In wake of election ‘mistakes,’ Crestwood board eyes policies on reverse-911 calls, newsletter

Rules not broken intentionally, city administrator says

By BURKE WASSON

Now that Crestwood officials have admitted that “mistakes were made” by using city resources to promote a now-failed tax increase, they want to make sure they never happen again.

City Administrator Jim Eckrich has drafted new policies on the use of reverse-911 calls to residents and publication of materials in the city’s newsletter, Crestwood Connections.

Eckrich also has vowed to enforce already-existing civil-service regulations that prohibit municipal employees from using city resources to promote a ballot measure.

Aldermen were scheduled to discuss these policies Tuesday night — after the Call went to press. Aldermen on Aug. 12 rejected a request for an investigation of whether city resources were used improperly to advertise town-hall meetings conducted by a campaign committee promoting the proposed tax increase Proposition 1, which was defeated by voters Aug. 5.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-2 Aug. 12 to reject Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel’s motion to investigate the use of the city’s newsletter and reverse-911 telephone system to advertise the Prop 1 town-hall meetings. Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder seconded that motion.

While the city’s Crestwood Connections newsletter advertised the meetings as “Prop 1 information town-hall meetings,” the presentations at such meetings were given by Crestwood Residents for Prop 1.

The group paid $160 to the city for the use of the Government Center and the Community Center as sites for four town-hall meetings in July. Besides publishing the meetings in the newsletter, reverse-911 telephone calls were used July 12 to in-form residents of the meetings.

While Eckrich, who took over as city administrator July 14, has said it is common practice to use reverse-911 calls to advertise town-hall meetings, he wrote in an internal memorandum to city employees that the use of reverse 911 will now be more restrictive.

“Reverse 911 should only be used by city staff to report information that may be useful to members of the community,” Eckrich’s proposed policy states. “This includes, but is not limited to: crime reports, road closures, street work, utility work, and city events. Under no circumstances shall citizens be authorized to request reverse-911 messages. The Board of Aldermen may authorize use of reverse 911 through a majority vote of the Board of Aldermen.

“The mayor may authorize the use of reverse 911 through the city administrator. All staff requests for the use of reverse 911 shall be submitted to the police chief or his designee. The police chief, or his designee, shall then be authorized to send the appropriate reverse-911 message. Questions regarding the use of reverse 911 shall be submitted to the city administrator.”

Eckrich has also drafted a policy on the use of the Crestwood Connections newsletter.

While a recent publication of that newsletter showed charts that matched presentations given by Crestwood Residents for Prop 1 at the July town-hall meetings, Eckrich’s newly proposed policy states that “citizens and elected officials are not authorized to submit or approve articles for the newsletter.”

Additionally, the newsletter’s content must be approved for publication by the city administrator.

“The city newsletter shall be used to disseminate articles and information to the citizens of the city of Crestwood,” the proposed policy states. “Articles within the newsletter shall be created by city staff and submitted to the Executive Secretary to the City Administrator (ESCA). The ESCA shall compile the articles and design the newsletter, which shall be submitted to the city administrator for approval. Citizens and elected officials are not authorized to submit or approve articles for the newsletter, with the exception of the Message from the Mayor. The Board of Aldermen may authorize an article for the newsletter through a majority vote of the Board of Aldermen.”

Eckrich also states while he believes the city’s civil-service rules were not broken intentionally, action must be taken to prevent that in the future.

“As many of you know, the city staff has recently been criticized for utilizing city resources in connection with the failed Prop 1 tax increase,” Eckrich wrote in his memo to city employees. “It is my opinion that no one intentionally violated any city laws or policies. However, I do believe that corrective action should be taken to ensure future problems do not occur.”

In his memo, Eckrich states that city employees must follow Chapter 2, Section 5 of the civil-service rules and regulations.

That section, which relates to political activity, states that while Crestwood employees are encouraged to vote, “no employee shall make use of city supplies, uniforms, logos, time or equipment to aid a political candidate, political party, or political cause, or use a city position to persuade, coerce, or intimidate any person in the interest of a political candidate, political party, or political cause.”

Eckrich continues that any city employee who violates this provision in the future “will be disciplined.”

“The city of Crestwood staff needs to make every effort to ensure that this policy is followed,” Eckrich wrote. “Under no circumstance should any city employee put himself or herself in the position of violating this policy. Please be advised that even the appearance of violating this requirement places the city staff in a difficult situation. Any employee found violating this provision of the Civil Service Rules and Regulations will be disciplined in accordance with Chapter VIII of the Civil Service Rules and Regulations.”

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland proposed Aug. 12 that policies or ordinances be enacted to in the future prevent the use of city resources for a political cause, even if it is unintentional.

“I don’t think the intent was malevolent,” Bland said. “But however, perception can become truth. I think there was a perception that somehow maybe we played close to the line, maybe we played fast and loose. And I don’t know. I don’t know who made the decision to do this.

“… I do know that we may, to prevent this from further happening, take a look at ordinances that would kind of restrict the use of both of those or city communications systems, whether it be printed or whether it be the telephone, be used for city business …

“My fear is once you open up that, everybody’s going to start lining up … As a person sitting at home in the evenings, I don’t really want reverse-911 calls every day of my residency in Crestwood telling me to support this or show up for this or don’t go to this or don’t do that. And I think that’s kind of the slippery slope we’re looking at.”