Proposed Crestwood charter changes once again placed on ballot

By BURKE WASSON

In April, Crestwood citizens’ right to vote on four proposed amendments to the City Charter was essentially taken away by a handful of residents who blocked the proposals from the ballot.

But this time around, the decision on that right to vote will be decided by either the Board of Aldermen or perhaps the voters themselves in the city’s Nov. 7 election — not a petitioners’ referendum committee.

City Clerk Kimberly Cottle confirmed that if another petitioners’ referendum committee is formed and gathers the required number of signatures needed for reconsideration, the Board of Aldermen will have time to decide whether to repeal each ordinance that places the charter amendments on the November ballot.

If the board does not repeal those ordinances, residents then would be placed in the unusual situation of voting on their right to vote. Residents would cast their ballot on Nov. 7 on whether they want to vote on each charter amendment in 2007.

Regardless of whether another petitioners’ referendum committee forms, the people of Crestwood will likely be voting — in some manner — on Nov. 7 on the fate of the proposed charter amendments. The only thing that could stop that would be if the Board of Aldermen were to repeal the ordinances that it unanimously passed last week.

If a petitioners’ referendum committee fails to grab the required 1,098 signatures, then Crestwood voters would simply vote on each proposed change to the city charter, as the board has recently decided.

The Board of Aldermen, at its May 23 meeting, unanimously approved amendments to ordinances previously adopted in January to place the proposed charter changes on the city’s Nov. 7 ballot.

The proposed changes include eliminating term limits for aldermen, adding a censure provision for elected officials who violate the charter as opposed to dismissing them from office, modernizing the charter’s language and reducing the number of signatures needed for initiative, recall and referendum elections.

Cottle said that the establishment of such a referendum committee and its signatures are due 45 days after the board’s May 23 decision — which would put the deadline to gather the required 1,098 signatures, or 12 percent of Crestwood’s registered voters, at July 7.

At that time, if a committee has at least 1,098 signatures and that number of signatures is approved by the St. Louis County Election Board of Commissioners, which Cottle said typically takes a matter of days, then the proposed charter amendments would then go back to the Board of Aldermen for further review. Aldermen would then have four board meetings to discuss the amendments and decide whether to repeal the ordinances that put them on the November ballot, as the city has until Aug. 29 to provide certified ballot forms to the Board of Elections.

The city’s deadline to have ballot forms to the county Board of Election Commissioners for the April election was before the deadline that the referendum committee previously formed in January had to report its signatures.

However, that committee — which included Crestwood residents Bob Deutschmann, Robert Beck, Jackie Stockhausen, Roger Anderson and Frank Spinner — failed to report any signatures. Anderson and Beck both told the Call they did not personally attempt to gather any signatures whatsoever, and Deutschmann has publicly criticized the charter amendments in recent months during Board of Aldermen and town-hall meetings.

Beck has said that Crestwood resident and former state Rep. Jim Murphy also worked with the group. Murphy denied any such affiliation, but has also said that he is against eliminating term limits. Crestwood’s charter states that aldermen are limited to serve three consecutive three-year terms.

Members of the Charter Review Commission, which set forth the proposed amendments last year to the Board of Aldermen, have said that they are not recommending that any of the changes be approved.

As commission member Char Braun told the Board of Aldermen on May 23, they simply want people to decide for themselves.

“We couldn’t agree amongst ourselves,” Braun said. “We were split as to whether we would recommend term limits or not. There were a lot of pros and cons. It was a great discussion … we couldn’t agree. And we thought if we had that much trouble as a small group coming to an agreement in several discussions and several meetings that we should leave it up to the people, and maybe they felt there should be a change as well.

“And that’s why we did it. We went through every line item in that charter and we reviewed everything and discussed it as a group and we came up with the changes we thought were potential things that either needed to happen or people needed to decide.”

Before voters make those decisions on the proposed charter amendments, Board of Aldermen President Jerry Miguel of Ward 3 said he believes they should be well educated enough on the issues to make an informed choice.

That is why he is proposing that the city include an explanation of each amendment in the city’s newsletter and possibly schedule town-hall meetings.

“I agree that these propositions need to go forward, but I’m wondering, though, are there any plans as far as trying to explain each of these propositions?” Miguel said. “The one that I think needs the most explanation is Proposition 1 because it just says: ‘Shall the city amend the charter sections 3.3, 3.10 a, b, c, d. And, boy, you know … the ballot language leaves a lot to be desired as far as ex-planation of what the voter is voting on here.”

As a way to possibly save the city some money, Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby had asked if the city should consider delaying the vote on charter amendments until the April election. But Cottle said that the city’s budget has already provided $10,000 apiece this year to elections in April and November and that the cost is already secured.

“There is already $10,000 budgeted for a November election,” Cottle said. “It’s been my experience that even though the Board of Election Commissioners usually tells me it’s $10,000 as an estimate, I don’t think we’ve ever hit the $10,000 as an estimate. That money is already provided for.”

Amidst the delay of the vote on charter amendments in April, Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel said he feels obligated as an alderman to get the proposal on the November ballot because he said the delay has irritated residents.

“I just want to say that I do think that we are obligated to move this forward,” Pickel said. “And just to share some feedback that I got as I was going door to door during the campaign, there was great frustration, you know, borderline anger that they weren’t on the ballot in April. So I think we owe it to the citizenship to get them on the ballot as quickly as we can.”

Roby said he believes it is important that the work of the Charter Review Commission be recognized and that aldermen clarify how to follow Section 13.8 of the Crestwood charter, which states: “The Board of Aldermen shall by ordinance submit such proposed amendments to the voters at the next general election.”

“First of all, I think it’s important that we clarify that this is pretty well a mandatory thing,” Roby said. “This definitely has to go before the voters. I agree with the fact that the citizens of Crestwood should have the opportunity to vote on these issues whatever their position. And a lot of time was spent by the Charter Commission in coming up with these recommendations, and I think that that time should be recognized. The efforts they put forth should be recognized, and the citizens should be given the opportunity to voice their vote on these issues.”

Regarding exactly how the proposed amendments might be explained to voters, City Administrator Frank Myers said he believes the charter items would be published in a future city newsletter.

Braun added that the Charter Review Commission had planned to mail a letter or brochure explaining the charter proposals to registered voters in Crestwood before the April election.

She said she envisions that the commission likely would follow through on those mailings for the election in November.