Politics punctuate Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting

Robinson asked to explain stance on candidate forum.

By EVAN YOUNG

Politics punctuated last week’s Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting when a former alderman questioned Mayor Roy Robinson’s endorsement for re-election by the union that represents the city’s firefighters.

And later in the meeting, the sitting alderman challenging Robinson in next week’s election asked the mayor to explain his decision on whether to participate in a candidate forum.

Robinson told the Call neither subject was appropriate for the meeting, the board’s last before voters head to the polls Tuesday, April 5.

“That’s campaign stuff and (it) should not have been an issue at our board meeting,” he said.

Robinson and Ward 2 Alderman Jeff Schlink are seeking the mayoral post in the city’s first contested race for the office in six years. Robinson, who was elected in 2005, was unopposed for a second term in 2008.

But this year’s election comes on the heels of lengthy discussions by the board and city officials over whether Crestwood employees, particularly firefighters, should be able to openly campaign for local political candidates or causes. Negotiations are ongoing between the city and Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters on a new memorandum of understanding.

During a period for public comment at last week’s board meeting, former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder presented a flier left at his house from Citizens for Roy Robinson for Mayor. The document states Robinson is endorsed for re-election by “Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri (Crestwood), IAFF Local 2665.”

Nieder had asked City Attorney Rob Golterman at the board’s Feb. 8 meeting whether a Crestwood firefighter could campaign out-of-uniform and off-duty on behalf of a candidate for city office. Golterman replied at the Feb. 22 meeting that the activity “would be prohibited” under the City Charter.

Last week Nieder said to Golterman, “I thought — as a matter of fact it was confirmed at a recent Board of Aldermen meeting — that the Crestwood firefighters could not participate in a re-election campaign for a specific individual — is that correct?”

Golterman said, “They cannot take part in a campaign.”

Nieder said, “And are you telling me then that this particular documentation, this flier, doesn’t count toward that?”

Golterman said, “I haven’t looked at the flier, but I’ll do so … I’ll look into it.”

Robinson defended the union’s endorsement as “perfectly legal” and that it did not amount to city firefighters participating in his campaign.

“They (Local 2665) have every legal right to endorse anybody they want …,” he told the Call. “That’s as close as an employee can get to doing anything for a candidate is their union does something for them.”

He added, “I don’t go out and search for these people. They come to me and say: ‘We like the fact that you’ve been fair to our employees. We’d like to endorse you if you want it.’ And certainly I’m not going to turn down an endorsement from people who represent our fine fire department.

“… I would never allow an employee of the city of Crestwood to represent me in a campaign. I never have and I won’t today … I would never put anybody’s career in jeopardy for my winning a campaign — absolutely never.”

This is the third time Local 2665 has endorsed Robinson, according to 4th District Vice President Kurt Becker, who said the union has had a “longstanding relationship” with the mayor.

As for the wording on Robinson’s campaign literature, Becker told the Call, “I am pretty confident in saying that when Mayor Robinson put in parenthesis ‘Crestwood,’ the intention was for him to clarify to readers of the flier that Local 2665 indeed represented the Crestwood firefighters. There was not, as I understand it, an implication or really any room for an inference that the Crestwood shop independently endorsed Mayor Robinson.”

Becker said Crestwood firefighters “have the legal right to do whatever they want to off-duty, individually or collectively,” and that the union “would aggressively defend” any of its members that insist on having the right to campaign for a certain candidate.

However, “out of respect for peace and harmony,” the union will not push the issue this election, he added.

“Because we’re not going to pick a fight with the city and because we’ve had a harmonious relationship with the city, respectfully we’re going to ensure that no city employees are engaged in campaigning for Mayor Robinson,” Becker said. “Local 2665 has endorsed Mayor Robinson and Local 2665 members will be engaged in his campaign through Election Day.

“So yes, there will be firefighters working for Roy; however, none of them will be Crestwood employees.”

In a separate matter at last week’s board meeting, Schlink asked Robinson to explain his position on participating in a candidate forum that would’ve been moderated by the League of Women Voters at a Crestwood business.

The mayor said he didn’t want to participate in an event that appeared to be arranged by Schlink’s campaign.

“Most certainly the opposing candidate should not be contacting the other to tell him to meet him at a certain place for a ‘meet the candidates,’ debate or whatever you want to call it,” Robinson said, adding that he typically receives information on forums from the League of Women Voters.

Schlink said the league told him it was busy coordinating other events and asked that the candidates agree on a time and place.

Robinson also said the executive director of the business that was to host the forum “knew nothing” about the event when the mayor contacted him.

Schlink indicated that claim wasn’t true. He said he visited the business the day after Robinson and officials there were “thrilled we were going to showcase their facility.”

Both candidates declined to name the local business.

Robinson later told the Call he didn’t know if there would be a candidate forum before next week’s election but said he wasn’t opposed to having one.

“I don’t have any reason not to participate,” he said. “I can handle anything that anybody brings.”