Ellisville postpones hearing to address charges against mayor
By: Jim Erickson
The public hearing to decide the fate of suspended Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul again has been set back, this time to April 1, the day before the municipal election that also could affect the ongoing brouhaha engulfing the West County community.
Although not specifically listed on the pre-meeting agenda, the move to delay the hearing on whether to officially remove Paul from office came at the Ellisville City Council’s March 20 meeting when Councilmember Matt Pirrello (District 1), serving as mayor pro tem, raised the issue.
Pirrello said that extending the hearing date will help “ensure due process,” by giving Paul and his legal counsel additional time to prepare a defense against the various charges of wrongdoing that led to Paul’s suspension from office late last month.
All Council members present approved the date change with no debate. Councilmember Dawn Anglin (District 1), was not at the meeting.
An indication that the decision to delay the hearing date may have been a last-minute one came when Pirrello noted he was unable to say where the April 1 session will be held and that the location will be announced later. The acting mayor noted that the meeting site will be Ellisville Elementary School “if it’s available.”
The hearing delay apparently surprised Paul, who was seated front row, center, when the Council approved the new date. After the meeting, he said he was unaware that a delay in the hearing would be considered. However, he added that his legal counsel may have been involved in negotiating the change.
Paul said he had spent the day attending a deposition given by Martin, who drafted the impeachment charges against him.
Paul told news media and others clustered around him outside Ellisville’s city hall, “It was very interesting. I’m sure you’ll want to review it.”
Responding to news of the delay, Lynette Petruska, of Pleban & Petruska Law, the firm representing Paul, said, “We’re pleased that we’re going to have additional time to investigate the charges, but we’re not sure April 1 provides enough time to look thoroughly into matters that should have been investigated more fully before they ever were filed.”
She also questioned what appeared to be a rush to hold the hearing before the April 2 election.
March 20 was the original date set for the public hearing but the Council later changed that to March 27. At the same time, the Council dropped several of the charges against Paul, including drinking on the job, using profanity, illegally recording a closed meeting and failing to control his attorney’s behavior at a February Council meeting.
The suspended mayor still is accused of other misdeeds, including illegally giving orders to city employees, attempting to have people removed from meetings and improperly seeking to remove city attorney Paul Martin from his post.
Paul has made no secret of the fact he would like to replace Martin and has accused the city attorney of using the impeachment process as a way to protect his job. Martin has denied that, saying his actions on the impeachment issue have been based on orders from the City Council.
Before the Council’s action on the hearing date, a number of citizens commented on the dispute that has divided Ellisville’s governing body – differences that have stemmed largely from city’s earlier approval of the Walmart project on Manchester Road west of Kiefer Creek Road. The plan includes millions of dollars in tax incentives for Sansone Group, the firm driving the project.
Paul was elected mayor last year on a platform opposing the Walmart deal and the upcoming election could place allies on the Council.
During public comments, some residents questioned if more tax increment financing (TIF) funds would be used for the second phase of development adjoining the Walmart property.
The driving force for the Walmart project, Sansone Group was the only firm to submit a proposal for the second phase, known as Redevelopment Project Area Two (RPA-2).
The original deadline for development proposals for RPA-2 was March 15; however, the Economic Development Commission sent a recommendation to the City Council that consideration of any plans for RPA-2 should be set aside until the Walmart project is under way, increasing the likelihood that more proposals will be forthcoming. The Council approved the recommendation at its March 20 meeting.
The Sansone Group’s plan envisioned creation of an Ellisville Towne Center with retail stores, other shops, restaurants and green spaces, as well as access to the Walmart development. Total project cost was estimated at $30.1 million, which included $10.5 million in TIF funds and money from creation of a Transportation Development District and a Community Improvement District.
Although the City Council approved the Walmart project last year, start of construction has been delayed by litigation.