Two separate probes now under way on use of Crestwood resources in Aug. 5 vote

Mayor Robinson asks Miguel if he’s serving as Ford’s spokesman

By BURKE WASSON

As Crestwood aldermen indicated Aug. 12 that they are not willing to investigate whether city resources were improperly used to promote a now-failed tax increase in the Aug. 5 election, the Missouri Ethics Commission and Crestwood Civil Service Board have decided to do their own investigations.

Four residents who filed a query with the Missouri Ethics Commission to determine whether city officials and/or a citizens campaign committee acted improperly to inform voters about the ballot measure said they were recently informed that the Ethics Commission plans to conduct an investigation.

Additionally, the Civil Service Board voted 3-0 Aug. 28 to investigate whether the use of city resources to promote town-hall meetings led by the campaign committee Crestwood Residents for Prop 1 violated the city’s civil-service code.

“It is clear that the section of the civil-service rules addressing political activity, which is Chapter 2 Section 5, was violated,” Civil Service Board Chairwoman Martha Duchild said. “What needs to be answered is how this occurred because this violation had consequences to the public. Without an investigation, there is no way to determine whether employees acted on their own behalf or were merely following instructions.”

The group paid $160 to the city for the use of the Government Center and the Community Center as sites for four town-hall meetings in July. Some residents attending those town-hall meetings have said they felt misled that the meetings were not presented by city officials and instead presented by a pro-tax group. Besides publishing the meetings in the newsletter, reverse-911 telephone calls were used July 12 to inform residents of the meetings.

While City Administrator Jim Eckrich, who took over as city administrator July 14, has said it is common practice to use reverse-911 calls to advertise town-hall meetings, he has since drafted new policies restricting the use of reverse 911 and the city’s newsletter.

Besides the alleged misuse of city resources, Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel said Crestwood Residents for Prop 1 also is under investigation by the Missouri Ethics Commission for not meeting two reporting deadlines before the Aug. 5 election.

While state law stipulates that a campaign committee must be formed and filed 30 days before an election, Crestwood Residents for Prop 1 did not file an organization statement until July 15. The committee also failed to meet a state law requiring a campaign-finance report to be filed eight days before an election, Miguel said. Instead, the group filed that report Aug. 4, one day before the Aug. 5 election.

With these matters in mind, aldermen voted last week to table Mayor Roy Robin-son’s suggested appointment of Crestwood Residents for Prop 1 Treasurer Carol Wagner to the city’s Civil Service Board.

The motion to table was made by Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland and seconded by Ward 2 Alderman Michael Kelsch.

Additionally, Miguel asked the mayor to withdraw Wagner’s nomination. But Robinson refused and dismissed Miguel’s comments as “political.”

“An ethics violation, or complaint, is not a real investigation,” Robinson said. “It’s an inquiry. Based on my experience, it will be meaningless. And no, I will not withdraw that nomination because it has nothing to do with the lady who is the treasurer of that Prop thing.”

Resident Tom Ford, who filed the query with the Ethics Commission, said he is pleased that the panel has decided to investigate and that he will accept any outcome.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the correct hands and it needs to be looked into,” Ford said. “My feelings are that we want the government to be open and upfront with all the citizens. And the way to do that is have the Ethics Commission give a ruling on this. If the city is right, so be it. If they’re wrong, the only thing I want is for the city to take the correct tact from now on as well as any political-action committees that may be forming in the future.”

Robinson said at the board’s Aug. 26 meeting that if Ford is so concerned about the issue, he should have attended last week’s meeting and spoke to the board.

“I honestly believe it won’t make it out of the Ethics Commission,” Robinson said.

“I have pointed out to you two violations in black and white,” Miguel said.

“Well, those are violations in your opinion,” Robinson said. “And I see Thomas Ford — is he here? — I see he’s the one that filed the complaint. Are you the spokesman of Thomas Ford?”

“No, I’m not the spokesman for anyone except myself, your honor,” Miguel said. “There’s been a clear violation here.”

“What I’m saying is are you the spokesman for Thomas Ford?” Robinson said.

“I am the spokesman on this particular issue right here,” Miguel said. “I’m not the spokesman for anyone. I am submitting evidence to our city attorney that a complaint has been filed.”

“Did Thomas Ford give you that?” Robinson said.

“I obtained that copy from Mr. Ford when I heard that he had filed a grievance or a complaint and had confirmation that that complaint had been received and acknowledged,” Miguel said. “I asked him for a copy, and that’s what I received …

“What I am saying is that you’re nominating a person for a position here … That committee of which that person is the treasurer is under investigation.”

“I think you’ve got the word ‘investigation’ a little misleading,” Robinson said. “It’s not an investigation. It’s an Ethics Commission inquiry into whether there’s possibly a violation of ethics rules …”

“‘Please be advised that our staff will begin an investigation in the near future,'” Miguel said. “Now the word ‘investigation’ is there.”

“Well, that’s probably their term then,” Robinson said. “But it’s really an inquiry …”

“Your honor, I feel that you are trivializing the matter …,” Miguel said.

“Just a minute,” Robinson said, tapping his gavel to quiet Miguel. ” … I think what you’ve done, as I’ve appointed someone to a board, out of political reasons you are bringing this person’s name up to the public and trying to make them look bad. I think it’s really wrong for anybody to take someone to task over an inquiry into whether or not they filed their papers on time or not. It’s really unbelievable. And I think if it’s been so important, Mr. Ford, he should be here to make his statements. And I would be glad to listen to Mr. Ford discuss this with me and the board. And if he’d been here, I probably would have withdrawn this … But I think sending other people to make statements which are indeed political is wrong. And I don’t think anybody in our citizens in this community who are trying to do good for this community should be chastised or made to feel like they’re a criminal because they participate in something you don’t like.”