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

Pat Fribis challenged by Richard Gestring in Sunset Hills mayoral race

Gestring has not held public office in the past

Sunset Hills Mayor Pat Fribis will face newcomer to public office Richard Gestring for the mayoral seat in the April 2 municipal elections.

Pat Fribis

Pat Fribis has been mayor of Sunset Hills since 2016. She is retired and married to Philip C. Denton. She has four  adult children, Jon, Jennifer, Jessica and Julie, who all graduated from Lindbergh Schools.

Prior to her position as mayor, Fribis served as Sunset Hills Ward 4 alderman from 2008 to 2016.

When asked why she is seeking reelection, Fribis said, “It is important to maintain a high-caliber, responsive city government, and maintain city services, parks and activities.”

Richard Gestring is a psychiatrist, and the owner of Empower Psych Center, LLC. He is married to Michelle Gestring. He has three children, Chase, Emmie and Blake, who attend St. Paul’s Lutheran in Des Peres.

Gestring has not held public office in the past.

When asked why he is running for mayor, Gestring said, “Wanting to help give back to the great community of Sunset Hills.”

The candidates gave the following responses to The Call’s candidate questionnaire:

Editor’s note: The following responses appeared in the March 14 and March 21 print editions of The Call. Some responses may have been edited for grammar and shortened due to print space constraints. Keep reading for more from the candidates. 

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in

this race and why?

Fribis: “… Electing someone to continue the successful progress in the city under the current administration … Having the knowledge and experience in running our city successfully … is a critical issue in this election.”

Gestring: “Honestly, I believe the core of the city with regards to the government/officials along with our emergency responders are doing amazing jobs, so only building upon a solid foundation.”

Do you agree with the decision not to take over Tapawingo Streets? Why or why not?  

Fribis: “Yes. The city had a valid factual and lawful basis to refuse to take over the streets. However, if the streets are brought up to city standards, then we will readdress the issue.”

Gestring: “The entire situation seems like it needs to be broken down on both sides so it can be evaluated further with an appropriate resolution.”

What are your thoughts on commercial encroachment of residential areas?

Fribis: “I am not in favor of commercial encroachment of residential areas. I opposed the Court Drive, tornado-damaged property area, rezoning attempt. I opposed the developer in a suit filed against the city to rezone the property, but unfortunately, our attorneys lost the lawsuit. I continued to vigorously and adamantly oppose disposition of the case.”

Gestring: “Commercial encroachment insight should be evaluated before moving forth with any future developments.” 

Can the city do more to help residents impacted by flooding?

Fribis: “The city stands by the residents to lend any help they can, such as sandbagging, cleanup, etc. We will assist in applying for any financial relief provided by FEMA and SEMA. I encourage residents who have a waterway on their private property, not on city property, to clean their waterways of debris, to keep the water flowing.”

Gestring: “Government/city can always ‘do more’ but is whatever being asked reasonable and beneficial for the greater community good.”

Do you support the performance of City Administrator Brittany Gillett? 

Fribis: “Yes. I pushed for the adoption of the city administrator form of government as chairwoman of the finance committee when I was an alderman. This form of government has been successful in Sunset Hills.”

Gestring: “Yes, I don’t think you can get the status of ‘40 under 40’ recognition (By the St. Louis Business Journal) if you are doing a bad job.”

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

Fribis: “Yes, the school district’s perspective and concerns are respected and relevant.”

Gestring: “Yes, a positive relationship with education businesses in the community to help better share resources to grow exponentially.”

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

Fribis: “Our city’s focus is the residents that own the city. We welcome businesses that meet our residents’ needs and help keep our taxes as low as possible. Business taxes help finance our city services and beautiful parks. Businesses wanting to do business in Sunset Hills must comply with all our laws and regulations. We encourage our residents to patronize our local businesses when possible. We are responsive to our business’s questions and concerns. We are blessed with the number of businesses that want to locate in our city.”

Gestring: “I think it is business friendly, especially for medical and legal professionals… To help already established businesses get more clients/customers by connecting people to the underutilized self-care resources.”

What is your vision for Sunset Hills?

Fribis: “A primarily residential community that is peaceful and non-divisive, where the residents of the entire city share the same goals and visions, where all residents’ concerns are treated equally, where we can all enjoy what has become a beautiful and desirable place to live. To continue to provide an enhanced quality of life, from young children to our elder residents. We have beautiful parks and recreational facilities that we should continue to support, to continue to provide playgrounds for our youngsters and sports fields for our athletes. To recognize and preserve our area’s green space, history and heritage. We can do this if we continue to work together.”

Gestring: “To enhance and build upon current infrastructure while working on adding additional businesses while supporting existing local businesses and government entities to build upon the community.”

Do you feel that townhome or “cluster home” developments have a place in the city?

Fribis: “Yes. If relegated to transition areas as suggested in the city’s comprehensive plan. This type of housing is popular among many people wanting less maintenance of outside areas … It would be a shame that Sunset Hills elder residents would have to move … to find this type of housing.”

Gestring: “I think cluster home developing can be beneficial for communities which are smaller in nature because of the shared concept.”

Keep reading for web-exclusive questions and answers from the candidates

Editor’s note: The following questions are as they were submitted to The Call by the candidates in their entirety. They have not been edited in any way, other than to ensure appropriate language and no direct attacks on opponents or other candidates. 

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


  1. “The ability, knowledge, and experience in finding successful and desirable businesses to occupy the few vacant business properties in our city.
  2. Recognizing the need for continued care for our aging streets. We already increased the city’s annual street maintenance budget to address this issue. 
  3. Understanding the needs of residents for residential property with no outside maintenance. For example, the new Gates Manor development off Denny Rd.”

Gestring:Probably just the different interests of the candidates running.”

Should the mayor strictly adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order during meetings? Should the public be allowed to speak at city meetings?

Fribis: “Yes. The mayor and the members of the board of aldermen should strictly adhere to the Robert’s Rules of Order. Our city ordinance requires that all the elected officials adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order. An Alderman violates the Robert’s Rules of Order when he or she talks without being recognized to speak by the mayor and when the Alderman interrupts another Alderman who is speaking or by interrupting and arguing with a speaker during public comment. In addition, referring to fellow aldermen, city employees, and residents by their first names at board meetings is a violation of the Robert’s rules. Some Aldermen are having difficulty in complying with this requirement after repeated warnings.  Allowing public comment is an integral part of our meetings. We also invite and encourage the public to email us, send letters, telephone us, or even set up appointments to speak to us in person at City Hall. We have made ourselves available to all forms of communication. We have been a transparent city with a website to inform our residents of what is going on in the city. Are we perfect? No, but we try hard to be transparent as much as reasonably possible and feasible and we are always open to suggestions to improve. We also have a monthly newsletter on our website and mailed to homes and businesses on request.”

Gestring: “Robert’s Rules of Order are necessary to help run a productive and structured meeting. The public should always have a voice and will work with officials to allow at a designated time.”

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?

Fribis: “The Sunshine Law obligations are discussed with the Alderman by the city attorney and me, and everyone is aware of their duties under the law. Everyone knows that conversations in closed sessions are confidential under the law. I copy all Aldermen, the City Administrator, and City Attorney on all emails, and I do not have meetings without a quorum. There have been potential violations of the Sunshine Law with emails sent or responded to by Aldermen. They have been advised and warned repeatedly concerning their legal obligations with electronic messaging wherein a quorum exists on the messages. The city attorney is advised of potential violations. Violations are subject to ethics complaints and reporting to the Missouri Attorney General.”

Gestring: “Yes, I believe the current city officials are being fully compliant with the Sunshine Law and would continue the current policies which are productive.”

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

Fribis:The city has used tax increment financing in the past on a few developments. But at the present time with pending proposed projects, I do not feel a need for tax increment financing. I have previously stated when I first ran for Mayor that tax incentives should be rarely used and in only the most compelling circumstances. I do not feel that there are currently any blighted areas in Sunset Hills to warrant tax abatements. The burden of proof and onus is on the developer to prove convincingly that a blight area exists that is endangering the public welfare to warrant any tax abatement.  The city has utilized a tax tool known as a Community Improvement District (CID) in the past (Johnny Macs) and created a CID with the Bass Pro Shops. This allows the Community Improvement District to charge a 1% increase in sales tax but only for purchases in the District. It does not involve any city funds, nor does it affect the current sales taxes due to the city. The Bass Pro Shops CID has been highly successful, and they anticipate that the CID will be paid off earlier than planned.”

Gestring:I think tax-increment financing (TIF) could be a beneficial way for smaller communities such as ours to be able to finance community projects which it may not be able to do otherwise.”

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

Fribis: “To restate the question for clarity, if the law of the State of Missouri severely limits or prohibits city regulation of public utilities because the power and authority to regulate public utilities has been delegated to the Public Service Commission (PSC), should the city ignore the law and try to regulate anyway? It would be foolhardy to do so knowing that you are violating the law, and so the answer is no. There is Missouri Supreme Court precedent involving litigation with the City of Crestwood that concluded that a city’s zoning laws as applied to a public utility are preempted by state law and cannot be enforced. If a valid legal interpretation of the law exists to support regulation of a public utility by a city, then the answer is open to debate. The Board of Aldermen sitting as of 2022 attempted to undue the Conditional Use Permit approved by the previous Board of Aldermen to build the water tower in Sunset Hills. As I had warned, and tried to prevent, a lawsuit was in fact filed against the City by Missouri American Water Co.. The case went to trial and the city lost on all counts. The city unfortunately had to pay in addition substantial monetary damages, and the city was forced to permit the building of the new water tower without any further interference.”

Gestring: “I think the focus should be on if having those resources built into our community how would it benefit vs hinder Sunset Hills and if then it risks a lawsuit will address at that time.”

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

Fribis: “Eminent Domain should only be used with the most compelling and necessary projects for the benefit of public works for the city but not for commercial developers.”

Gestring: “I think the use of eminent domain should be used as a last case scenario if no other options remain with the benefit of the community at the heart of whatever issue.”

How is the city a better place since you’ve been mayor?   

Fribis:I feel that Sunset Hills is a better community since I have been mayor these past eight years for many reasons, including:

  1. I urged the Bass Pro Shops developer to acquire an ingress from Watson Rd. to the Bass Pro Shops parking lot thus redirecting traffic off  Lindbergh Blvd., to improve the intersection off Lindbergh Bld. with more lanes, and to install a cross-access to and from the adjacent Helen’s Fitzgerald and Comfort Suites parking lots.
  2. I listened to residents and soon after I took office as mayor, the city instituted actions revoking the business license of the Econo Lodge. The numerous police reports from calls to the Econo Lodge documented some of the worse crimes and behavior imaginable. The city could not tolerate what was going on there so close to nearby neighborhoods and streets. The Econo Lodge is now gone. 
  3. I listened to residents and required the developer of the Tidal Wave, Kaldi’s Coffee, and Smoothie King, at East Watson and Lindbergh to improve the intersection with approval of MODOT at the developer’s cost. 
  4. At my request, the City Police Department instituted programs including Coffee with a Cop, a fishing derby, and baseball cards for kids. 
  5. Mr. and Mrs. Rich Stieren, residents of Sunset Hills, donated money for a Tugboat playground, liberty bell, and pavilion by the ball fields of West Watson Road.  The city has put in place these projects and a new playground for kids.
  6. I have worked with the Sunset Hills Historical Society and members of the Route 66 Association of Missouri to acquire, at no cost to the city, a historic neon Park Plaza sign, and I have secured a generous sponsorship and donation by Mr. Al Moore of Sunset Hills to pay the cost of restoration and eventual re-erecting of the sign. This project will promote, preserve, and honor Sunset Hill’s history as part of the Route 66 highway system. Many tourists are predicted to frequent our city to view the neon sign once the project is completed. The project will be completed this Spring with it erected at the former Park Plaza Motel site, now occupied by Holiday Inn St. Louis SW-Route 66 at the corner of Lindbergh Blvd. and Watson Rd. in Sunset Hills.  Holiday Inn Route 66 has contributed the cost of the installation.
  7. I formed the Art Committee, which is responsible for the statutes in the Watson Trail Park and in front of the Community Center. Through this committee, the city hosts a Maker’s Market to generate more funds for further art acquisitions. The Maker’s Mart is a wonderful place to view and purchase art made by local artists. 
  8. I created and put in place through the parks department, The Route 66 Bike Cruise, also known as “Get your kicks, biking Route 66”.  The event brings recognition to Sunset Hills historic past with Route 66. This event is well attended and generates a lot of publicity for our city. Many cities are envious of our event. 
  9. I coordinated the acquisition of the Bander property, that holds great potential for the future benefit and enjoyment of all our residents.
  10. I asked the Public Works Department to address the flash flooding issues in the creek area going through the Bander property, and the city employees cleaned out the creek beds and areas, resulting in a dramatic reduction if not elimination of any further flash flooding.
  11. After the tragic traffic accident at West Watson Road and Gravois Road several years ago, I aggressively led the effort to put a no left turn sign for traffic going east during the morning rush hour to prevent left turns onto West Watson Road. I have discussed the traffic issues with the Sunset Hills police chief, in the past several years, who has studied the issues, and the police chief proposed several additional options the city could do at the intersection, including the placement of a NO U turn sign east of the intersection to further promote traffic safety. The Board of Alderman approved the placement of the sign. Other options to improve traffic safety are being discussed as well, including a traffic study of the Gravois corridor from Interstate 270 to the West Watson Road Intersection.
  12. I have tried to bring peace and tranquility to our city government. I have repeatedly urged our alderman to respect each other’s opinion’s even if they disagree with them. The decorum of the meetings has dramatically improved since I became mayor.
  13. Under my leadership, the city received a federal grant to re-surface and add sidewalks on West Watson Rd. between Gravois and Weber Hill Rd.
  14. As an alderman, I initiated connectivity by adding a sidewalk priority plan and adding money to the budget for sidewalks each year. As mayor, we continue to do so. 
  15. I worked on the Special Projects Committee to acquire the red granite from the historic Watson Road Bridge. The granite is now on city property to be recycled and used on future signage and projects.
  16. Under my leadership, Sunset Hills received grants for restrooms in Gempp Park, Minnie Ha Ha Park, and Lynstone Parks.
  17. I was Mayor during the catastrophic flood of 2017. My family and I sandbagged and led the city through recovery and SEMA reimbursements. I recommended and the city adopted some of the most restrictive flood plain ordinances in the St Louis area, to substantially reduce future development impact on flooding. For the future we are looking for ideas and help to alleviate the flooding to residential and commercial properties. 
  18. As alderman of Ward IV, while chairwoman of the finance committee, I pushed for the creation of the City Administrator position. As mayor, I oversaw the interview process for the first city administrator and recommended the hiring of the city’s first city administrator, Eric Sterman, for the position. The City Administrator has achieved the goal of running the city more efficiently with substantial economic savings. Mr. Sterman has since left to be city administrator in Ballwin, MO and Brittany Gillett was hired to replace him. She has performed exceptionally well.
  19. Under my leadership, we have brought in many new businesses, including: Bass Pro Shops, El Agave Mexican Restaurant, Sunset Transportation, Grimco, Walnut Grill, New Burger King, Brothers, Beer, & Bourbon House, Subaru of Sunset Hills, Drive Centric, Comfort Suites, Specialty Carts expansion, Divine Salon, Tidal Wave, Kaldi’s Coffee, Smoothie King, La Quinta Suites, Walnut Grill, Urban Air, Advanced Surgery Center, St Louis Minimally Invasive Spine Center, Open MRI Imaging Center, Apex Network Physical Therapy, Twisted Tree Restaurant, Rebuilt Peace Haven, a new gas station and convenience store being built at Gravois and Lindbergh Blvd, Holiday Inn remodel, Plant Kraft Kitchen, and many others.”

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

Gestring: “I do agree with the current overall architecture and framework the city is progressing under the current Mayor. While I agree with the current direction, I do believe there could be other aspects and projects injected into the position to further the ongoing progress.”

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

Fribis: “Yes. Bicycle and pedestrian friendly. We are pushing for more sidewalks and the creation of bike trails. I started a committee that advises on ideas, etc. We have applied for and have been awarded grants to help accomplish becoming more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.”

Gestring:There are standard scales to help build the community’s accessibility for walking/bicycling so trying to work with something of that nature to help work on getting better resources to make more adaptable to the community to utilize.”

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

Fribis: “Yes, in my opinion it is clearly unethical for a city elected or appointed official to tape record someone without their knowledge and consent. The question rightfully presupposes that the issue of legality is separate from the issue of ethics. The city ethics code states under Section 2-363 that “public officials should be above reproach and should avoid even the appearance of impropriety”. The code states under Section 2-388 (b)(6) that “public officials should avoid action, whether or not specifically prohibited which might result in or create the appearance of affecting adversely the confidence of the public and the integrity of the city”. Under Section 2-396 Behavior-The city ethics code states “all city elected, and appointed officials shall conduct themselves in a professional business manner”. Under Section 2-381-Responsibility of public office, the code states that public officials should avoid “actions that are inconsistent with the best interests of the city”. Consequently, considering our city code as a whole, and where cited above, and based on my belief and the public’s belief that public officials must be respectful, transparent, and fair in all interactions with our residents, businesses, and other individuals the city is working with, and the public in general, together with our city’s strong policy of openness and transparency, I am firmly of the opinion that it is unethical, and warranting censure, for a public official to secretly tape record residents, the public, or business people, or others interacting with public officials and employees. It is not transparent and open, professional, considerate, or honorable, to record someone’s conversations with elected officials without their knowledge or consent. It violates an elected official’s duty of candor. It sends the wrong message to the public that elected officials cannot be trusted. Public mandated meetings, other than closed sessions, are recorded by requirements of law. Everyone is clearly given notice of such recordings.”

Gestring:I think if someone is going to be recorded then they must be made aware.”

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

Fribis:Residential. I supported the effort to keep it residential. Attached villas would be suitable so long as they conformed to existing zoning laws and were acceptable to the residents. Since the Board of Aldermen removing planned development from the city’s zoning code, it will be difficult to put attached villas in the area. Text amendments to achieve a “planned development” is a difficult undertaking due to the legal requirements necessary to support a text amendment allowing for “spot” zoning which is discriminatory since other property owners in the same zoning district are treated differently.”

Gestring:Currently the area is more developed for residential housing in my opinion currently and worried developing this area too much causing impact with increase traffic.”

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

Fribis:Our city is blessed with an outstanding Police Department. I believe our residents want to maintain the services we have come accustomed to with our current police department. I am adamantly opposed to any attempt to outsource or change City control of our police department.”

Gestring: “It should be retained. Don’t want in that industry too many cooks in the kitchen especially if the kitchen is already clean!”

What do you think of the failed rugby lease at Bander Park? What, if anything, could the city have done differently in that situation?

Fribis:The resolution on the rugby field lease was approved by a majority vote of the Board. I did not vote since there was not a tie. I signed the lease as required by law since a mayor of a 4th class city has no veto power over a resolution and has no discretion to ignore the will of the Board since the Board makes the decisions for the city. The vote was held after the rugby lease was discussed for many months at Board of Alderman meetings. Most if not all Alderman were in favor of the rugby proposals at the time of the vote. We had basically acquired 120 acres of a former golf course. The alderman knew when they unanimously voted to approve acceptance of the donation of property that the budget could not accommodate turning the entire area into a park. Everyone agreed to make the driving ranges a park since the income generated at the driving range will in essence pay for the costs associated with maintaining the driving range. Everyone agreed to let the remaining property go wild until money was available to make major improvements. Leasing approximately 22 acres of land that chronically floods decreased the burden of maintenance on the city, and would bring in an access road, electrical, and other improvements at no cost to the city. We were transparent and followed the law on giving notice of the discussions and vote on the rugby lease. 

Finally, as Mayor, after listening to the residents, I demanded, under threat of a veto, several amendments to rugby development including: 1. A no rise, no net fill condition that has to be certified by an appropriate engineer, 2. The development will have no effect on flooding, including no increase in the volume, frequency, or severity. Water storage capacity of the property shall remain neutral, 3. No PA system, 4. No alcohol sales after 10 pm or 2 hours after the last game or whatever is the earliest, 5. No subleasing, 6. A traffic study, at the Bomber’s expense, must be done that demonstrates no substantial increase in traffic, 7. The city officials or their employees shall have the right to enter the property at any time without prior notice, 8. No right turn after exiting onto West Watson Road except local traffic.   

The Board unanimously approved my offered amendments. The lease failed because the traffic study was not favorable to the St Louis Bombers. An attempt was made to remove the traffic study conditions so that the lease could go forward, but I vetoed the ordinance that attempted this. My veto was sustained on revote. Nothing was proposed to remedy the failures and traffic dangers identified by the Bombers. I asked the board for authority to terminate the lease on several occasions. Finally, the board approved a motion to terminate. As I said in my veto message, the only flaw that existed in the process was the failure to get a traffic study prior to the vote to lease the property as I had wanted. That would have saved a lot of time and consternation by many. Currently, the St Louis Bombers has a pending lawsuit against the City to overturn the city’s restrictions and traffic study requirements. The city has done what we can to protect our residents and act on their concerns, at this point, unfortunately, it is up to the courts to decide.”

Gestring:What, if anything, could the city have done differently in that situation? Move on and redevelop the area in a sport that has a reasonable chance to be profitable vs rugby.”

Are you satisfied with the proposed Bass Pro Shops development plan at the former Toys “R” Us?

Fribis:Yes, it opened in May of 2023. The plan was unanimously approved by the Board of Aldermen. The city is excited and proud to have Bass Pro Shops locate in our city. The city is receiving substantial sales tax revenue, and Sunset Hills is the envy of many other cities and communities who did not get Bass Pro Shops in their community.”

Gestring: “Yes, I think that business from the inside out is good to have around!”

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

Fribis:Yes, and we have fought St Louis County on regulating our police department in    the past, and we prevailed in the lawsuit.”

Gestring:Yes, again don’t mess with a department which is sound vs getting corrupted by the county. Just saying.”

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?

Fribis: “NO! Better NOT Together is how I voiced my opposition to any type of merger. I gathered signatures on petitions to support the Freeholder effort to oppose the merger. Any merger will bring nothing to Sunset Hills and will jeopardize our parks and city services and high caliber police department.”

Gestring:Terrible idea, don’t take good resources from sound communities to be diluted and polluted by merging with an issue riddled system in the county. Just saying.”

Do you believe the city is in a strong financial position? Why or why not?

Fribis: “Yes. The city’s financial condition is strong and healthy. The Board of Aldermen and finance committee develops, reviews, and approves city budgets. We will enjoy an anticipated $11.6 million in city reserves by the end of 2024. This large amount came about in part because of a requirement I implemented years ago as the finance committee chairwoman that a percentage of each budget must be earmarked to go directly into the city’s reserves. Moreover, with the new “use” tax approved by voters, the recreational marijuana tax, and the significant increases in sales tax revenue that is being generated by the Bass Pro Shops and secondary business activity and sales tax increases from it, our city is in its best financial position ever. The future financial condition is extremely bright and positive.”

Gestring: “Yes, and I am excited about further building the community up for an exponentially great community.”

Editor’s note: Richard Gestring did not submit a candidate photo as requested with his questionnaire.