Furrer ‘sickened by my aldermen’ after parks board nominee nixed

Mayor pledges to bring back nomination at June meeting

Mayor Mark Furrer, left, presents former Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann, right, a proclamation from the city honoring her the night she left the board April 28.

Mayor Mark Furrer, left, presents former Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann, right, a proclamation from the city honoring her the night she left the board April 28.

By Gloria Lloyd

Sunset Hills Mayor Mark Furrer said he is “sickened by my aldermen” who are an “embarrassment to the city,” after aldermen rejected his nominee for a second time last week so that their former colleague, former Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann, can stay on the Parks and Recreation Board.

The Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 at the May 12 meeting to reject Furrer’s nominee to replace Hoffmann on the parks board, Ward 3 resident Esther Gier.

Voting for Gier were acting board President Tom Musich, Ward 4 Alderman Donna Ernst and Hoffmann’s successor, Ward 3 Alderman Keith Kostial.

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau was absent, but he and Kostial voted against Gier the first time her nomination came up on April 28, the same day Hoffmann left the board, which County Executive Steve Stenger declared “Alderman Jan Hoffmann Day” in St. Louis County. That vote failed 6-2, with Musich and Ernst in favor.

The longest-serving alderman in the city’s history, Hoffmann stepped down from her Ward 3 seat April 28. Before she was an alderman, she was appointed to the parks board in 1989 after leading a successful campaign for the city’s first municipal swimming pool. When the Aquatic Center opened, the city gave Hoffmann an award with the inscription, “You made it happen.”

In an 11-minute statement, Gier told aldermen she has been blocked from serving on the parks board for the last 15 years because Ward 3 members Hoffmann and Barb Scott have always been reappointed.

A veteran community volunteer and Lindbergh Leader, Gier said she approached Furrer about the appointment because when she told Hoffmann 15 years ago that she would like to serve, she alleged Hoffmann replied that the seats were taken and that the board did not need “another woman.”

“Since there are only two citizens allowed in each ward, these long-term ward positions have literally blocked me or any other citizen who wants to serve on this board for 24 years, which is almost half the age of the city of Sunset Hills,” Gier said. “Blocking me or negatively voting against me after I have wanted a board position for over 15 years — and like I said I’ve been a citizen for 26 — it’s just not fair.”

Hoffmann did not make a statement at the meeting, but told the Call that she did not realize Gier had an ongoing interest in the parks board.

“That is ridiculous,” Hoffmann said of the assertion that she once said too many women served on the board. “Why would I ever say there’s too many women on the parks board when I’m a woman?”

In a statement, Hoffmann said, “To my surprise and dismay, Esther has accused me of blocking her from the parks board for 15 years. I truly don’t remember her telling me that she wanted to be on the parks board, but I won’t question that she did say that to me at some point. Over the course of 15 years I cannot remember every conversation that I’ve had, but let me assure you that Esther’s desire to be on the board has not been a recurring conversation … She hasn’t called or spoken to me again about this issue.”

Furrer called the vote “sickening and embarrassing” and added, “The previous board — which was nasty, for no other word — decided after 50 years it was time to change how they nominate committee members. So they decided they should all have resumes …

“It’s these people that won’t give up, the people that won’t step down, the people that want to control the parks in the city, that caused this to happen. Again I want to apologize, it should never have happened, and as you said, in other cities which are a little classier and don’t have these issues, it wouldn’t have happened.”

After the vote, Furrer believed Gier’s nomination was approved and welcomed her to the parks board. When he realized his error, he promised to bring back Gier’s nomination in June.

“Needless to say I’m sickened by my aldermen, I hope you’re proud of yourselves — this is just an absolutely fabulous city,” Furrer said. “Esther, again, I’m sorry. These people will not give up control regardless, it’s sad and it’s a disservice to you. It’s an embarrassment to the city, and I think it’s just absolutely revolting. I just cannot believe that they’ve done this to you. They are so power hungry and so greedy. To continue the cliques they’ve had for 26 years, 27 years … Pat Fribis is the next one I’m replacing (on the parks board). This is just absolutely unprecedented, and I could just scream.”

When Ernst suggested aldermen put off a closed session, Furrer got up to leave before the meeting adjourned, saying, “I don’t even want to deal with these people right now, I’m just absolutely sick. I hope these people know that these are the people you voted for, and I hope you’re proud of them if you voted for them.”

In a Facebook post that night, Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler wrote, “There was no peace … The mayor went off on the board, then verbally attacked former Alderman Jan Hoffmann — then went on to scream insults at Alderman Pat Fribis from his car, then sped away. It seems that the election didn’t change anything — because the problem is not the board — it’s the mayor.”

Fribis told the Call, “I would just like to say that the behavior of the mayor is extremely unprofessional and uncalled for. I thought this country and the city of Sunset was a democracy and I was to vote the way I felt would best serve the city.”

Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Brown told the Call that both women would serve well.

“I’ve known Esther for many years, as long as I’ve been in Sunset, and Esther has a lot of knowledge in horticulture, she would be a great asset to the park board,” he said. “Jan, fantastic, I’ve worked with her for 12 years. Jan frequents the park on an everyday basis, whether she’s walking, swimming, she utilizes almost every asset of parks that we have here. She’s got historical knowledge, Jan’s a huge asset to the committee, her attendance is impeccable, she volunteers for everything, she’s here for everything. Do I want to lose Jan? No. Would Esther be a great asset? Yes.”

A vacancy opens in June for the at-large seat currently held by former Ward 1 Alderman Doug McGuire, who noted that he wants to be reappointed. Furrer has not said whether he will reappoint McGuire or whether he believes McGuire is part of the “parks clique.”

Hoffmann told the Call that other aldermen have suggested that perhaps Gier could be appointed to the at-large position, “which she has rejected, stating that she does not want to be at-large, she wants my seat. If Esther has such a strong desire to be on the parks board, I would think she would be thanking the aldermen who are trying to help her with the at-large position, rather than her vindictive attitude towards me, which mirrors the mayor’s stance.”