Former mayor sues city of Ellisville, residents over recall election
By: Sarah Wilson
Matt Pirrello, councilmember and former mayor of Ellisville, is suing five residents after they filed a petition to recall him and four other councilmembers from office.
The residents’ recall efforts arose after the City Council voted to install a Walmart that would require tax increment financing and force residents out of their homes, which many residents say was against the majority of resident’s wishes citywide.
Pirrello on Aug. 27 served District 1 residents Julia Dolan, Vincent McGrath, Mary Ann Dust, Sandra McGrath and Patti Murphy, all of whom are part of the Article 9 Alliance, a group of Ellisville citizens against the Walmart TIF project. The defendants also include the city of Ellisville and the Missouri attorney general because the constitutionality of Article 9 of the city charter is at issue in the case.
“The recall of plaintiff Pirrello by the defendant petitioners is illegal because the recall petition blank, which is consistent with Article 9 of the charter, does not provide for or permit the specification of cause for removal of Ellisville’s elected officials,” the declaratory judgment said. “Under Article 9, any elected official is subject to being recalled for no reason or for any reason. This contradicts Missouri law and public policy and violates the due process rights of plaintiff Pirrello.
The defendants filed a recall petition on Aug. 17, with Dolan as their representative. Even though recall efforts also are being issued for four other councilmembers, Pirrello is the only one who is suing.
Article 9 requires that after residents file petitions to recall, they must obtain signatures of at least 15 percent of the registered voters from District 1. If the petitioners obtain the required signatures, Article 9 requires that the Council schedule a recall election.
However, in addition to the lawsuit, Pirrello notified the defendants of a temporary restraining order to prohibit them from circulating petitions and collecting signatures for his recall.
The petition blank does not specify any cause for Pirrello’s removal, which is consistent with the charter’s failure to specify any cause as the reason for recall, but Pirrello’s attorney, Daniel Joseph Bruntrager, of Bruntrager & Billings PC, said Pirrello “absolutely” has grounds for a lawsuit.
“The city charter doesn’t require any sort of cause at all for your removal, and I think that does violate that provision of the Missouri Constitution,” Bruntrager said.
These recent events came less than two weeks after the City Council decided to drop a proposed amendment that could have changed the city’s recall process.
Dolan said Pirrello’s lawsuit is a “gustsy maneuver, which will only make his reputation worse.” She said the Article 9 Alliance is moving forward with normal procedures to get the job done.
“His reason for disputing the legitimacy of Article 9 is odd because, as he was the mayor in 2006, he had to review and approve the charter, so he essentially approved something he is now, five years later, saying is not constitutional and his position is weak at best and makes no sense,” Dolan said. “We have gone as far as filling up a gymnasium in the elementary school and got over 50-plus people out there to let them know exactly why we think this project is not in the best interests of the residents, and he as a councilmember has to represent us.”
She said the lawsuit is a violation of the First Amendment and of direct democracy.
“We have the right to participate in government,” Dolan said. “It’s encouraged in the First Amendment. So if anything, we should be complaining about a violation of our rights.”
Liz Schmidt, chair of the Article 9 Alliance and resident of Ellisville, said she is “hardly surprised.”
“Apparently he does not want to held accountable for his bad political decisions,” Schmidt said. “I hope the right to direct democracy and the ability of the citizens of Ellisville to say no don’t get T-boned in the process.”
Mayor Adam Paul said he has to respect Pirrello’s opinion and decision to fight, “but in this situation, the timing is just terribly wrong.”
“I would hope that Councilmember Pirrello look at the big picture our city is in and stand down,” Paul said. “I think, if it just would have been left alone, it could have been watered down, but he instead ignited the flame. I took an oath of our charter, which is essentially our constitutional bible, and I believe that he should be suing himself because he took that same oath. And to sue five residents – that’s a scary thing.”