Schlink challenges Robinson for Crestwood mayoral post

Candidates give their positions on issues now facing the city of Crestwood.

Roy Robinson

Roy Robinson

By EVAN YOUNG

Crestwood voters will head to the polls next month to cast ballots for the city’s first contested mayoral election in six years.

Incumbent Roy Robinson will face Ward 2 Alderman Jeff Schlink in the April 5 election for the mayoral post, which carries a three-year term.

Robinson is seeking what would be his third and final consecutive term as mayor due to Crestwood’s term limits. He was elected mayor in 2005 and was re-elected unopposed in 2008.

Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the candidates responded:

• “I consider the redevelopment of the Crestwood Court property the most important issue. The city has been very dependent on sales-tax revenue and less on real-estate taxes.

“When the economic conditions improve substantially the sales-tax revenues should also be restored and the re-development will help to stabilize those revenues over the next 20 or 25 years, (and) thus will continue to help to keep our real-estate taxes one of the lowest in the entire St. Louis County,” Robinson said.

• “The most important issue facing the city is how to best plan for and fund necessary services using a revenue stream that continues to suffer the negative impact of the lack of redevelopment progress at Crestwood Court. We need to recognize that, given current economic conditions, it is unlikely that the mall property will be fully redeveloped any time in the near future, and adjust our financial planning accordingly,” Schlink said.

Robinson, 68, 9165 Cordoba Lane, is retired from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in St. Louis. He and his wife, Joan, have two grown children.

Robinson served as an alderman from 1988 to 1992. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor three times and was defeated in his bid for a Ward 3 aldermanic seat in 1996.

He said he is seeking re-election to “(c)ontinue to watch the city’s finances and make sure we stay stabilized during the nation’s economic recovery. Being the only person in our city that has experience in a major redevelopment project, I want to make sure Crestwood Court is redeveloped and our city’s interest is protected.”

Schlink, 42, is a department leader and project leader in supervisory systems and processes in the compliance division for Edward Jones Investments. He and his wife, Kim, have four children.

Schlink unsuccessfully ran for alderman in 2001, 2003 and 2004 before winning election over two opponents for an unexpired one-year term in 2009. He was elected unopposed to a full three-year term in 2010.

He said he is seeking the mayoral post because “I want to offer Crestwood residents and business owners a fresh approach to leadership in Crestwood. Our city needs direction, planning and credibility. As mayor, I would support administering city finances based on tested business methods used in goal-oriented financial planning rather than continue the current practice of making financial decisions in a vacuum, with little consideration for the long term.”

The two candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

The Board of Aldermen in 2002 voted to tape record closed sessions of the board involving litigation and real estate matters. Do you support such taping?

Robinson said, “I have no problem with the taping of closed sessions. I believe sometimes it hinders the debating process because some individuals are afraid to express their true feelings about a particular subject because they know they are being recorded.”

Schlink said, “I support taping closed sessions of the Board of Aldermen so that there is an accurate and objective record of how aldermen voted, and of what was said and done.

“Having said this, I also believe the city should strictly adhere to the stipulations set out in the Sunshine Law so that closed sessions are limited to only what is legally allowed, not what is politically convenient.”

What is your position on the use if tax-increment financing — TIF — and other tax tools?

Robinson said, “I believe the tax-increment financing —TIF — has not always been used as originally intended and we all have heard of some misuse of these economic tools. There were instances in the past when the developer was the only one to benefit in the use of these economic tools. In the city of Crestwood there will be a need for the use of these tools if we are to revive the business community by redeveloping the Crestwood Court property. The location of the property, which is not directly on an interstate roadway, sometimes lessens the desirability of some retailers, and incentives can change some of those perceptions.

“Without the use of these tools, it is my belief the redevelopment of Crestwood Court will not happen and those who say it can happen without those tools are sadly misguided.”

Schlink said, “In principle, I am opposed to the use of tax tools for retail development. But these tools have become so entrenched in the political and commercial sectors, it is nearly impossible to apply a principled view. Therefore, to be practical, it is best to find ways to manage these tools. Part of the problem with existing TIF developments is that cities exerted little to no financial control over the developments, and the results speak for themselves — an excess of retail development with little to no job growth and heavier financial burdens on property owners and school districts.

“There is no doubt the Crestwood Court property owners will be asking for TIF and other tax tools, and I would only support their use if there is a benefit to residents, existing businesses and the school district and if the developers meet the conditions the city requires as a means of managing the development.”

Do you agree with the direction the city is moving?

Robinson said, “I believe our city is going in the right direction. When I was elected in 2005, the city was nearly bankrupt and we had nearly $28 million in long- and short- term debt. Our city buildings were being used as collateral, aldermen were talking about trying to sell our parks, continuing to build a police facility which was not needed, attempting to move our city offices and functions to Crestwood mall at a cost of $600,000 each way and empty retail buildings in all of the smaller shopping areas.

“Today our finances are in order, we have reserves even if they are small and our city will be debt free by the end of 2012. Many of those empty buildings now are filled with businesses such as: Shop ‘n Save, Ace Hardware, Monkey Joe’s, Friar Tuck, King Edward Chicken and this was accomplished during the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.”

Schlink said, “I’ll use a car analogy: The position of mayor is like the position of the driver in a car. Our current mayor is retired with a second home. His focus is on enjoying his retirement, as it should be. His experience with the city began as an alderman many years ago, so his view of the city is colored by a term that was served when the city, its financial position and the way it conducted business were considerably different from the conditions today. He is a driver looking in the rearview mirror, ill-prepared for what lies ahead of him.

“On the other hand, I have been dealing with the financial reality of a declining mall since the day I was elected, under conditions that were the same then as they are now. I have a young family, and like many Crestwood residents, my concerns are about safety and finances. Finding the most effective way to manage my finances is relevant to my role as an alderman voting on issues affecting the financial health of the city. I am the driver who is looking out the front windshield, ready to navigate the traffic ahead.”

Do you support the performance of City Administrator Jim Eckrich?

Robinson said, “I fully support City Administrator Jim Eckrich. Jim has performed his duties in an outstanding manner and has kept the mayor and Board of Aldermen informed on the financial and operational aspects of the city.”

Schlink said, “I do not agree with every decision by Mr. Eckrich, but I believe that overall he is doing well. What we don’t know about Mr. Eckrich’s recommendations is how much they are influenced by Mayor Robinson. Mayor Robinson has demonstrated in the Board of Aldermen meetings that he will at times stop at very little to influence voting.”

Do you support the performance of City Attorney Rob Golterman?

Robinson said, “Rob has provided excellent legal advice to this mayor and Board of Alderman members which has helped to save legal expense funds for the city. At the time I was elected, he was very instrumental resolving and eliminating lawsuits which were costing the city approximately $900,000 per year. Today we have no lawsuits and the only legal expense is Rob’s salary.”

Schlink said, “I do not agree with every decision by Mr. Golterman, but I believe that overall he is doing well. What we don’t know about Mr. Golterman’s recommendations is how much they are influenced by Mayor Robinson. Mayor Robinson has demonstrated in the Board of Aldermen meetings that he will at times stop at very little to influence an opinion.”

What would you do to increase citizen participation in city affairs?

Robinson said, “I would continue to encourage all interested residents to volunteer for appointments to the many advisory boards and commissions in our city. Also, citizens should come to Board of Aldermen meetings, so they are better informed as to what is going on in their city.”

Schlink said, “First and foremost, be civil and respectful to all citizens. Second, suggest improvements to the city newsletter so that summaries of BOA meetings are published, including any actions taken, and frequent use of charts and graphs to illustrate city’s financial condition. The newsletter should also include information on how board decisions directly affect residents so that they understand what role they can play in shaping policies.

“I would also suggest ways to improve the effectiveness of citizen boards so that we can get the most out of the wonderful citizen volunteers who make up these boards. I would leverage the expertise of residents where possible, especially on divisive issues being considered by the board.

“Last, I would reach out to schools and Scouting groups to use the aldermanic chambers for mock legislative sessions, so our younger residents could learn about the legislative process in a fun, hands-on way.”

What are your thoughts about the use of eminent domain for redevelopment projects? Can you cite any examples of the city’s misuse of eminent domain?

Robinson said, “I believe eminent domain should never be used to take private property for the benefit of a developer, but I am aware that it is a necessary tool to use for the benefit of the whole community and only then when the owner of the property is paid at least market value. I am not aware of the city of Crestwood at any time misusing eminent domain.”

Schlink said, “I would not consider the use of eminent domain if the primary beneficiary was the developer.

“The proposed redevelopment agreement with Pulaski Bank regarding the Sappington Square development contained an eminent domain clause. I asked for the clause to be removed.”

In August 2008, 72 percent of Crestwood voters rejected the proposed six-year, 35-cent tax-rate increase Proposition 1. How did you vote on Prop 1?

Robinson said, “I supported Proposition 1 because the Board of Aldermen believed it was needed but I don’t think the residents were convinced or informed on what the tax was going to be used for and they rejected it.”

Schlink said, “I voted to reject the proposed tax-rate increase. The tax amount was excessive, the money was not dedicated to a specific purpose and the city was already collecting funds from Proposition S.”

Centrum Properties and Angelo, Gordon & Co. purchased the Crestwood mall in March 2008 from the Westfield Group. Do you support the performance of Crestwood Court’s new owners since purchasing the mall?

Robinson said, “The new owners of Crestwood Court have been good partners with the city of Crestwood. They have kept the mall clean and respectful while waiting for the redevelopment to start.

“They have worked with the businesses that are still in the mall and have tried to keep it looking busy by bringing in activities and foot traffic into the mall. ArtSpace was another excellent use of empty stores and has brought people in the region into our community, which has gained both national and international recognition.”

Schlink said, “In light of the downturn in the economy, I believe the mall owners are making a sincere effort to keep the mall viable while they wait for the economy and retail development to improve.

“Any negative perception of their performance has been exacerbated by Mayor Robinson’s repeated — and unfounded — statements that redevelopment is just around the corner. Unfortunately, this type of careless remark only succeeds in creating false expectations for the residents of Crestwood. On May 11, 2010, Centrum told the Board of Aldermen, through Jones Lang LaSalle, that it hoped to begin redevelopment within two to three years.”

City staff has recommended eliminating the city’s animal-control program. Do you agree with this recommendation?

Robinson said, “I did not agree with eliminating the animal-control program. This was one of several ways the staff recommended to save moneys but the savings was minimal and the program was of greater benefit and value to the whole community. Some say the county provides the same service but using the county only would be the same as having no animal control and our community is recognized as being more animal friendly than most communities and we live next to Grant’s Farm where many wild animals do not stay within the fenced area.”

Schlink said, “Under the current conditions, the animalcontrol service represents a drain on the parks budget and would need an infusion of additional funds to operate as it should. I applaud the efforts of the volunteers who have sought donations, but donations alone cannot sustain the program.

“I’m a dog owner, but I also have a young family who enjoys the use of Crestwood’s parks and aquatic center. The parks budget is limited and difficult choices must be made. The aquatic center debt will be paid off soon and we need to ensure that there are adequate funds to maintain the pool and keep our parks in good condition.”

What is your ‘vision’ for the city of Crestwood?

Robinson said, “My vision for the city of Crestwood is to see our business community revitalized with the redevelopment of Crestwood Court and a stabilization of finances for the city over the next 20 to 25 years, which would enable our real-estate taxes to remain low over that period of time.”

Schlink said, “To have the best-managed city in the area. This will allow Crestwood to weather any financial storm so that residents in the community would be able to receive the best services for their tax dollars and to enjoy one of the lowest property-tax rates in the county.”

Do you believe the Board of Aldermen should consider placing a tax-rate increase before voters?

Robinson said, “I would not encourage the Board of Aldermen to put any tax increase before the voters at this time.”

Schlink said, “These are the conditions under which I would consider placing a tax increase before the voters: There is a dedicated purpose for the tax; the amount levied is consistent with the need for which it is being levied; all efforts to adjust our long-term financial plan and reduce expenses have been exhausted; and preference is given to tax proposals of limited duration. I would also provide voters with clear, objective information on the proposed tax through the use of town-hall meetings.”

Do you agree with the board’s decision to collect Proposition S tax revenue through 2011?

Robinson said, “Yes.”

Schlink said, “I voted in favor of collecting the Prop S tax until 2011 instead of 2012. The income from this tax was to be used to pay off a bank note and it was placed before the voters with the understanding — in the form of a resolution from the Board of Aldermen — that it would sunset when the note was paid off.”