Sunset Hills board hires legal counsel for advice on impeachment

Mayor’s supporters turn out in force at raucous meeting

By Gloria Lloyd

At a raucous free-for-all of a special Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night, supporters of Mayor Mark Furrer came out in force, but the board took steps toward removing him from office by selecting outside legal counsel for advice on impeachment.

After emerging from a two-hour closed session where aldermen and Furrer heard from two law firms seeking to give aldermen legal advice on impeaching the mayor, Furrer adjourned the meeting in open session and then declined to tell the Call anything about the closed session, including whether any votes were taken to hire outside legal counsel to impeach him.

Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler confirmed that aldermen voted to select one of the two law firms that presented as their outside counsel and will vote whether to approve that firm at the next board meeting Nov. 11.

The outside attorney would decide whether Furrer’s actions fit the legal criteria for impeachment, instead of City Attorney Robert E. Jones.

Jones told the Call he served as the secretary for the closed session and will release the vote count after preparing the minutes.

Although Furrer faces two felony charges for allegedly hitting a Fenton bicyclist and knocking him off Old Gravois Road on July 29, Baebler told the Call that the aldermen are looking to impeach him less for the criminal charges than for a series of other events that have happened since Furrer took office as a write-in candidate in April.

Among the allegations are that Furrer asked Police Chief William LaGrand to first resign, then work night shifts instead of day shifts, that Furrer wanted to dissolve the Police Department entirely and that Furrer and Jones reclassified New Balance’s business license without consulting with aldermen or the Finance Committee, among other issues.

Furrer has declined to discuss the resignation allegation with the Call because it is a personnel issue, has said the night shifts request was a misunderstanding with LaGrand, has denied wanting to dissolve the Police Department and has said that he did what is best for the city when he met with New Balance and corrected a misclassification on its business license.

The charge against impeachment is led by Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich, the only alderman who did not approve a 6-1 vote of no confidence Oct. 14 and, that same night, dissented on the board’s first 6-1 vote toward hiring the outside attorney.

Ward 3 Aldermen Kurt Krueger was absent for those votes, but joined with every aldermen except Musich to write a letter to Furrer asking him to resign. Krueger also voted with the majority of aldermen not to table the impeachment discussion to a later meeting, a motion made by Musich and seconded by acting board President Scott Haggerty. The motion was voted down 6-2, with Musich and Ward 4 Alderman Donna Ernst voting for it.

Haggerty said he wanted a roll-call vote to put the vote on the record.

Pressed by Musich to publicly say why aldermen want to impeach Furrer, Haggerty said, “I believe that’s something we’ll discuss in the closed meeting.”

When the board addresses actually impeaching Furrer, aldermen will discuss it and their reasons in an open session, but first, aldermen are seeking the advice of outside legal counsel to confirm if there is cause for impeachment, Baebler said.

“We’re looking for the advice of legal counsel — all we’re looking for tonight is advice,” Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau said.

However, Musich replied that his fellow aldermen’s actions would be like walking into a gun store, buying a shotgun and then saying they’re not going hunting.

“That’s a very poor analogy, Tom,” Gau replied.

The agenda of the special board meeting stated that aldermen would immediately go into closed session to interview two potential law firms to hire as outside counsel for advice on impeaching Furrer, then return and vote on an ordinance that adds a process for impeachment to the city’s code and on hiring the outside counsel. But aldermen delayed those votes until their next regular meeting.

Instead of immediately adjourning to closed session once the meeting began, however, the mayor took roughly 90 minutes of public comments, mostly sympathetic to him and against aldermen’s plans to impeach him.

One of the speakers in favor of Furrer was Musich’s wife, Dawn, who said she is a nurse and has to learn how to deal with physicians of all kinds of different personalities every day, and the board should learn to do the same with the mayor.

“I support you, Mayor Furrer,” Dawn Musich said, before telling the board, “You people need to get a grip and learn how to deal with each other. Move on. This is embarrassing … I’m just really saddened with what’s going on right now.”

Furrer’s supporters called out questions from the audience, asked aldermen to resign instead of Furrer and repeatedly asked Jones about specifics on the legal process for impeachment. Jones then twice told Furrer he did not believe it was appropriate for himself, as the city attorney, to be fielding questions from the audience. Furrer also had Jones read the entire three-page ordinance outlining a process for impeachment aloud.

After Furrer asked if any attorneys were present and began inquiring about their hourly legal costs, Ernst made a motion to close the meeting and go to closed session. Aldermen agreed 8-0.