Sunset Hills Mayor Bill Nolan’s vacant seat on the Board of Aldermen remains open as board members last week did not approve the former Ward 1 alderman’s replacement.
The board voted 6-1 at a special meeting May 11 to deny the appointment of Denetra “Dee” Baebler as a Ward 1 alderman. Stephen Webb of Ward 3 cast the only affirmative vote.
Nolan, who was elected mayor April 6, announced Baebler as his aldermanic replacement in an e-mail to board members last Tuesday afternoon.
He said the vote against Baebler’s appointment later that evening was a deliberate move to derail one of his first actions in office.
“I’m under the impression that Dee Baebler had nothing to do with the issue,” Nolan told the Call. “Quite obviously, the only reason they’re doing this is to embarrass me and to try and embarrass my efforts to run the city. They’re showing me how powerful they are.”
Baebler’s resume includes a variety of professional, fundraising and volunteer positions. She previously has not held public office.
Baebler lives with her husband on Caddyshack Circle in the Tapawingo subdivision. They have five children.
“It’s part of my effort to bring some new blood to this city,” Nolan said of choosing Baebler. “I want an alderman from the south end (of Ward 1), and it’s not going to be somebody they know.”
When an elective office becomes vacant, Missouri law states a successor “shall be selected by appointment by the mayor with the advice and consent of a majority of the remaining members of the board of aldermen.”
Aldermen who turned down Nolan’s appointee said their votes were not against Baebler herself. They contend the mayor didn’t give them enough notice of his appointment and said they wanted to be more involved in the selection of his replacement.
“I really don’t know anything about her. We didn’t have any information on even who it was until mid-afternoon on Tuesday,” said Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann, adding that she didn’t initially see Nolan’s e-mail and first learned who his appointee was upon arriving at the special meeting.
Ward 4 Alderman Patricia Fribis said she wanted to know where Baebler stood on such issues as eminent domain and tax-increment financing before she could make a decision.
“I think Mayor Nolan did her an injustice in doing it in such short notice,” Fribis said. “There was no reason in the world he couldn’t have given us a week or so to call her up and see if she wanted to meet for coffee or talk to her over the phone. I’m sure she’s a nice person, but with such short notice it seems like something was hurried through here.”
Ward 1 Alderman Frank Hardy said he wanted to work with Nolan to compile a list of Ward 1 residents who could fill the board seat, narrow that group down and then give other aldermen an opportunity to meet with the remaining candidates informally before the mayor chose an appointee.
“It goes back to the issue of being comfortable with your vote when you cast it for a person,” Hardy said. “It’s simply an election on a smaller scale. That’s all.”
But Nolan believes the board has “no right to pre-question” his appointment.
“They can deny it, which is what they did, but they have no right to pre-question the person that the mayor selects,” he said.
Aldermen last considered a mayoral appointment to the board two years ago, when newly elected Mayor Mike Svoboda tapped Fribis to fill his vacant Ward 4 seat. Her appointment was approved unanimously during a special meeting in May 2008.
“What he (Svoboda) proposed we do is meet over at O’Leary’s (Restaurant & Bar),” Fribis told the Call of her pre-appointment meeting with the board. “All the current aldermen and himself then met me. We talked for a couple of hours. They asked me any question they wanted to. It was a very comfortable situation.”
Hardy said, “We spent an hour or two just talking and finding out about each other. There were a number of aldermen there, and it was done all at the same time. People obviously walked away feeling comfortable with their votes for her because she got confirmed.”
The Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law, requires public governmental bodies to provide notice of any meeting at which any public business — “all matters which relate in any way to the performance of the public governmental body’s functions or the conduct of its business” — is decided or discussed.
The law excludes “informal” meetings for “social purposes,” which Hardy said is what the board did with Fribis two years ago and what it would like to do for Nolan’s appointment.
“As long as there’s no votes taken, you can meet socially,” Hardy said. “We were just meeting someone in another part of the city … We didn’t take any votes. It was simply a social gathering … no different than me meeting a neighbor.”
But Nolan believes an informal gathering between aldermen and a potential board appointee is inappropriate.
“First off, that’s a blatant violation of the Sunshine Law,” he said. “You can’t have five or more aldermen come to a meeting with a potential appointee. You can’t have that meeting. But because he (Svoboda) did it, the board is insisting that I must do it.”
Nolan said aldermen were free to ask Baebler questions during last Tuesday’s special board meeting.
“If someone had said: ‘Can Mrs. Baebler come up? We’d like to ask some questions of her.’ Certainly, that could be done,” he said. “And it should properly be done then, there. Not in a bar somewhere violating the Sunshine Law.”
The mayor said he planned to resubmit Baebler for the aldermanic seat and would call a special Board of Aldermen meeting before the regular session scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 8.
Note: Updated to correct the Baeblers’ number of children; the original story contained an incorrect number due to incomplete information provided by the mayor.