Marie Davis, Christine Lieber vie for Sunset Hills Ward 2 alderman


Marie Davis, left, and Ward 2 Alderman Christine Lieber.

By Staff Report

Editor’s note: The following article appeared in the March 30 print edition of The Call. Read web-exclusive questions and answers from the candidates at the end of this article. 

Marie Davis is challenging incumbent Sunset Hills Ward 2 Alderman Christine Lieber in the upcoming election April 4.

Davis is a business advisor with MMD Consultants and graduate of Columbia University’s business school. From 1965 to 1966, Davis served as the deputy county clerk of Wayne County. 

Lieber is the president, CEO and founder of the Christine Lieber Agency, LLC-Shelter Insurance. She is licensed for life, health, property and casualty insurance in Missouri, Illinois and Ohio. Lieber has served as the Ward 2 alderman in Sunset Hills since first winning election in 2021. She is the current board president.

In the 2021 municipal elections, Davis unsuccessfully faced-off against Lieber for the Ward 2 seat then held by former Alderman Steve Bersche. In 2022, Lieber unsuccessfully campaigned for Sunset Hills mayor against incumbent Mayor Pat Fribis.

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

Reason you are seeking office:

Davis: “My main reason for seeking office is for the future betterment of Sunset Hills. I will use the knowledge and experience gained from 39 years of living, working and volunteering in this city to help rebuild respect for staff and city officials. Too often, when listening in aldermanic meetings, I have heard discord rather than cooperation. I will work with the city officials and staff rather than against them.”

Lieber: “As president of the Board of Alderman, I have a proven track record of leadership and accomplishment including sidewalks for Eddie and Park, vigilance and efforts to reduce noise and traffic on East Watson Road, vetting of multiple new businesses including Bass Pro Shops, police pay increases, a financial transparency portal, and zoning revisions to preserve our city’s character and provide new housing opportunities to name a few. Sunset Hills is a desirable community that I am deeply invested in as a 30-year resident, Lindbergh Schools alum, Sunset Hills small business owner, and parent. As an alderman, my colleagues and I on the board have worked hard to increase transparency, act with fiscal responsibility, and secure the Bass Pro project as well as new restaurants and other tax-producing businesses that fund our cherished city services like parks and police. The board has made great strides functioning with cohesiveness, efficiency and mutual respect. This is needed to continuously improve our city and meet the challenges we face. I was elected president of the board based on my leadership and I want to continue our efforts.”

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race?

Davis: “I am concerned about conflict of interest specifically, encroachment of business into residential areas.”

Lieber: “Experience matters and credentials count. Which candidate has a proven record of leadership and accomplishment for our city? Who is current on all of the issues, has attended countless meetings and invested many, many hours in our city? Who has knocked on your door for three years in a row to hear your voice? Who is better positioned to represent your interests going forward?”

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

Davis: “Economic development – more retention of business for a stronger tax base. Adherence to transparency and Sunshine laws – no shadow government. Safety of our citizens – coordination of city, county, fire, and police agencies.”

Lieber: “Appropriate commercial development – It is possible to have robust commercial development and protect residential interests but it takes careful consideration and hard work. A good example of success is the Bass Pro project which the current board vetted and approved. Fiscal responsibility and preservation of city services – All cities face financial challenges. My No. 1 priority is to maintain our city services through sound financial management. Sound decision making – The city is embroiled in multiple lawsuits that are the result of past bad decision making. The current board is fortunate to have professionals who vigorously consider issues and make good decisions – there is no substitute.”

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

Davis: “Yes. Yes, the public should be listened to during designated comment periods, otherwise the meeting turns into an argument rather than a decision making body.”

Lieber: “Robert’s Rules should be followed. The citizens of our city should always be allowed to speak. I have successfully advocated for a new hybrid system that allows residents interactive, online access to meetings which has increased meeting attendance and participation.”

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

Davis: “No, unless for public benefit. Tax tools are intrinsic to the negotiations between the city government and businesses. Tax increment financing must undergo careful consideration so that it will not cause future harm to the city.”

Lieber: “Any proposal should be thoughtfully and intelligently evaluated. I would have to be convinced this is in the best interest of the city and would not adversely affect anyone. Community improvement districts have been used successfully in our city, example Bass Pro, and are usually more appropriate. In general, TIFs should be used sparingly.”

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

Davis: “According to Section 2-382 of the city Code of Ethics, city officials are bound to uphold the laws of the nation and state. Missouri law states utilities cannot be rezoned by cities. Filing lawsuits contrary to the state law is frivolous and costs the citizens of Sunset Hills money which could be better used elsewhere.”

Lieber: “With any new project, the effect on residents must be carefully considered. My approach is to inform and involve affected residents early in the process. The city should exercise its options to optimize the outcome for all parties.”

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

Davis: “I believe the city of Sunset Hills has flourished under the management of Mayor Pat Fribis. Example: she recognized the need for focused city management and brought in a city administrator. This helps retain the services of well-qualified directors and provides citizens with approachable staff.”

Lieber: “The board and I have identified and acted on opportunities for improvement such as a financial transparency portal, police pay raises, rewrite of the zoning code to protect resident interests and increase our tax base and preserve our city services. I will continue to advocate for sound management and identify new areas of improvement for our city.”

What is your vision for Sunset Hills?

Davis: “A city that cooperates with its neighboring communities and listens thoughtfully to citizens and businesses.”

Lieber: “My vision is for collaboration and respectful, responsive leadership. I will continue to develop transparency tools, like the transparency portal to allow residents to know how their tax dollars are being used at any given time. I will be responsive to residents and collaborate with their aldermen. I agree with your concern about protecting our property values from commercial encroachment. I am not focused on accolades or attention or taking credit, I will keep my head down and work for you.”

What are your thoughts on commercial encroachment of residential areas?

Davis: “To me, encroachment means changing residential properties into business properties. It takes the right zoning laws, adherence to the city’s comprehensive plan, negotiation, and cooperation to bring businesses and residents together. Listening to the needs of the residents is extremely important.”

Lieber: “I agree with most residents that commercial encroachment on residential areas should be minimized. We need to respect our residents’ investment in their homes and protect their property values.”

Are you satisfied with the new Bass Pro Shops development?

Davis: “Yes, I believe it will be a new cornerstone business in our city and attract customers to all of the surrounding businesses. I am excited to watch it come alive. I expect the Bass Pro Shops will bring in a large tax base for the city.”

Lieber: “The Board of Aldermen worked very hard to optimize the Bass Pro project to protect the residents of Ward 2 and help the project succeed which will pay dividends for our city. Like our residents, I am very pleased with the outcome.”

Read on for web-exclusive questions and answers: 

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

Davis: “Yes, because the streets do not presently adhere to city code. Once the roads are up to code, we should revisit the decision.”

Lieber: “This matter is settled as a vote was taken to deny the city take-over of Tapawingo Streets which was appropriate. I hope that the residents of Tapawingo can find a solution to manage their private streets.”

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

Davis: “No, unless clear public benefit. Eminent domain should be used sparingly with specific attention to the rights of our citizens. Example: neglected properties which house criminal activities on site, such as the old motel which is now a thriving income-producing business.”

Lieber: “Eminent domain is appropriate only in circumstances in which private property is absolutely necessary for a public need. It should never be exercised to take private property away from one party to give to another for their own private use.”

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

Davis: “At times, the city is more business friendly than others. As a manager of four businesses in the city of
Sunset Hills, I found it was a slow process to get answers from the city. I believe this was often caused by disagreements between
Aldermen. I had thought progress was being made, however in the last year I have seen more and more discord. If there is a doubt, it should be found in favor of the residents, however also businesses deserve a fair hearing.”

Lieber: “Sunset Hills is well-positioned for commercial opportunity and I will continue to advocate for sensible, respectful development that will help preserve our city services. Bass Pro is a good example of hard work by the board to vet and approve a new business. I look forward to more successful collaborations.”

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

Davis: “Yes, we should connect up with the pathways of our neighbors like we are doing with Fenton over Interstate 270.”

Lieber: The new pedestrian bridge over Interstate 44 which has a landing area in Sunset Hills which resulted from a grant obtained by Sunset Hills and adjacent cities has been well- received. I would love to see our city be more bicycle friendly with safety in mind. A committee of the parks director, parks board and interested citizens can explore grants and other tools to make this a reality.”

Should the Court Drive neighborhood bordering South Lindbergh Boulevard be residential or commercial?

Davis: “Until now, it has been zoned residential and that should not change without the approval of the residents of Court Drive.”

Lieber: “I have always advocated for residential use of Court Drive. Recently there was a judgement in this matter and I am hopeful for a resolution that respects the residents of Court Drive.”

What would you do to increase the city’s responsiveness on projects or provide public notice of projects?

Davis: “The city already posts at the city hall, on social media, in the newspaper, through the newsletter, and through announcements at a myriad of community meetings as well as on-site project signage.”

Lieber: “The current board requested monthly columns in the Horizon in order to directly communicate with residents which has helped increase public awareness of developments and various issues. The city also has an email notification system which I encourage residents to register for to receive meetings notices and agendas.”

Do you feel that town home or “cluster home” developments have a place in the city? Why/why not?

Davis: “Yes, as our residents age many wish to stay within the community but prefer homes with less maintenance than required for single-family homes.”

Lieber: “Many residents who I have spoken to wish to downsize in Sunset Hills or are looking for villas. The key is to restrict such developments to appropriate locations and to ensure the highest standards. The upcoming Gates Manor villa development vetted and improved by the current board has been well-received by residents.”

Traditionally, Sunset Hills has had a close relationship with Lindbergh Schools. Do you believe the city should maintain a positive relationship with the school district?

Davis: “Absolutely, the Lindbergh School District is one of our best assets.”

Lieber: “I am a Lindbergh alum and I have maintained a positive relationship by funding yearly scholarships. I would definitely continue and encourage the city to collaborate with our school district for the success of our next generation and to preserve our property values.”

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

Davis: “Yes.”

Lieber: “Yes.”

Do you support the performance of City Administrator Brittany Gillett?

Davis: “Yes. I believe she has improved our city’s work environment and maintained a good relationship with our residents.”

Lieber: “Yes, our city administrator has a difficult job and has exceeded expectations. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with her.”

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?

Davis: “No to the direct merger, but something must be done for the benefit of the entire region. When businesses or individuals look at moving to St. Louis, they review the statistics of the city and not the metropolitan area as a whole. When the city becomes just another municipality of the county, the metropolitan area statistics will improve dramatically and we will become one of the top 20 metropolitan areas in the country, as compared to the city of St. Louis which is currently ranked at 58.”

Lieber: “No, I do not support any city-county merger proposal that I have seen. Our residents expect the very best services which are best provided with local control. In particular, I support our local police and have worked with Backstoppers for years. If opportunities for collaboration exist such as the sharing of 911 dispatch services with Crestwood approved by the current board, then we should consider them.”

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

Davis: “Yes, we are in an excellent financial position because we budget wisely. And through business projects such as Tidal Wave and Bass Pro Shops we expect heightened tax revenue. Our departmental directors seek grants from public and private entities in order to enrich our community. Example: a federal grant is being used to renovate Lynstone Park.”

Lieber: “The city maintains a healthy reserve but all cities face challenges to maintain services which are heavily dependent on local commercial tax revenue. We must be mindful of this dependence and continuously advocate for sensible development. Sunset Hills is well-positioned to attract continued commercial investment.”