A group of Crestwood residents seeking a public vote to reconsider an ordinance approving a lease agreement with the West-field Corp. last week delivered petitions containing more than 2,100 signatures to City Hall.
The citizens’ group, called the Crestwood Citizens for Finan-cial Responsibility, turned in petitions containing 2,146 signatures, according to spokesman Jim Murphy, a former state representative and former Crestwood alderman. Murphy said he was pleased with the number of signatures collected, noting the group collected “a thousand more than we needed.”
The residents are seeking the reconsideration of the ordinance adopted April 26 by the Board of Aldermen and signed by former Mayor Tom Fagan.
As proposed, the city would lease office space at the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood for roughly 18 months while the retrofitting of the Government Center to include a new police facility takes place. Under the agreement, the city would lease roughly 14,827 square feet of office space at a cost of $3,333.33 per month.
Residents want to restore the city’s financial health be-fore proceeding with the renovation of the Government Center, Murphy has said. Residents are baffled, according to Murphy, that city officials are so intent on moving forward with the renovation project at a time when the city is borrowing money for operating expenses.
“What really shocked me going door to door is people are just upset,” he said, noting that of the first 195 homes he visited, only five people declined to sign the petition.
What also surprised him going door to door was the age of Crestwood residents, Murphy said, adding that Crest-wood is a “mature” community whose residents demand fiscal responsibility of their elected officials.
While five people — Donald G. Clark, Zachary McGee, Donald Zinzer, Lillian C. Casey and Donald B. Ulmer — comprise the Petitioners Committee, Murphy said that nearly 30 people collected the signatures.
“Some collected a few, some collected many, but we had 29 people collecting signatures,” he said.
Residents would rather have streets, sidewalks and police coverage — not a new police facility, Murphy said.
Of streets, he said, “That’s the No. 1 item people want — then sidewalks.”
A lack of sidewalks is hampering residents’ ability to fully utilize public transportation, Murphy added.
Roughly 1,125 signatures of the city’s registered voters were needed for reconsideration of the ordinance. The City Charter states that if an ordinance is returned to the Board of Aldermen and the board fails to repeal the measure, voters then will consider it at a city election. Such an election would cost roughly $10,000, according to the group’s petition.
But even if the group is successful in having the ordinance repealed, it may be a moot issue, according to City Attorney Rob Golterman.
He told aldermen May 10 that the ordinance has been “fully effectuated” and the lease agreement between West-field and the city is a valid and binding contract.
“It is at least my opinion and judgment that at this point a referendum petition cannot be used to alter that contractual relationship. So that at the end of the day if this ordinance is repealed or reconsidered by the board, it may not have an impact on the terms of the lease or the city’s rights and obligations under the lease. That topic continues to be researched …,” Golterman said May 10.
Board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2 told the Call that he would like more information from Golterman about what impact the repeal of the ordinance would have.
“I would agree with what City Attorney Golterman has said,” Trueblood said, adding that even if the petition signatures are certified, he believes that the obligations of the city have not changed and the lease remains in effect.
“I do find it interesting that the Crestwood Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility have no problem putting the city in that position where they spend the money for an election that has no real impact. It doesn’t change anything if we vote yes or no on it, plus we have the costs to the city attorney to the city for doing the same research,” the board president said. “So for being folks who support fiscal re-sponsibility they sure aren’t looking at the long-term im-pact of some of their actions.”
Noting that Murphy has characterized residents as being “upset,” Trueblood said, “Every time former Rep. Murphy gets involved, that seems to be the cornerstone of the activity — people are upset. It’s what Mr. Murphy said. He said people are upset and I’ve noticed that this isn’t the first time that Mr. Murphy’s been involved and people are upset. Draw your own conclusions …”
Asked if aldermen could break the lease with Westfield, Trueblood said that would be fiscally irresponsible.
“I’m not an attorney so I’m not sure about case law as it relates to the contract and the lease, but it would appear to me that if you are a tenant and you walk out on your lease you are obligated to fulfill the cost of that lease,” he said.
“We have businesses in Crestwood who have left buildings — I think Sports Authority’s a great example — having left a building and they continue to pay the lease due the owner, Mr. (Gary) Grewe, for that property and so therefore they’re not in violation of their contract. We, in my opinion not being an attorney, would be in the same situation. OK, fine, we decide not to move into the mall temporarily to have the city offices in there. That doesn’t release us legally from the obligation to pay the rent. Now what Westfield decides to do or not, that’s their decision. I’m not privy to what their thinking is, but I see no difference in what Sports Authority has legally done and what we would have to legally do if we were to not move into the space we agreed to rent,” Trueblood added.
Trueblood said he doesn’t understand how halting the renovation of the Government Center will help restore the city’s financial health.
“According to former Rep. Murphy, the residents are baffled. I say they’re baffled because they don’t understand that the renovation of City Hall is not the reason we have financial problems. He has yet — and the opponents of that renovation have yet to explain how the city’s financial health would be restored by not proceeding with the plans to refurbish … the city Government Center. No one has yet shown how that would happen. There is no connection.
“In my opinion, this behavior is done to incite and make people upset for whatever reason, personal or otherwise. The dots don’t connect,” Trueblood said.
Voters in August 2002 approved Proposition S, the ex-tension of a half-cent sales tax to fund construction of a new police building, fund repairs at the Government Cen-ter and allow the continuation of the city’s street repair and replacement program. The half-cent, capital-improvements sales tax originally had been approved in 1993 and had been scheduled to end in 2008, but voter approval of Prop-osition S extended the sales tax until 2023.
Though voters approved the sales tax in 1993, the city was not able to use revenue from the tax until 1996 because of a court challenge. From 1996 to 2003, the sales tax generated $14,100,880 and the city spent $13,093,590 — 93.7 percent — of that revenue on public works services and street maintenance. Current projections indicate the sales tax will generate $25.2 million for capital improvements over the next 18 years, Trueblood said.
“… How much money do we need to spend in the city of Crestwood for streets? We know now that in the next five years, we’ll have the streets with current levels of revenues — $500,000 per year to be spent on street improvements — the streets will be at a value of 70 per our director of public works, which is well above the accepted federal level of street conditions …,” he said. “So to say we would have been better off not building the police station, my question is where would you have spent $25.2 million? What street, what condition in the city of Crestwood needs that kind money put into it?”
The renovation of City Hall to include a new police facility “has no impact on the condition of the city’s streets. It has no impact on the general fund’s shortfall of revenues for salaries and for the insurance that we pay for through the general fund. There’s no connection …,” Trueblood said.