issues (zoning changes, the rugby lease, cluster homes, flood plain development, conditional-use permits not being followed, water tower concerns) could have been handled in a more cohesive fashion. If residents had been adequately informed and considered, compromises or changes could have been made to accommodate their wishes.”

Should the public be allowed to speak at city meetings?

Davis: Yes, except during closed meeting sessions allowed by law. One issue I’ve noticed is that not all citizens have a clear understanding of how public meetings work and they want to speak without registering as a speaker or they want to shout out when they disagree with what has been said. We need to better educate our citizens on meeting decorum.”

Lieber: “Absolutely, but they should also have their questions answered. Often, the board sits and listens to comments or complaints and sits there without responding to residents. The lack of respect for residents is a lack of respect for the city of Sunset Hills as a whole. If I am elected, I will not tolerate a lack of respect for residents. Decorum and professionalism are necessary when holding public office.”

Do you agree with the direction the city is moving under Mayor Pat Fribis?

Davis: “Yes. I see an active community with high home values and businesses wanting to become part of our fiber. Our Lindbergh schools, our corporate headquarters, our geographic location with easy highway access, etc., make Sunset Hills a desirable location for both citizens and businesses. I remember a rundown hotel with illegal activities when Ms. Fribis became mayor and now we have an attractive tax-producing business. I see sidewalks where there were none. I see greater interest in biking, hiking and art. Even with loss of some major revenue streams during COVID, we are on target to have a great 2021. We have a city administrator, a fantastic Community Center and a wheelchair accessible park being completed this summer. All these things make this a very desirable community.”

Lieber:My goal is to focus on resident input and to promote a higher standard for the city’s elected officials. I do respect the office of the mayor and will work diligently with her to develop a more cohesive board and to focus on our residents rather than politics.”

What is your vision for the city of Sunset Hills?

Davis: “Prosperous, safe and secure. Collaboration between public and private entities. Good relationships between our city and the others around us. Stronger relationship with the county.”

Lieber: “I would like to see Sunset Hills without conflict and turmoil. We live in a very prestigious community and should have higher standards for those who serve the residents of Sunset Hills. I would be pleased to hear that residents feel confident in their leaders and trust them to protect their property values. A future without squabbles on the board would develop the reputation that we expect.”

Is the city of Sunset Hills business friendly? What do you propose to keep current businesses in the city and attract new economic development? 

Davis: “At times, I feel the process is slow but the results are good. One way we could help attract new economic development is to join forces with the chamber ‘s economic committee. Perhaps even look at a coordinated effort between Crestwood and Sunset Hills.”

Lieber: “I believe the city is business friendly. Even though we may hold them to a higher standard, I don’t recall any businesses that have walked away from Sunset Hills. We do, however, need City Hall to follow through with conditions agreed upon in meetings and accepted by developers –- to be sure they are completed during development or construction.”

What are your thoughts on commercial encroachment of residential areas?

Davis: It is not a good idea. To have a good relationship between our businesses and our residents we need to keep the zoning separated.”

Lieber: “Is there any resident who would want encroachment of their residence? I believe the resident’s property values should be our priority.”

What would you do to increase the city’s responsiveness on projects or provide public notice of projects?

Davis: I believe we are being transparent and giving our citizens ways to express their opinions and ask questions. The board and city administration needs to provide our citizens with open conversation in person, by answering a survey, attending a public meeting or giving more information through the newsletter and often interviews with our local newspapers As a new representative of Ward 2, I will continue using social media as a part of my communication. I will be listening, learning how these projects have been addressed before and work with other aldermen to find more ways to work together with the citizens. There is no bad question and all questions deserve a thoughtful answer.”

Lieber:I would request that the mayor supply a report from her weekly staff meeting so that aldermen are quickly aware of issues that might be of concern in their wards. Public notice should be more defined on cards and postings making the descriptions easier to understand. We should allow residents to opt in to get texts for anything that requires a public notice.”

What do you think of the city leasing part of Bander Park for a rugby field? Should the city accept other donated properties?

Davis: I was excited when the rugby field was suggested because I saw it as a way to expand the opportunities for our kids to have a field built to play the sport. And the addition of a new facility that would draw people to our city and provide additional upkeep for the park. Once the traffic study showed too much danger for our citizens and others visiting the facility, I recognized it was not a good opportunity at this location. This is why we as a board and a city take time to evaluate and re-evaluate opportunities. … (Should the city accept other donated properties?) This depends on what it is and how it will improve the life of our citizens. This requires a strong board looking carefully at each proposal. It requires open discussion with our citizens and businesses that would or could be impacted by the donation.”

Lieber: “I am for accepting donated property in Sunset Hills as long as it makes sense from a fiscal standpoint and the timing of the donation is in line with the city’s plans. The city’s budget has been reduced based on the slower commerce and COVID.  Historic preservation is a noble endeavor that I support, but there are practical and financial considerations.”

What would you do to increase the city’s financial position?

Davis: Work with the board and the mayor to ensure a budget that can accept some unexpected tax losses, such as businesses that leave our area, go into bankruptcy, etc. The exciting part of 2021 is seeing more businesses opening in our city that will bring tax revenue that will boost our financial picture.”

Lieber:I would like to see an internal audit performed to see where we might save money. We should be more attuned to economic development in the region to pursue and attract businesses that we want that will produce the greatest income. Proactive measures like being responsive and attentive to the businesses we have is essential for continued growth, as well.”

The city’s zoning code is currently being rewritten. How would you change it?

Davis: Until I have the opportunity to evaluate where the board stands, I cannot give a clear answer. I will represent my ward and review the present codes and suggested new codes to help both my citizens and businesses. I will review carefully and look at how the new codes will affect property values.”

Lieber: “I would have changed the way the process was handled, bringing in residents that have interest to break it down into sections that are understandable by all. The zoning rewrite is a massive undertaking and has taken many years to finally decide to make these changes. I agree that some of the wording should be updated, but, if it is not broken why fix it? I do not agree with any measure that would take away the residents’ right to protest a development. I would not agree with any development decision being made by staff — taking decision-making power out of the hands of elected officials.”

What should the city do to help residents impacted by flooding?

Davis: “After the last floods the city worked with the SEMA (State Emergency Management Agency) to help affected residents with reimbursements. I agree this is appropriate. Looking to the future: Follow the recommendations of the Army Corps of Engineers, allowing a 2-foot rise on new developments. My understanding is that our city has included ‘no net fill — no rise,’ making Sunset Hills one of the most restrictive standards in the county. We want to fulfill the dreams of citizens who want to build but make sure they adhere to the standards for safety.”

Lieber: “I believe we should work on flood mitigation before we suffer another flood. The decision to not make decisions is costly. I would suggest forming a committee that would collaborate with other cities that manage this issue well and then report to the public and suggest action items for the board.”

Traditionally, Sunset Hills has had a close relationship with Lindbergh Schools. Do you believe the city should maintain a positive relationship with the school district?

Davis: “Absolutely. As a parent and grandparent of Lindbergh School District alumni, I have seen and worked with the district to maintain a solid relationship between the school, the city and the citizens.”

Lieber: “I was afforded the opportunity to attend Lindbergh Schools and have also served as a teacher. I understand the challenges in the education system. I certainly believe we should work hard to maintain a positive relationship with our school district.”

Should Sunset Hills fight any efforts by St. Louis County to regulate police departments and other city business?

Davis: “I don’t think ‘fight’ is the correct term. Cooperation, listening and working with our citizens to see how they feel about the proposed regulations then represent their needs when discussing issues.”

Lieber: “We should fight any efforts from the county to regulate or manage any city business. Our PD is the best of any municipality in the county.”

Should the Court Drive neighborhood bordering South Lindbergh Boulevard be residential or commercial? What about attached villas?

Davis: “It should be the decision of the residents who own the properties on Court Drive.”

Lieber: “This issue is now in litigation and will be decided by the courts. I favor a residential solution that respects Court Drive residents and the original character of the area.”

Read on for web-exclusive questions and answers

In your opinion, have the Board of Aldermen and other city officials complied fully with the Sunshine Law? What will you do as an elected official to ensure compliance with the Sunshine Law?

Davis: “To my knowledge, I believe we fully comply with the Sunshine Laws of the state of Missouri. Anyone requesting information about what has been discussed at an open public meeting will receive the information at a small fee. And anyone can request a face-to-face meeting to help clarify any ‘legalese’ or specialized language used.”

Lieber: “The Sunshine Law is very important to residents to see open debate, open analysis and open decision-making. It is hard for me as a resident to say if the city officials have completely and fully complied with the Sunshine Law. If elected, I would request that the board have adequate training as to all the requirements of the Sunshine Laws.”

Should the city take over Tapawingo streets? Why or why not?

Davis: “Are the streets in Tapawingo built to Sunset Hills city codes? If they are, yes. If they are not, then not until the subdivision has brought them up to code.”

Lieber: “I am opposed. I understand this topic has been used for many years as a campaign rally cry. I dislike the notion of dividing neighborhoods and pitting residents against one another. However, I don’t believe that while freezing city employees’ salaries, limiting services and laying off staff, we should even discuss adding any further expenses to our budget. Also, to my understanding the community was developed and sold as private streets.  It is also my understanding that the streets do not currently meet the proper codes/specifications required for the city to assume responsibility for them, and that the cost of updating the streets to meet these requirements is substantial.”

What is your position on the use of tax-increment financing and other tax tools?

Davis: “Tax tools like increment financing should be used sparingly. We must look at how these tools would affect the city’s future budgeting, and the citizens living nearby.”

Lieber: “There are a variety of tax tools that exist to entice and direct the right type of development for our community. Being mindful of the budget, I don’t believe we should utilize tools that cost the city. Sunset Hills is an advantageous community for business, but we have little commercial land left to develop. We must be smart about future developments to be sure they are contributing to our economy while being desirable to our residents.”

Should the city reject projects such as water towers or cell towers, even if it risks a lawsuit?

Davis: “Until I know more about the background of the ask, I can only surmise. There is an existing water tower off Gravois on land owned by the water company. It is close to a residential neighborhood. To arrive at a desirable outcome, negotiations will be required. Perhaps there are ways to both have the needed larger water source for the whole city while providing privacy and maintaining property values for those of us living nearby.”

Lieber:Like with other issues that have turned divisive in the city, I believe this could have been better handled with early resident input and strong leadership that will advocate for them. I don’t believe throwing up our hands and saying this is the best we can do is acceptable.”

Do you support the use of eminent domain for redevelopment projects? Why or why not? Please be specific.

Davis: “Eminent domain should only be used for the betterment of the community (schools, public buildings, hospitals, fire stations are examples). I don’t see a need for eminent domain for commercial development.”

Lieber: “I am not aware of any properties in the city of Sunset Hills that I would consider blighted to require the use of eminent domain.”

Should the city of Sunset Hills be more bicycle friendly? If so, what would you propose?

Davis: “Yes. I am not a cyclist but would enjoy seeing more people getting involved as a sport or as a leisure activity. Perhaps the Bander Park area or something in Minnie Ha Ha.”

Lieber: “I have witnessed the city becoming more bicycle friendly over the years and support that effort.”

Would you consider it unethical to tape record someone without their knowledge? Please elaborate. 

Davis: “The laws of Missouri allow for recording of telephone conversations without full knowledge of all parties. Having been on the founding board of ALIVE ((organization for battered women), I can understand when it could be necessary.”

Lieber: “We all need to follow the laws of the state of Missouri no matter our position.”

Are you satisfied with the performance of City Attorney and City Prosecutor Robert E. Jones?

Davis: “Our city is expanding. It may be time to have both a city attorney and a city prosecutor. Any time I’ve made an appearance in court, I’ve been totally satisfied with the results. There is always room for improvement.”

Lieber: “I understand that Attorney Jones’ firm has been representing the city for many years. I have not worked with him personally but look forward to working with him.”

Do you feel that town home or “cluster home” developments have a place in the city? Why/why not?

Davis: “I believe people living in our city who are ready to downsize don’t want to leave our area. Therefore, we need to have some cluster homes (villas) in the city. These homes need to be built in areas that are zoned for said. The two cluster home areas we now have are Sunset Grove across from the Country Club and The Courtyards across from the friendly dog park. These are well built and well maintained. I am opposed to adding cluster homes in neighborhoods zoned for single-family residents.”

Lieber:I believe residents might support a high-end development if it were in an appropriate location – not encroaching on single-family residences.”

Should the city’s Police Department be retained, or should police services be outsourced?

Davis: “As president of the Chamber of Commerce, I have the opportunity to work with our city police department leadership. I feel they are doing a great job, As a resident I feel safe. I am not in favor of outsourcing.”

Lieber: “Our police department is a highly valued asset and needs to be retained. This is a service that is rightly expected by our residents. I have supported the mission of the police for many years through the Guns and Hoses and Backstoppers organizations and hold them in the highest regard.”

Should the city collaborate with Lindbergh Schools when undertaking a development that would impact the school district?

Davis: “Yes, our developments have an impact on the school’s budget. That then affects our students and our area as a whole.”

Lieber: We should collaborate with Lindbergh Schools when needed – always being mindful of our budget.”

Do you support the performance of City Administrator Brittany Gillett?

Davis: I do. As a former business owner, I see her job as that of a chief operating officer. The city administrator ensures that the departments are working together, on the same page and moving the city in a coordinated plan. The city administrator also is helping the city department leads and mayor work with the board on projects and the vision for the future.”

Lieber: “I have not heard any complaints about Ms. Gillett and personally can report she has been very professional when dealing with me.”

Do you support the city’s switch to a city-administrator form of government?

Davis: “Yes.”

Lieber: “I think it’s important to have consistent management at City Hall no matter who is elected.”

Some residents of the greater St. Louis region advocate a city-county merger, a disincorporation of St. Louis County municipalities or, as proposed by Better Together, a regional merger of services such as police and/or fire districts. Do you support these efforts? Why or why not?

Davis: “Our city is well managed, well maintained and has citizens who care about keeping our city as its own entity, Presently, there is no known appropriate merger that would advance our city. I will represent the desires of the citizens of Ward 2.”

Lieber: “I am firmly against big government and would not allow a city-county merger. We enjoy better policing, parks and street management than many other cities in the county. This is worth fighting for.”