New chair selected for MSD board

District critic files complaint over board chair’s selection

By Gloria Lloyd

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Board of Trustees has a new look, with a new chair and a new member.

The vacancies in both positions came from the retirement of board Chairman James Buford, the former chief executive of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, who reached his limit of two four-year terms on the MSD board in March.

The six-member MSD board has three trustees appointed by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and three trustees appointed by County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Slay appointed attorney Ruby Bonner to take Buford’s spot on the board, and she was sworn in at the board’s May 8 meeting.

At the same meeting, board member Annette Mandel, the former mayor of Creve Coeur who now lives in the city and has served on the MSD board since 2012, was elected chair in a 5-0 vote.

Mandel is an attorney for her own law firm, Mandel & Mandel. She graduated from Knox College and Washington University School of Law.

“I am proud to assume the role of board chair and humbled by the trust my fellow trustees have placed in me,” she told the Call through MSD’s Public Information Manager, Lance LeComb.

During her tenure as mayor of Creve Coeur, Mandel and her husband, attorney Alan Mandel, filed lawsuits against a councilwoman, the president of the Creve Coeur-Olivette Chamber of Commerce and four members of the public alleging libel, slander and conspiracy — litigation that the American Civil Liberties Union termed SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation, lawsuits designed to silence critics of the Mandels and limit their free speech.

“In 2002 — over 12 years ago — I was mayor of Creve Coeur. A set of issues before the city — issues which have been publicly reported on and I won’t rehash here — became very heated,” Mandel told the Call. “I felt that members of the council and I were defamed, and therefore joined in a lawsuit against those that were the source of these comments.

“The courts disagreed and dismissed the lawsuit — a decision we did not appeal.”

Asked if MSD residents should have any concern that lawsuits would be filed against them if they said something she doesn’t like, Mandel told the Call the situation in Creve Coeur was unique.

“Looking back 12 years later, the need to file a lawsuit was an unfortunate situation. I did what I believed at the time needed to be done,” she said. “It’s over a decade later and a different organization with a different set of issues. The decorum at MSD board meetings is much different, much less political. Thus, my answer is ‘no’.”

In a news release addressing the lawsuits, longtime MSD critic Tom Sullivan objected to Mandel’s appointment as chairman because he believes the vote violated the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law.

Sullivan filed a complaint with Attorney General Chris Koster, alleging that the MSD board had collaborated on Mandel’s election before the vote at the May 8 meeting, yet did not list her as the nominee slated for election on their agenda so that the public could comment on her selection before the vote.

In his complaint, Sullivan contended that the Chesterfield City Council once did the same thing when appointing a city prosecutor and was found by the St. Louis County Circuit Court to have violated the law.

The Chesterfield example is not applicable to the MSD board’s election, LeComb said, because the circumstances were different.

In addition, MSD posted a tentative agenda 24 hours ahead of time, as required by the Sunshine Law. Mandel’s name did not appear on the agenda, but the election of the board chair was listed, he added.

In Sullivan’s release, he noted that the election of board chair took place so quickly, with no other nominees, that it seemed predetermined. LeComb disputed that, however.

“I would point out that Mr. Sullivan is using circuitous/catch-22 logic,” LeComb wrote to the Call in an email. “Ergo, if one name was placed on the agenda, then that would violate the established process for electing a board chair/vice chair, and presuppose the outcome of a nomination and election process that had not yet taken place.

“The board rules establish that all three trustees from the city were eligible. Ms. Mandel was nominated and elected per the MSD Resolution No. 2941 — which has never been a problem for Mr. Sullivan in the past.”

New MSD board member Bonner was once a division director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety and general counsel for St. Louis Public Schools.

She is currently an educational consultant and also an Equal Employment Opportunity investigator for the federal government.

“I’m honored to be named an MSD trustee. From what I’ve learned already, and given the amount of work MSD is doing in the community, this is an exciting place to be,” Bonner told the Call through LeComb. “I believe my background in public service and work on minority and female inclusion will be an asset to my work as a board member. I look forward to working with my fellow trustees and MSD staff over the next four years.”

Bonner has served on a number of nonprofit boards, including the Missouri Public Defender Commission, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the YWCA, the Annie Malone Children’s Home and the Mercy Seat Elderly Apartments.

She attended Edgewood College in Madison, Wis., and the St. Louis University School of Law.