Ellisville recall process ruled unconstitutional
By: Sarah Wilson
Judge Thomas Prebil on the morning of Sept. 5 ruled in favor of the city of Ellisville’s recall process as being unconstitutional.
“What it means is that the recall information called into question basically no longer exists,” said Matt Pirrello, District 1 Councilmember and former mayor, who on Aug. 27 sued five District 1 residents, the city of Ellisville and the Missouri attorney general over the constitutionality of Article 9 in the Ellisville city charter.
The lawsuit came up after the Article 9 Alliance, a group of Ellisville citizens against the Walmart TIF project, informed the city of its plans to recall four councilmembers, including Pirrello, from office.
The lawsuit’s declaratory judgment reads as follows: “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. 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.”
Served were 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. All have been dismissed without harm, and Pirrello said he is not seeking any judgments against them.
“I don’t have any ill will against those five residents,” he said. “And this was never an issue of a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation), as they alleged. I was only exercising my right as a citizen to get the constitutionality of the charter correct.”
Prebil’s ruling came less than two weeks after the City Council decided at a special meeting Aug. 16 to drop an amendment proposed by Pirrello that could have changed the city’s recall process – and perhaps prevented the lawsuit.
“Now it is up to the people of Ellisville to determine whether or not they want to change it, or not have a recall provision,” Pirrello said.
He noted that the Charter Review Commission would be reconvened for the purpose of reviewing the charter.
“Incidentally, this is the exact reason why I submitted the ordinance to make the change,” Pirrello said. “All of this could have been avoided had my change been submitted to the ballot to submit to the people to approve, but the people didn’t want that. I don’t necessarily consider this to be a win for me. I consider this to be getting it right for the city, and getting it right for the city is more important. I believed from the get-go as soon as I learned about the charter recall provision, I believed that it was unconstitutional.”
Ellisville’s city charter was enacted in 1993, and Pirrello said it was the public, not him, that approved it.
“When all this came about, the first thing I did was contact as many of the people I could find that sat back on the original charter commission in 1993, and all of them said the same thing – ‘We just copied it from another charter.’ The issue was never brought up. So what this does is actually set precedent statewide for all charters who do not have reasonable cause for a charter provision,” Pirrello said.
He said he would make a motion to add a discussion of the charter to the city’s agenda for an upcoming work session.
“I think we ought to get it done sooner rather than later,” he said.
He said the whole Walmart issue is precipitated by “union thuggery.”
“It’s very clear that there’s a strong union component that does not want Walmart in this town or any town for that matter, and that components have been actively working toward preventing that from happening all over the region for a number of years,” he said. “So I think this has been a catalyst to this as well.
“This has less to do with me and more to do with the future of the city of Ellisville. This entire situation would discourage quality people from ever running for office if they could be recalled for arbitrary and capricious reasons, or no reason at all. I don’t believe any councilmember or any elected official should live in fear of reprisal for their day-to-day decisions.
“The notion that I’m doing this to save my job is the biggest bunch of garbage that I’ve ever heard. I don’t get paid enough to put up with this crap, especially the lies they’re spewing around now. This has little to do with what’s going on and more to do with public officials not being bullied by a vocal minority. … If they want to recall me, they will do it under the correct provision.”