Understanding the Dysfunction
Mayor Shelley Welsch & A Legacy of Dysfunction
Many of us never gave a second look to our city government until recently. Last year when the Mayor and her Council Majority proposed $25 Million in bond issues without citizen input, hundreds of citizens organized and together we defeated the poorly planned and ill-conceived bond issues by nearly a 70 percent majority. In the time since, under Mayor Welsch, dysfunction has become rampant and our city has been repeatedly headline news. As her support has waned, the Mayor has become more bold, regularly attacking Councilmembers Paulette Carr and Terry Crow who have consistently represented and supported the concerns of their constituents when the Mayor and Council Majority would not listen.
Understanding the Dysfunction: The Backroom Hiring of City Manager Lehman Walker
The dysfunction of our city can be traced back to Shelley Welsch’s election in 2010. Many supporters of UCityUnited voted for her in 2010. It was her very first policy decision, the hiring of Lehman Walker as City Manager that is what took University City “off the rails”. After her election in April of 2010, Mayor Welsch and her Council allies (Steve Kraft, Michael Glickert, Lynn Ricci and Arthur Sharpe) told citizens there would be a national search for the next city manager. Within weeks, it was announced that the search was off and Lehman Walker, who had never served as a city manager, would be our next city manager, only Councilmember Crow voted against hiring Mr. Walker in 2010 believing that the city should move forward with the national search as promised..
A number of citizens filed a lawsuit over the hiring, claiming it violated the sunshine law and was done behind closed doors. Through that lawsuit, it was discovered that Lehman Walker, then employed by the city of Evanston, Illinois had been regularly communicating with Shelley Welsch, then candidate for Mayor. Mr. Walker even provided her campaign with budget advice. Six days prior to her election, Mr. Walker sent his resume to Shelley Welsch with the words: “Shelley, as discussed”.
As a result of the lawsuit, it was also determined that Mr. Walker had emailed the Mayor advocating for the firing of his predecessor, former City Manager Julie Feier. Consequently, in 2012, there was an investigation into Mr. Walker’s behavior by his professional organization, the International City Manager’s Association (ICMA). In February of 2012, the ICMA censured Mr. Walker and permanently banned him from future membership for ethics violations.
Changing the Lehman Walker’s Contract to Remove his ICMA Membership Requirement
On the eve of Mr. Walker’s censure and disbarment from the ICMA, Mr. Walker resigned from the ICMA citing cost savings. The mayor and her council majority quickly convened in a closed session meeting to re-write Lehman Walker’s contract removing the requirement that he be a member in good standing of the ICMA and his adherence to their professional code of ethics. Again, Mr. Crow voted against changing the contract along with Councilmember Kraft. Councilmember Carr had not yet been elected.
The Council Majority and The Culture of Loyalty to Each Other
In the last two years, many citizens have been shocked by the level of loyalty the mayor and her majority have to one another. When you look at the two most significant policy decisions: the $25 Million Bond issues which nearly 70% opposed, and the outsourcing of and service reductions to our ambulance service, the Council Majority disregarded hundreds of their constituents and stuck together with the usual 5-2 Vote.
To understand this extraordinary loyalty to one another in the face of overwhelming citizen opposition, you must understand the relationships each has to one another:
Councilmember Glickert: In 2006 when Candidate Glickert filed to run for council, he had not paid all of his personal property taxes. It was City Clerk Joyce Pumm’s first election and she had improperly certified him as a candidate. When the City Manager at the time sought to remove Mr. Glickert from the ballot because of his ineligibility, it was then Councilmember Shelley Welsch who led the charge to allow him to stay on the ballot. He has been loyal since. Most recently, many witnesses observed Councilmember Glickert at a public meeting physically assault a citizen which many have called “unprovoked”. When it happened, the City Manager ordered the removal of the victim and Mr. Glickert incredibly was allowed to return to his seat, leaving witnesses in shock. Mayor Shelley Welsch again took no action, not even a statement condemning the bahavior.
Councilmember Kraft: In 2014 during a public meeting, Councilmember Kraft directed a profanity at a citizen and then denied having done it. It was captured on video and made front page news. Mayor Welsch refused to discipline Mr. Kraft, outraging citizens. In a separate event, a few months later following a council meeting, Mr. Kraft threw a waterbottle at another citizen in anger. Again, the Mayor refused to discipline Mr. Kraft, and resolutions of reprimand were voted down by the Mayor and her majority, including Mr. Kraft who should have recused himself from the vote.
Councilmember Jennings: In his election in 2014, Mr Jennings campaign was heavily financed by the Mayor’s supporters. Many in the third ward have openly stated that Councilmember Jennings was bought and paid for by the Mayor. Councilman Jennings’ largest campaign contributor was Councilmember Kraft and his wife, a $500 contribution. It is no surprise that Mr. Jennings voted against reprimanding Mr. Kraft’s behavior. Mr. Jenning has also been a loose cannon since his election. While he regularly calls for civility, he has gone on record on social media calling Councilmember Carr a “white privilege princess” and his former opponent an “Uncle Tom”. The Mayor has again refused to address his public behavior and protected him.
Councilmember Arthur Sharpe: Until 2014 when Councilmember Price retired, Councilmember Sharpe remained fairly independent. With Mr. Price’s retirement and the addition of Councilman Jennings, Mr. Sharpe has remained loyal and voted with the Mayor and Majority nearly 100% of the time even on issues his constituents opposed like outsourcing and the bond issues. Mr. Sharpe is not seeking another term and will be replaced in April of 2016.
What we have in University City with Council Majority looks more like an elite club, not a city council. They are bound to one another by their deeds, be it the hiring of Mr. Walker, the changing of the contract, or simply protecting one another. They have clearly demonstrated that their loyalty is to one another, not to citizens.
2014 Elections, Firefighters, Suspensions and Lawsuits
In 2014, four candidates ran against three members of council and the mayor. For the first time in 4 years, the firefighters union chose not to endorse the mayor or her candidates. In 2010, Shelley Welsch had the endorsement of the union, campaigned for higher wages on behalf of the union, and received money and campaign support. In 2012, the Mayor’s candidate Jan Adams, in the Ward 2 race also received the endorsement of the firefighters union at the request of the Mayor. She received $2000 and campaign support in the form of canvassers and poll workers.
The candidates supported by the union lost in 2014 as Ms. Adams did in 2012. The day after the election, six firefighters who appeared in a campaign post card were called into the City Manager’s office and suspended for six months for allegedly “violating the state statute”. It was clear to many that this was retribution for not supporting the incumbents. Numerous citizens spoke to council, including lawyers who stated that the state statute does not limit the political activity of first responders, it protects it, limiting the rights of the city to restrict political activity.
On June 16, 2016, following an appeal and hearing of the Civil Service Board of University City, the board made a unanimous recommendation that the firefighters did not violate the statute and recommended their immediate reinstatement with full back pay and benefits and their records expunged. The city manager did not heed this advice and the firefighters filed a federal first amendment lawsuit which the city ultimately agreed to settle to the tune of $345,000. The city knew their actions were unjust and had notice from our Civil Service Board, but we put personal retribution ahead of principle and it came with a heavy, heavy cost. It’s important to note that some have accused UCityUnited of being financed by outside money and even by the firefighters. We are not. We do not accept donations from unions, pacs, or anyone outside of University City. UCityUnited is a grass-roots citizens group, period.
The 2015 $25 Million Bond Issues
With the minimum statutory public notice, citizens were advised that the city planned ballot initiatives, propositions S & P in January of 2015. The massive bond issues were for streets and parks. They seemingly came out of the blue. Councilmembers Carr and Crow were not even advised by the Mayor and majority that they had been planning the propositions for nearly 3 months, behind closed doors, with no citizen input. Unlike previous bond issues, the Mayor and administration sought no public input, which resulted in poorly planned and ill-conceived proposals that were rejected across all three wards by an overall margin of nearly 70% and failed to win a single polling place. Again, the council majority stuck together in a 5-2 vote, ignoring citizens concerns and maintaining that they knew what was best for the city.
Outsourcing EMS and Cutting Services
In the late summer of 2014, there was a council study session that concerned many. They were studying the outsourcing of our ambulance service.
We were reminded time and time again that there were no plans to outsource, “it was just being studied”. In August of 2015, again with the minimum statutory required public notice, and with no public input, the council was asked to vote to outsource our ambulances to Gateway Ambulance, a company that had never provided primary EMS services to any municipality in St. Louis County. There were a number of ramifications:
- Ambulance Staffing was cut from 2 paramedics per ambulance to just one.
- Ambulance mutual aid assistance from other muncipalities was lost – other municipalities provide 2 paramedics per ambulance and by reducing staffing qualifications, Gateway could not provide a reciprocal service.
- We lost control over our service. Since outsourcing, the city has refused to audit Gateway’s self-reported performance times with the dispatch records that we have in our possession.
- Annual cost savings do not exist: the city manager failed to realize that several months prior to outsourcing, he signed a collective bargaining agreement with the firefighters union which set the staffing levels for the department. After the city manager attempted to reduce staffing, the union sued the city again and the city was ordered to maintain staffing. We continue to staff firefighter paramedics for ambulances we no longer use. In recent months, the City Manager and Mayor have boasted that we now staff 4 firefighters per truck, a disingenuous accomplishment since the city is seeking to reduce that staffing level in court.
Despite overwhelming opposition, the council refused to even delay consideration for public input, instead with the Mayor and her Majority sticking together and voting 5-2 on a 5 year contract with few performance parameters. Only Councilmembers Carr and Crow stood with the hundreds of citizens who opposed this reduction in service. Many thought it was seen as another punishment to our firefighters for their opposing the Mayor and her majority in the last election.
Change is Desperately Needed: In 2 years
Citizens from all three wards have rallied around the two minority councilmembers, Paulette Carr and Terry Crow. As one third ward resident recently stated at a council meeting, she knows that Paulette and Terry will represent her concerns and not the Mayor’s agenda even though they are not her councilmembers. University City needs more people engaged and more people like Paulette Carr and Terry Crow on the council. Some have suggested that we need to “clean house” citing the dysfunction. The Dysfunction is Clear: we have a ruling clique who has time and time again ignored the very people who elected them. Councilmembers Paulette Carr and Terry Crow have remained loyal to their constituents. We can’t change change the dysfunction of the council until we address the root of the problem: The Mayor, Councilmembers Jennings, Kraft and Glickert must be replaced in two years, if not sooner. The good news is that the ongoing effort to collect signatures is going well and will continue until completed and the recall signatures for Councilmember Kraft are nearly complete. Thanks to the thousands of people who have signed, we may have a chance to take back our government sooner rather than later.