Request for probe of police pay hikes nixed by Crestwood aldermen

Mayor ‘satisfied’ with city attorney’s legal advice, tells those who aren’t to ‘file suit’

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood aldermen last week denied a request to investigate whether pay raises awarded to 10 Police Department employees before the board approved them conform with city regulations.

The board voted 4-2 at its Aug. 12 meeting to reject a motion to authorize the city’s Civil Service Board to investigate whether the 10 Police Department salary adjustments are legitimate, whether those pay increases followed civil-service rules and whether aldermen received appropriate legal counsel from City Attorney Robert Golterman when he allowed aldermen to discuss and approve those raises in a July 8 closed session.

That motion was made by Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder and seconded by Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel, both of whom voted “yes.” Ward 1 Alderman Mac McGee and Ward 4 Alderman John Foote abstained.

After some aldermen questioned the authority of the Civil Service Board to investigate whether Golterman gave appropriate legal advice concerning the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law — also known as the Sunshine Law — Nieder modified his motion and requested that the Civil Service Board investigate only the 10 pay raises’ legitimacy and whether they violated civil-service rules and regulations.

That second motion was denied by a 3-2 vote with three aldermen abstaining.

While Nieder and Miguel again voted “yes,” Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland, Ward 2 Alderman Michael Kelsch and board President Chris Pickel of Ward 2 voted “no.” Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby, McGee and Foote abstained.

Immediately after a July 8 meeting in which Miguel questioned pay raises given in May and June to 15 police officers without board approval, aldermen voted in closed session to accept those raises. The Board of Aldermen voted 5-2 during the July 8 closed session “to approve the salary and pay adjustments previously implemented within the Police Department as part of the restructuring plan.”

Ten police officers received salary increases collectively totaling $12,732 on May 15 — two days after Police Chief Michael Paillou made a presentation to the Board of Aldermen during a May 13 closed session. Paillou’s presentation involved a restructuring of the Police Department that included promotions and pay raises to be utilized through funds saved from the midyear retirement of former Capt. Rick Downs and two resignations. Additionally, five officers received salary increases through promotions collectively totaling $23,303 on June 1.

While Nieder noted that the five promotions were permitted to be discussed in closed session under the Sunshine Law, he questioned why the 10 other pay increases were.

“The Sunshine Law has a very clear definition of what can be discussed in closed session — hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting a particular employee when personal information is discussed or recorded,” he said. “Contained within the statute is an explicit definition of personal information. Personal information means information relating to the performance or merit of individual employees. The 10 salary adjustments were not promotions. As stated by the police chief, they were salary adjustments. The potential to discuss personal information as it is defined in the statute did not exist … Those adjustments had absolutely no relation to performance or merit. The police chief had indicated at a regular BOA meeting on July 8 that the purpose of the salary adjustments was to correct mistakes. These salary adjustments were about numbers only.

“And even though specific employees’ names would be revealed in discussion of adjustments, the names alone do not meet the statutory definition of personal information. It is indisputable that the issue of the 10 salary adjustments did not meet the requirements of state statute 610.021.”

Additionally, Nieder believes the 10 midyear pay in-creases violated civil-service rules and regulations.

“There are only four conditions under which a salary change may be implemented after the initial hiring — demotion, promotion, annual merit review or emergency appointments,” Nieder said. “Attached to your documentation I gave you is Chapter 3, Section 9 explaining that.

“The city attorney knew on July 8 before the closed session that the 10 (pay raises) were not demotions, promotions, annual reviews or emergency appointments. When asked directly how these adjustments could have been made when there is no provision in the pay plan for midyear salary increases, the city attorney indicated that he needed to discuss the situation with the police chief before he could provide an answer. The board adjourned to a closed session where a motion was made to approve the 10 previously implemented salary increases.

“… Please remember that as I make this motion, we’re not trying to be judge and jury. We’re not trying to find fault with anyone. We’re trying to make sure that this Board of Aldermen is upholding the laws that we are sworn to.”

While Mayor Roy Robinson disputed that the Civil Service Board has the authority to make investigations, Nieder cited Section 8 of the civil-service code, which states: “The Civil Service Board shall have the power and be required to advise the Board of Aldermen and personnel director on the problems concerning personnel administration … They may make any investigation. Again, make any investigation which it may deem desirable concerning the administration of personnel …”

Robinson said he believes the city received proper legal advice from Golterman and challenged anyone who disagrees to “file suit.”

“Anybody that doesn’t agree that this city attorney is giving appropriate … whether it be news media or a citizen, you have the bar association you can go to and you have your own attorneys,” he said. “You can file suit or get a judge to determine whether or not this attorney is providing us appropriate legal opinions. And you’d better remember this. It’s an opinion … Every lawyer has an opinion. So you think that you heard one lawyer or somebody say ‘I think it’s this way’ and then you hear another lawyer say it their way, you’ll find out that this attorney representing the city is probably telling us the proper opinion. So I’m satisfied with the city attorney’s opinion on the Sunshine Law.”

“May I make a comment?” Civil Service Board member Martha Duchild asked from the audience.

“No, you can’t,” Robinson said.

“Excuse me?” Duchild said.

“This is not a public hearing,” Robinson said.

“I have a comment that’s germane to the conversation …,” Duchild said.

“I’m not taking conversations at this moment,” Robinson said. “So what I’m saying is that is really going to the limit …”

“It’s the kingdom of Roy,” resident James W. Murphy interjected from the audience.

“… When you’re talking about having somebody else to determine whether the city attorney’s making the appropriate decisions or not,” Robinson continued.

“Well, mayor, I looked at this law and I went through a sequence here and I think it’s pretty obvious that something went wrong here,” Nieder said. “And that’s my opinion. And I think that’s an opinion that’s shared by quite a few others. But that’s another story.”