Six vie for three seats on Grantwood Village board

Bob Bess

Bob Bess

By Kari Williams

Three incumbents and three newcomers are seeking three seats on the Grantwood Village Board of Trustees in the Tuesday, April 2, election.

Chairman Mark Kienstra, Treasurer Kevin Kelso and Building Commissioner Bob Bess are being challenged by Steve Kohlberg, Doug McCormick and Terry Humes in next week’s election.

The candidates gave the following responses when asked what they believe is the most important issue in the race:

Kienstra said, “The most important issue is that I continue to provide the organizational and financial leadership to our long-range plan of building financial reserves and improving services to the residents. Grantwood Village finished the month of January with a record $338,000 of cash on hand, and our village has no long-term debt. My financial leadership this year as chairman to build our reserves included: the new reduced-cost contract with St. Louis County Police in May 2012 and the successive five-year/$500,000 reduced-cost renewal contract negotiated February 2013; proposals to eliminate unnecessary spending by the two newest trustees; securing the federal grant to improve the safety of Grant Road; improving the specifications for and methods to maintain 100 percent of our concrete and asphalt streets for the next 15 years; pursuing a recurring revenue stream of additional federal grants to fund future street improvements; and eliminating trustee stipends, and redirecting this money into escrow seed money to fund Grantwood Village residents inclusion in the St. Louis County Sewer Lateral Repair Program.

“I believe that after we fund the sewer lateral repair fund, we should then permanently use the trustee stipends to fund other programs, such as street repairs. My organizational leadership included introducing and facilitating the long-term financial strategies, as well as contracting for the new website so that we can provide more information and total transparency to our residents.”

Kelso said, “Our future. I see how our new trustees handle their duties and responsibilities, and it frightens me. For 35 years, I’ve owned and operated my own business, and if I didn’t respond to client calls, or failed to provide my best service, or misrepresent myself or my fees, I would not have a successful business. Yet, this is how our newest trustees go about their duties. It’s not right.

“I strive to be a role model for my teenage son; I want him to see that hard work produces a comfortable living, that serving others and treating everyone with respect is the surest path to happiness and I want him to see that when something is not right or if someone is acting inappropriately, you stand up for your convictions and do not back down from your principles. If anyone who attends our Grantwood meetings wonders why my voice may get a little loud and my face a little red, it is purely out of frustration because I see things not being done the right way and those responsible not being held accountable. And it is simply not right, and it is not how our village operates. We deserve better, and I promise to continue being a voice and advocate for our residents.”

Bess said, “In my response two years ago, I said experience was the single most important issue, and I believe that more now than then. Our board dynamics have changed; our newest members don’t want to work with the three incumbents. I can, and love to, work with anyone who is willing to give everything they have to the cause and because it is the right thing to do, not because it is (the) popular or self-benefiting thing to do.

“Most importantly, we need someone who has been there, done that, who puts service above self and get the job done. I have worked with bi-partisan groups, charitable and civic organizations and business leaders, all in service to our community and in an effort to make our region better. We need to ensure this kind of experience remains part of the Grantwood Village Board of Trustees.”

Kohlberg said, “The most important issue to me will always be finding what serves the families of Grantwood Village best. I realize that every resident has opinions and personal beliefs that need to be considered in every decision made, no matter how big or small.”

McCormick said, “I believe the single most important issue is having a higher-functioning board where the trustees share a sense of why the board exists and are invested in the welfare of all citizens of Grantwood Village. I believe when a board is working together there will be greater efficiency, productivity and success for the village.”

Humes said, “The creation of a set of processes governing the proper allocation and preservation of Grantwood Village assets.”

Kienstra, 56, 7365 Navarre Circle, previously served as a Grantwood Village treasurer. He has a bachelor of arts degree in economics and business administration. Kienstra and his wife, Kathleen, have three children. The current village chairman said he is seeking office to serve his neighbors and community “by continuing our successful long-range plan to build financial reserves; continuing our successful long-range plan to build our streets; continuing our support of Grant’s Farm and the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (National Park Service) and supporting Grantwood Village residents joining the St. Louis County sewer lateral repair program.”

Kelso, 57, 8800 Julia Dent Drive, has not held political office before his current trustee duties. He attended St. Louis University. Kelso and his wife, Mickey, have three children. The current village treasurer said he is seeking office “most importantly, to serve my neighbors and my community. Honestly, I’m very concerned for the future of our village. I vow to continue my efforts to ensure every trustee is held accountable and that village business is done professionally, expediently and with the residents’ best interest at heart and not individual trustees.”

Kohlberg, 39, 1 Grantwood Lane, has not previously held political office. He is a pipefitter and instructor with Steamfitters Local 439. Kohlberg and his wife, Jenny, have two children. He is seeking office “to be an objective representative for your opinions and concerns. I am honored to be part of this election process and see this as an opportunity to bring a positive influence to local politics.”

Bess, 83, 7300 Whitehaven Drive, served as Crestwood mayor from 1970 to 1972 and as a Crestwood alderman. Bess, who is retired, has four adult daughters. He is seeking re-election “to serve (his) community. Being on any board, especially as an elected official isn’t about title or position. It is about service and using your experiences and success to improve your community.”

McCormick, 50, 9034 Fernald Drive, has not previously held public office. He is a lead software developer for a Fortune 500 company. McCormick and his wife, Laurie, have one child. McCormick is seeking office because he believes “the citizens of Grantwood Village have the right to be represented by a transparent, open board of trustees.”

Humes, 55, 2 Missionary Ridge, has not previously held elective office. Humes received a Bachelor of Arts in business administration from Westminster College. He is in engineered sales for Bates Sales Company. He and his wife, Nancy, have two children.

The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

Other positions you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Kienstra said, “It is essential that residents elect three trustees who have the highest integrity and who are dedicated to volunteer their time to serve as trustees and who are committed to make Grantwood Village their top volunteer priority. The two best examples, Treasurer Kevin Kelso and Building Commissioner Bob Bess, are available 24/7/365, whenever needed. Trustee Bess, who is a founding member of BackStoppers and a former mayor of the City of Crestwood, drives the village several times each day, is always available to meet with residents and provides remarkably fast response to resident inquiries. Trustee Kelso owns a premier concrete company in St. Louis County and generously volunteered his time last fall to manage our 2012 Concrete Streets program. Trustees Kelso and Bess also proposed permanently eliminating the monthly trustee stipend and using those funds to seed the sewer lateral repair program.

“In contrast, the two newest trustees strongly opposed giving up their trustee stipends. The newest voted to keep their stipends and thereby line their own pockets with village money, even though doing so would mean that there would be less money available to seed the sewer lateral repair program. Residents will need to choose this April between reelecting proven volunteers who support the village and electing new trustees who are running for office to enhance their personal income with village funds. My position is that the village is best served by re-electing the three volunteers (Kelso and Bess) whose leadership has built our reserves, paved our streets and improved our services.

Kelso said, “Infrastructure and communication. Road work and maintenance, for every city, is always an issue. Because we do not have a public works department or employees, it is vital to have trustees with construction, and especially pavement, experience. I’m in the concrete business. My experience can help this village not just repair its roads, but plan for the future and implement better strategies to ensure our roads have optimal longevity and we receive the best result with our investment.

“On the other end of the spectrum is communications. When I first joined the board, communication was valued, not just amongst the board members, but also with the residents. If a resident calls or emails me, I respond as soon as possible, usually within the same day. The same cannot be said for our newest trustees. I’m available during the day, evenings and weekends and I give my cell phone number freely. We also used to provide a very detailed quarterly newsletter to our residents, but currently our newsletters are infrequent, late and short on information. While this does not fall under my duties as treasurer, I want us to get back to how things were — with better communication and a greater emphasis on public service.

Kohlberg said, “I want to keep property values as high as possible by finding a balance between homeowners’ rights and how it affects our community. Many of our ordinances are outdated or contradicting, and I want to empower village committees to weigh in their thoughts in these instances.

“We are one village that is comprised of two subdivisions that have little interaction. I would like to increase the community feeling and look toward a stronger, unified future. I feel that by working together our families will benefit from the village’s full potential.”

Bess said, “Accountability, responsibility and communication. Any time there is a change or a new person filling a role, there needs to be a time of transition. Our board has been in transition for nearly a year, and that is far too long. And it’s unacceptable. The everyday things are falling through the cracks; villager emails and phone calls go unanswered, our quarterly newsletters have been cut in half in size and mailed half as frequently, our website goes months without updating and regularly assigned tasks go unfulfilled.

“Unfortunately, those responsible for the above are not on the ballot, but many times in the past few months, I’ve called for action and answers and have tried to bring these problems to light. I know what needs to be done to make Grantwood run, and I promise to do whatever I can to fix these problems and demand those responsible are held accountable and kept honest.”

McCormick said, “I will work to maintain and enhance the property values and infrastructure of the village. I will work toward improving communication between the citizens and the board of trustees.”

Humes said, “Demonstrate the benefits of a transparent best-practices approach when addressing any concerns and daily functions of Grantwood Village.”

What is your position on Proposition S?

Kienstra said, “I completely support Proposition S. Residents of unincorporated St. Louis County and residents of the significant municipalities in St. Louis County participate in a sewer-lateral repair program. This is essentially an insurance program, similar to insurance for homes and automobiles. It provides for immediate repair of sanitary sewer repair issues with very little cost to the homeowner and there is no financial cap for the repair. As we have proposed it, this program will be completely administered by St. Louis County. Residents of Grantwood Village currently must completely pay for all sewer lateral repairs out-of-pocket. This will relieve the residents of the financial burden of the sewer lateral repair.

“The reason we have not previously had a sewer lateral repair program is that there was no seed money to start the program. Trustees Kienstra, Kelso and Bess voted to give our trustee stipends to an escrow account to use as seed money for the sewer-lateral insurance program so that every resident of Grantwood Village can participate in the program. I strongly support Proposition S, and I vigorously oppose candidates who would pay themselves instead of improving the village.”

Kelso said, “I fully support it. Many municipalities, including St. Louis County, offer various forms of lateral sewer insurance. By taking the money used to pay trustees and creating a starter fund for the program, we can ensure each resident who meets the requirements for a repair receives the proper funds without bankrupting our general funds. Previously, without the seed money, instituting a lateral sewer program meant we could not guarantee the money raised solely by the yearly fee would cover all the claims, and with any new program we expected first or second year claims to be abnormally high, essentially leaving our general funds wide open to unexpected and unknown expenses. Any trustee or candidate who does not support this based on the fact it ends the $400 a month stipend to trustees isn’t someone you want in an elected official position.”

Kohlberg said, “I believe we have some details to work out on Prop S, but, overall, I support a sewer lateral insurance program.”

Bess said, “I fully support Prop S. This is a wonderful opportunity for Grantwood residents. Several years ago, this idea was floated around, but due to several concerns — average cost of each repair exceeding the county average, running out of funds and being unable to repair a resident’s line even though they paid their fee, draining our general revenues to cover the fund, et cetera — we felt it was too financially risky. This changed when Trustee Kevin Kelso suggested seeding the fund using the trustee stipend, essentially creating the fund without an additional cost or service cut to residents.

McCormick said, “I agree with a sewer-lateral program in principle, but only if it is administered by St. Louis County.”

Humes said, “I am open-minded to Proposition S as well as the needs and wishes of the residents of Grantwood Village. Our community and our residents need the benefits of St. Louis County functioning as the designated unbiased administrator of our sewer-lateral program should the residents vote to approve such program. As written, Proposition S does not designate St. Louis County to be the administrator. As written, the financial impact to the Grantwood Village assets are unknown.”