South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Furrer’s appointments likely to spark debate

Committee members are told they will not be re-appointed
Mark Furrer
Mark Furrer

Since Sunset Hills Mayor Mark Furrer counts few allies on the Board of Aldermen these days, it is no surprise that his impending wave of appointments to city committees could turn into the city’s next battleground.

So far, Furrer’s most prominent committee appointment came when he named frequent deer-ordinance critic Sandra Jo Ankney last fall to the Deer Committee, which has not met since Ankney was appointed.

However, terms are up soon on some of the city’s more prominent committees.

After write-in candidate Furrer defeated former Mayor Bill Nolan last year, he said he would be looking to see if he can replace anyone who is “firmly entrenched with Bill Nolan’s philosophy, and if they want to continue to think that way, I don’t need them in my administration …”

With that in mind, what Furrer promised will be the first in a series of new committee appointments kicked off at the January meeting of the Board of Aldermen when aldermen unanimously approved Furrer’s appointment of Steve Young to the Planning and Zoning Commission, for a term the mayor said starts Feb. 1, a date disputed by aldermen.

Young is the past board president of Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, the owner of DECA Realty and will make a “nice addition” to the panel, Furrer said.

Although the mayor initially resisted telling aldermen who Young will replace on the panel since she might not have been notified yet, on further questioning he said Young will take the seat held by Darlene Freber, who was appointed by Nolan in December 2013. Ward 1 Alderman Rich Gau noted that Freber’s term is up in May, not February, however.

Letters went out a few weeks ago to members of city committees informing them they will not be reappointed to their positions when their terms expire, said City Clerk Laura Rider.

Several other current committee members whose terms have expired are still serving until replacements can be found, the mayor noted, including current Planning and Zoning Chairman Nick Dragan.

Dragan, a financial services adviser, was appointed to his seat in 2013 by Nolan. He also serves on the Economic Development Committee and the Comprehensive Plan Committee.

Committee members are appointed to the planning panel based on their ward, and Dragan lives in Ward 1.

In emails to aldermen last year, Furrer has also promised to replace longtime Police Advisory Board Chairman Frank Pellegrini, who has served in that role for roughly 25 years and whose seat is up for renewal in June.

After rumors surfaced that Furrer had publicly made statements supporting the outsourcing of the Police Department last summer, Pellegrini spearheaded an effort for the Board of Aldermen to clarify that only aldermen could vote to dissolve the Police Department or fire the police chief, not the mayor.

In an email Furrer sent to Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler after the Aug. 19 police board meeting, he wrote about Pellegrini, “Yeah, he needs to go. He’s clueless,” adding that when outsourcing the Police Department was mentioned at the meeting, “I thought the Chief (William LaGrand) and (Lt.) Greg (Zveitel) were going to fall out of their chairs. (Ward 1 Alderman and Police Board member Richard Gau’s) a real piece of work.”

At the follow-up meeting a few weeks later, Pellegrini read from that email and noted that it came just after he met Furrer for the first time.

“Now that’s minutes after I left shaking his hand,” Pellegrini told the police board. “(Reading the email publicly) may not have been the right thing to do, but I think it should be known that that’s the kind of stuff that’s been going on that caused this mess (about outsourcing police).”

Committee appointments are a key power of a mayor and can often become a battleground, but not so much in Sunset Hills.

Just last year, Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby attempted to remove former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. But Nieder hired an attorney who contended the move was illegal under state law since Nieder’s term had not yet expired.

The city spent roughly $10,000 in legal fees on the issue before City Attorney Lisa Stump agreed that aldermen would have to vote to remove Nieder, which they declined to do.

When former Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson came to office in 2005, he did not wait for terms to be up and had then-City Administrator Don Greer send letters to 50 members of city boards and commissions asking for their resignations.

In light of Furrer’s impending series of new committee appointments, Sunset Hills aldermen are suggesting that the city establish ordinances regulating membership on committees.

When Gau said he’d looked at Kirkwood’s committee regulations and thought Sunset Hills could adapt some ideas from its neighboring city, Furrer suggested that any such rules passed now be called the “We-Don’t-Want-the-Mayor-to-Appoint-People-Anymore Bill.”

The mayor said that he knew Baebler was behind Gau’s efforts and that the public should be able to see his recommendations “before you shove this down our throat, like you do everything else.”

“Mr. Mayor, that was totally uncalled for,” Gau replied.

“I’d like to apologize,” Furrer said.

A second apology was asked for and given when Furrer again accused Gau of acting on Baebler’s behalf with his suggestions for committees.

“I’ve read Dee’s emails (on the subject) — she’s the frontman for it,” Furrer said.

Eventually, aldermen agreed 6-2 to have City Attorney Robert E. Jones review regulations governing committees for the Feb. 10 meeting. Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich and Ward 4 Alderman Donna Ernst were opposed.

Aside from the suggestions of aldermen about committees, however, Furrer offered another alternative for regulations that might improve city government: term limits for aldermen.

“We’ve had some aldermen for 40 years,” he said.

At that, some of the other aldermen glanced over at the longest-serving alderman, Jan Hoffmann of Ward 3, who has served on the board for nearly 24 years, and Hoffmann laughed.

Hoffmann did not file for re-election to the board in April and is retiring from her seat.

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