New Crestwood ordinance on track with county municipalities

Officials make own decision on abstaining, Robinson says


With a recently adopted ordinance, Crestwood is on track with much of St. Louis County by allowing city employees to keep their jobs if a family member is elected.

But it appears Crestwood is one of the few cities that would permit aldermen to vote on issues that would affect a family member.

Of 10 county municipalities contacted last week by the Call, officials for six of those cities indicated they likely would prevent aldermen from voting on issues that would affect a family member employed by the city.

City officials for three of those six municipalities — Sunset Hills, Glendale and Rock Hill — said having a city employee’s relative elected to office could result in that employee being removed.

On April 10, the Crestwood Board of Aldermen removed that restriction by a 5-3 vote, with Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland, Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher and Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel opposed.

With that decision, Crestwood joins seven of 10 cities, which were contacted last week by the Call, that would allow city employees to retain employment after a relative is elected. Those seven cities lacking an ordinance calling for the removal of a city employee if a family member is elected are Green Park, Fenton, Oakland, Webster Groves, Kirk-wood, Des Peres and Maplewood.

Like Crestwood, officials for Green Park, Fenton, Oakland and Maplewood did not indicate they would prevent aldermen from voting on an employee matter that would affect a relative.

Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson said while he would inform aldermen in such a situation that they might have a conflict of interest, he would never instruct anyone to abstain because of that potential conflict.

“An an alderman, you should consider that this may be a conflict of interest to you,” he said. “But you make your own decision. I mean, I wouldn’t ever demand somebody abstained because I just don’t think I can. But I definitely think it’s in order that if you’re aware of something that has potential conflict, at least me or one of the other aldermen ought to say: ‘Based on this, this and this, do you think that you should consider abstaining?’ Then let that person make their decision.”

But officials for six of the 10 cities contacted by the Call said they would likely prevent aldermen from voting on any issue that has a potential conflict of interest, including the potential benefit of an elected official’s family member.

“Obviously, we would sort of stress to the elected official that he has to be worried about conflict-of-interest rules,” said Des Peres City Administrator Douglas Harms. “And there are certain things that he or she may not be able to vote on depending on the exact relationship. If it were a spouse or dependent child where the employee or the elected official would have some benefit, we would strongly encourage them not to vote on anything relating to salaries or budgets or anything like that.

“If one of the aldermen’s spouses, for example, were a police officer, then I would think they would be precluded from voting on the salaries and benefits for police officers. It certainly is a slippery slope.”

Harms said Des Peres found itself in such a situation in the 1990s when a police officer’s wife campaigned for alderman. Although she was not elected, Harms said the candidate was told that she could not vote on any pay considerations for officers.

“We just simply notified her that she would understand that if she were elected that she would not be allowed to participate in or vote on any matters of compensation relating to public-safety officers since her husband was one,” he said. “She ended up not being elected, so it wasn’t a problem.”

Crestwood was in the same situation in 2006 when then-aldermanic candidate Tom Ford campaigned for a vacant Ward 2 seat while his son was employed as a Crest-wood police officer. Like Des Peres, Crestwood avoided that potential conflict when Pickel was elected over Ford.

At a January work session concerning the city’s revised civil-service code, Robinson said because of a “situation” involving a 2006 aldermanic candidate with a city-employed family member, he asked City Attorney Robert Golterman in the spring of 2006 to draft an ordinance allowing a relative to stay employed. That ordinance was then approved April 10 as part of the city’s civil-service code revisions. Officials for three of the 10 cities recently contacted by the Call said their respective cities would likely require city employees to forfeit their positions after a family member is elected.

Under Sunset Hills’ city code, “no relative within the second degree by consanguinity or affinity to any elected official of the city of Sunset Hills shall be employed in any capacity by the city.”

Sunset Hills City Administrator/City Clerk Laura Rider said based on that provision, employees would likely forfeit their jobs in such a situation.

“The city’s policy is that no relative within the second degree to any elected official of the city shall be employed in any capacity by the city,” Rider said. “So from that, you can assume you would have to forfeit your position.”

Glendale City Administrator Mike Pounds said while he can appreciate the sensitive nature of asking a city employee to leave because of an elected relative, the city of Glendale is bound by an ordinance that would call for that removal.

“Any relatives of any elected officer are disqualified from holding any appointive office or employment during the term of which the elective officer is appointed …,” Pounds said. “I would say that it’s very difficult when you have an employee already working there and somebody’s running for office … It seems like the way that ours is written is that person would have to leave. It seems a very difficult situation.”

Rock Hill City Administrator George Liyeos said that officials would notify any political candidate who has a city-employed relative that being elected would create the possibility for that employee to be removed.

“It would have that potential …,” he said. “You’re jeopardizing your family member’s position given the circumstances.”

But a majority of the cities in the Call’s study showed that like the new ordinance passed in Crestwood, city employees’ positions would be safe if a family member attained elective office.

“Employees that work here, outside of the city manager and the city clerk and the judge, they all work directly under the city manager,” said Webster Groves City Clerk Katie Nakazono. “So, you know, the mayor and the council wouldn’t be giving these employees directed orders or anything like that.”

However, unlike Crestwood and in line with the majority of cities in the Call’s study, Nakazono also indicated that Webster Groves’ elected officials would be told to abstain from any votes that could impact a relative employed by the city.