Ellisville city attoney asked to draft resolution to remove mayor from office
By: Diane E. Samson
Simmering resentment in Ellisville boiled over at the City Council meeting Feb. 20 as the Council, in an apparent last-ditch effort to unseat Mayor Adam Paul, voted to direct City Attorney Paul Martin to prepare a resolution to remove Paul from office under section 3.6 of the city charter.
In an apparent reversal of sentiment, Councilmember Michelle Murray (District 3), made the motion directly after a unanimous vote by the Council to accept the recommendation of the Charter Enforcement Commission, which dismissed a complaint against Paul that could have resulted in his removal from office. The complaint filed by Elllisville resident Katie James accused Paul of violating the city charter by ordering a police officer to remove a disruptive person from a public meeting on two separate occasions.
Murray’s motion was quickly seconded by Councilmember Matt Pirrello (District 1). Only Councilmember Linda Reel (District 2) voted against the motion. Murray did not include a reason for Paul’s removal in the motion, but Martin said that the resolution will include specific terms. He also explained that the process starts with a resolution, which is followed by a hearing, which is followed by a final action.
Earlier, during public comments, St. Louis Attorney Chet Pleban, representing Paul, warned the Council against attempts to remove the mayor.
“If you continue in these frivolous efforts to try to unseat him, I can guarantee and promise you that those efforts will be met with litigation,” Pleban said. “I’m here to tell you, this mayor is not going anywhere.”
Pleban recommended that the Council get back to the business of serving the constituents of Ellisville and stop spending city funds unnecessarily.
When asked why she presented the motion, Murray said the Council is compelled to deal with the complaint quickly.
“These are very serious charges. We are a charter city and we need to make sure we are taking care of the public’s business,” Murray said.
Murray added that the Council had comments from residents at the meeting saying that they wanted to move on because there are a lot of things to take care of in the city. She indicated that in order to move on, the Council needed to deal with this issue promptly.
Sandra McGrath was one of those residents who is ready to move on. She told the Council during the evening’s second public comments period that she agreed with the recommendation of the Charter Enforcement Commission to dismiss the complaint against the mayor.
“It’s been an embarrassment,” McGrath said. “I’ve always been very proud that I live in the city of Ellisville until the last year. I hope we can get back on track … and put all the petty differences behind us.”
However, this latest action from the Council ensures that trouble still lies ahead –straight to court, according to Pleban. He also offered a motivation for the Council’s efforts against Paul.
“This is nonsense.” said Pleban. “This is all based upon his position as it relates to the TIF as it relates to Walmart as it relates to his testimony in a lawsuit that is currently pending in a Circuit Court of St. Louis County.”
The lawsuit filed Nov. 2 by Ellisville resident Thomas DeBold challenges the conditional use permit the city approved for a new Walmart to be built on Manchester Road at the current site of Clarkchester Apartments, claiming among other things that the city did not have all property owners sign consent forms required for the conditional use permit and that the city did not follow protocol in choosing counsel for the case. Paul and City Clerk Catherine Demeter gave testimony during the Jan. 30 hearing, appearing before St. Louis Circuit Court Judge David Lee Vincent III. A decision is due any day.
Depending on the ruling, the Sansone Group, developers of the Walmart project, could be required to start the process again to secure a clear conditional use permit.
The DeBold lawsuit is just the latest in a series of recent lawsuits and complaints that center around the Walmart project, which was the subject of heated debate over the developer’s request to use of tax increment financing and eminent domain, resulting in the closure of the Clarkchester Apartments. In a move that surprised some Ellisville voters, every councilmember voted for the project with the exception of Reel and Paul.
On April 26, 2012, just eight days after the first reading of the ordinance that would approve the Walmart project, a group of concerned citizens calling themselves the Ellisville Article 9 Alliance formed with the intention of preventing the project from passing.
Ultimately the group was unsuccessful in preventing passage of the TIF, but they did make an attempt to recall several Ellisville councilmembers, filing a petition on Aug. 17, 2012, which cited Article 9 of the city’s charter as its basis. Under Article 9 “any elected official is subject to being recalled for no reason or for any reason.”
Councilmembers targeted for recall included Pirrello who, in response to the recall attempt, filed his own lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Article 9.
Pirrello’s lawsuit was resolved when Judge Thomas Prebil on Sept. 5, 2012, ruled in favor of the city of Ellisville’s recall process as being unconstitutional.
As the unrest continues, former Ellisville Mayor Ed O’Reilly said that Paul has the town behind him, as a clear majority of the people voted for him in the last election.
“Adam is just a nice guy who is trying to do a good job for the city and (the council is) not letting him,” O’Reilly said. “It’s just sad. We ought to get back to being a community.”
Paul, who let his attorney speak for the most part at the Feb. 20 Council meeting, did offer one question: “Why would you do this to our people?”