Third Grantwood Village trustee named

Village attorney, prosecutor named by Board of Trustees.

By EVAN YOUNG

Grantwood Village trustees moved quickly last week to obtain both a quorum and legal counsel for their board, appointing a third trustee, village attorney and prosecutor.

Trustees Cathy Forand and Nancy Humes on May 25 selected former Crestwood Mayor Robert Bess as a trustee; Cunningham, Vogel & Rost’s Emily Kelly as village attorney; and Glendale Mayor Richard Ma-gee as prosecutor.

The appointments came one week after the three other trustees on the five-member board tendered their resignations.

Chairman Robert Prebil, Street and Building Commissioner Michael Boone and Police Commissioner Glenn Biffignani announced their resignations during the board’s May 18 meeting, citing ongoing tension among the trustees. Village Attorney and Prosecutor Jeffrey Duke also submitted his resignation that evening.

The trustees’ departure left the board short the three-member quorum needed, per state law, to conduct village business.

Among the unfinished items on the board’s agenda: the adoption of next fiscal year’s village budget, which must be done by July 1. Trustees tabled approval of the budget May 18 shortly before Prebil, Boone and Biffignani resigned.

All vacancies on boards of trustees are filled by the remaining board members, and those trustees also must select one of their own as temporary chairman if that seat is one that’s vacant, according to state law. Humes nominated and voted to name Forand temporary chairman last week.

Forand said the board would accept applications until Sunday, June 13, from village residents who want to fill the remaining two trustee seats. Those seats, along with Bess’ seat, will be up for election in April 2011. Trustees are paid $400 per month, or roughly $369 after taxes.

The chairman earns $450 per month, or roughly $415 after taxes.

Bess previously served on the Crestwood Board of Aldermen for more than a decade and was the city’s mayor from 1970 to 1972.

As alderman, he served as a health inspector and on the park board. He also was the aldermanic head of the public works division, where he worked with the city engineer to conduct electrical inspections.

Bess and his wife have lived in Grant-wood Village for about 15 years, he said. Bess is retired.

“He’s somebody who I feel speaks with the residents and has a good rapport with the residents. That’s huge,” Humes said. “I think we can get a lot accomplished with him.”

Bess said he received word of the three trustees’ resignations and called Humes a few days later to offer his help.

“I thought I’d give my advice or something like that — and I wind up here tonight sworn into the council,” he quipped after last week’s meeting. “Which I’m excited about. I think it’s a real honor to be taken in like that by the community. They were left in a lurch.”

Kelly is a senior associate at Cunningham, Vogel & Rost, a law firm that was formed to provide legal services specifically for municipalities.

She previously has served as an assistant attorney general in the Missouri Attorney General’s office, as the city attorney for St. Paul and as the assistant city attorney for Ste. Genevieve. Kelly will serve Grantwood Village on a month-to-month basis until a permanent attorney is hired, which Forand said would happen once the two remaining board seats are filled.

The village will pay Kelly $150 an hour for the first four hours of services and from $135 to $275 an hour after that, depending on the amount of legal expertise needed. She will not be paid a monthly retainer. Duke was paid a $750 monthly retainer and charged $175 an hour for professional services under his last contract with the village, which was set to expire at the end of June.

Magee served as alderman in Glendale from 1996 until 2005, when he was elected mayor. He is the vice president of the St. Louis County Municipal League and an active member of the Missouri Municipal League. Magee is a partner at the McAuliffe and Magee Law Firm and has practiced law for more than 25 years.

He also will serve Grantwood Village on a month-to-month basis and will be paid $175 an hour.

Forand and Humes called the May 25 special open board meeting after canceling a closed session they’d scheduled the day before to discuss Bess’ qualifications. The trustees cited an exemption to the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law — the Sunshine Law — that allows public governmental bodies to conduct closed meetings to discuss records of employees or applicants for employment.

But the law doesn’t consider elected officials employees. The Call contacted For-and about the board’s use of the exemption, and she verified with the Missouri Attorney General’s office that the trustees could not conduct a closed meeting to discuss a prospective board appointee.

Humes said at the May 25 meeting the board previously has held closed “employee meetings” because it was unaware of the distinction between employees and elected officials.

“We’re not opposed to having an open meeting by a long shot,” she said. “We thought we were required to have a closed meeting because it was about employees. We didn’t know, quite frankly.”

After canceling the May 24 closed session, Forand told the Call the board tentatively planned to call its next meeting June 1 to appoint a third trustee in order to provide enough notice to village residents.

Roughly two dozen residents attended last week’s meeting, and one questioned why it was called so quickly.

“The longer we wait, the longer it’s going to take,” Forand replied. “There’s a lot of things we have to get done in June.”