Grantwood Village citizens await Prebil’s explanation

UPDATED: Chairman, attorney deny allegations of wrongdoing

By EVAN YOUNG

Update: Both the Grantwood Village Board of Trustees chairman and village attorney on Tuesday denied any wrongdoing in the handling of an incident last summer involving the chairman’s grandson.

Grantwood Village Board Treasurer Cathy Forand and Clerk Nancy Humes have called on Chairman Robert Prebil to resign after they say he used his elected status to have the village attorney drop two misdemeanor charges against his grandson last July.

They’ve also questioned the role Village Attorney and Prosecutor Jeff Duke played in the matter.

But both men denied any impropriety at Tuesday night’s regular board meeting, which drew an audience of more than 50 people.

Duke said Prebil called him several days after the chairman’s grandson, Adam Snyder of Concord, was cited for third-degree assault and stealing under $500 July 1 in the parking lot of Grant’s Farm. While Forand and Humes contend Prebil asked the attorney to get rid of the charges, Duke said Tuesday that Prebil only wanted to know if there was “anything we can do about this.”

In a July 6 e-mail to village court clerk Jennifer Wesloh, Duke wrote that “I intend” to “nolle pros” — not pursue — Snyder’s case. But Duke said Tuesday the case wasn’t “quashed” because it never reached village jurisdiction from St. Louis County, with whom the village contracts for police services.

Duke billed the village $87.50 for time and correspondence related to the case because it was “court business” and not “personal,” he said.

But Prebil said he did not intend for the village to be billed $87.50 for Duke’s help. He presented Forand with a check in that amount.

Both Prebil and Duke stressed that Snyder was never arrested, and that a court summons was issued in lieu of an arrest. The Call reported Snyder was arrested because the county investigative report on the incident indicates he was “arrested-released on summons.”

The case will appear on the village court docket in May, Prebil and Duke said.

Look for the full story in next week’s issue of the Call.

Original story …

Grantwood Village residents this week were awaiting an explanation from their Board of Trustees chairman, who two colleagues believe used his position to benefit his family.

Board Treasurer Cathy Forand and Clerk Nancy Humes have called on Chairman Robert Prebil to resign after they say he used his elected status to have charges against his grandson dropped last summer.

More than two dozen Grantwood Village residents attended a special town-hall meeting last week to discuss the situation. Prebil did not attend but sent residents a letter March 7 saying he would address the issue and be available for questions at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday — after the Call went to press.

Prebil admitted in his letter that he asked Village Attorney Jeff Duke for “help” regarding two misdemeanor charges against his grandson. Those charges — third-degree assault and stealing under $500 — stem from an incident last July at Grant’s Farm, according to county police reports.

After discussing the incident with Prebil over the phone several days later, Duke — who is also the village’s prosecuting attorney — wrote in an e-mail to court clerk Jennifer Wesloh the same day that he planned not to pursue the case. Duke billed the village $87.50 for the phone conversation and subsequent correspondence.

Prebil wrote to residents that it was “an error on my part” the $87.50 wasn’t billed directly to him. He added he would pay the amount in full and that his grandson’s charges would be placed on the May village court docket.

Forand said she discovered the interaction between Prebil and Duke while the board was interviewing law firms last month.

Duke’s contract with the village expires this July, and trustees were reviewing past attorney invoices to determine what types of legal services were needed, Forand said.

The two misdemeanor charges, Forand discovered, never appeared on the village court docket.

She and Humes gave Prebil a chance to step down quietly from the board, but he refused.

“I have never knowingly abused the office of trustee and have broken no laws,” Prebil wrote to residents. “… I look forward to resolving this matter and continuing to serve the residents of Grantwood Village.”

Forand and Humes presented residents with a petition for Prebil’s resignation at last week’s meeting. It garnered about 10 signatures that night, Forand said, but many residents indicated they wanted to hear from Prebil before making a decision.

Village resident Mike Martin spent 30 minutes at Prebil’s house once Forand and Humes made their concerns public.

Though he said he asked Prebil to step down, Martin told the town-hall audience last week he didn’t believe the chairman was a bad person.

“I like Bob,” Martin said. “I think that sometimes people make bad choices, and I think especially when you’re in the public’s eye you’re held to higher accountability. People look at you under a microscope.”

Residents last week also questioned Duke’s role in the matter. The attorney is paid a monthly retainer of $750 but also has an hourly rate for professional services.

“The old saying is true that with power comes responsibility, and it’s not just the responsibility to do the right thing, but it’s often times the wisdom to avoid doing the wrong thing. And I think what we have here is the classic appearance of impropriety where it may not be so much what you did as how you handled it,” village resident Mike Jones said at last week’s meeting.

“I do think, though, that when the wisdom the leader has proves insufficient to the task, that good and trustworthy legal representation should step up and fill that hole … As our legal representative, I think Jeff certainly knew his work for Mr. Prebil would either be pro bono or billable directly to Bob, not to the village.

“For his firm to invoice to and then accept payment from the village for a clearly personal matter I feel represents a genuine impropriety,” Jones said, “and I would strongly suggest that we seek alternative legal representation.”

Though Duke’s contract with the village doesn’t expire until July, Humes said the board could remove him with three affirmative votes before the March 16 regular board meeting and hire an interim attorney.

Police Commissioner Glenn Biffignani attended municipal court March 9, before the town-hall meeting, but left immediately afterward. Street and Building Commissioner Michael Boone also did not attend.

Both Forand and Humes said the other two trustees don’t want to get involved in the matter.

Forand said Saturday that Prebil, Biffignani and Boone did not want to terminate Duke’s contract, and that the attorney likely would be at Tuesday’s board meeting.