Remaining Grantwood Village officials ponder how to proceed

Three of five trustees resign May 18, plus village attorney.

By EVAN YOUNG

Grantwood Village is trying to determine how to proceed with official business — including the adoption of a new budget — after three of its five trustees, along with the village attorney, tendered their resignations last week.

Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Prebil, Police Commissioner Glenn Biffignani and Street and Building Commissioner Michael Boone all submitted letters of resignation at the end of the May 18 regular board meeting. Village Attorney and Prosecutor Jeffrey Duke announced his resignation earlier in the evening.

Prebil and Biffignani resigned effective immediately. Boone said his resignation would be effective once he completed unfinished business with the village’s Board of Adjustment.

That leaves only two trustees — Village Clerk Nancy Humes and Treasurer Cathy Forand — on the board.

State law requires towns and villages with less than 2,500 residents to have five-member boards. Grantwood Village’s population is roughly 883.

All board of trustees vacancies “shall be filled by the remaining members of the board,” according to Missouri statutes.

However, state law also says a majority of trustees — in this case, three — must be present at meetings to constitute a quorum and conduct official business.

In their resignation letters, all three outgoing trustees cited friction with fellow board members in recent months as their primary reason for stepping down. During last week’s trustee meeting and at previous meetings, Forand and Humes often deadlocked with Boone and Biffignani when voting on motions — and Prebil often broke the tie to side with the latter two trustees.

Boone, whose wife, Lori, resigned as board secretary after the April board meeting, wrote that serving as trustee lately “has been wearing on me.”

“I can accept that the board will not always agree on everything, and even a certain amount of disagreement is healthy,” he wrote. “What I cannot accept is the lack of civility that has occurred during our most recent disagreements among the trustees. We will never be able to function together as a board if we cannot even be civil to one another.

“The current atmosphere on the board is toxic and I can no longer be a part of it. I am an engineer, not a politician. I can fix streets. I review building plans. But it is not in my nature to engage in the political warfare that it will obviously take to survive here.”

Boone offered to orientate whomever became the next street and building commissioner.

Biffignani wrote that it was “counter-productive” for him to work for the betterment of the village when “some trustees work only for their personal agendas, none of which benefit Grantwood Village.”

“I prefer not to be involved in those personal agendas, and I am tired of the petty issues and sarcasm,” he stated. “This board should work in harmony for the village and the residents.”

Biffignani suggested the village impose term limits for trustees so that residents who want to serve on the board don’t always have to run against incumbents.

Prebil has been the target of criticism since February from Humes and Forand over the way he allegedly intervened in a situation involving his grandson.

The two trustees previously called for the now-former chairman’s resignation after they say he used his elected status to quash two misdemeanor charges against his grandson after an incident last July at Grant’s Farm. During a discussion at the March meeting, Prebil denied any impropriety and refused to resign. However, he presented the village with a check for $87.50 to repay the amount Duke billed the village for correspondence with Prebil and the village court clerk related to the Grant’s Farm incident.

Forand and Humes also have accused Prebil of calling and consulting with Duke — who in turn has billed the village — for what they contend are either unknown or unnecessary legal matters.

“Grantwood Village has received a lot of negative press in the past six to eight months concerning village finances in general and me in particular,” Prebil stated in his letter. “I would like to take the opportunity to thank the residents who wrote notes or made phone calls to support my position and are disturbed at how certain members of the Board of Trustees have managed to paint such a cheap, poor image of our peaceful community.

“Thus said, I am stepping down from my position on the village board as it is totally impossible to get any official business done because there is no cooperation or communication.”

Duke, whose contract with the village was set to expire at the end of June, said he would resign as village attorney effective May 31 and as prosecutor on June 30 to give officials time to find another attorney and prosecutor. He offered no specific reason for his departure.

During a presentation in April of the proposed fiscal 2011 village budget, Humes said contracting with a new law firm and using the county court system for all village court business may save Grantwood a significant amount of money and spare other services — such as county police protection — from cuts.

Under the proposed fiscal 2011 budget, Grantwood Village would see estimated revenues of $363,700 — $17,345 less than projected fiscal 2010 revenues of $381,045. The village would spend a flat $363,000 in fiscal 2011 — $8,280 less than the expected $371,280 in expenditures for fiscal 2010.

The board must adopt next fiscal year’s budget by July 1. Trustees tabled approval of the document May 18 shortly before Prebil, Biffignani and Boone resigned.

To date, Grantwood Village has spent more than $27,000 for attorney fees — both for professional services and court costs — in fiscal 2010, according to Forand. In fiscal 2009, Grantwood Village spent $48,471.20 in attorney fees — roughly 12 percent of the $406,939 the village spent that year.

By comparison, the city of Crestwood, population 11,863, budgeted $120,000 in 2009 and $110,000 this year for legal services. Green Park, population 2,666, budgeted $80,000 for legal services in both 2009 and 2010. Huntleigh, population 323, paid $10,800 in legal fees for 2009.

Forand told the Call after last week’s board meeting that the village had received proposals from several law firms, including a bid from a firm that specializes exclusively in municipal law.

Of her fellow trustees’ resignations, Forand, who has been a trustee for more than 20 years, said she didn’t think the village had ever experienced such a dramatic vacation of board seats. She and Humes, under the advice of the St. Louis County Municipal League, tentatively plan to call a special open board meeting Tuesday, June 1, to appoint a third trustee to obtain a quorum. The board then could select new legal counsel in time for the June 15 regular Board of Trustees meeting, Forand said.