This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: On Tuesday, voters throughout the region will go to the polls to select who among them will sit on school boards, govern fire districts and run city governments.
The latter category includes members of city councils, boards of aldermen – and mayors.
Although most suburban mayors work part time with little pay and limited powers, the contests still galvanize local voters and often prompt serious debates over the day-to-day issues – from trash collection to business development -- that arguably affect the public the most.
The Beacon already has highlighted the lively contests in Chesterfield and Clayton, two of St. Louis County’s larger communities.
In Part 2, we offer a look at three other mayoral races: Fenton, Normandy and Valley Park.
Alderman Paul Seemayer and former Alderman Michael Polizzi are seeking to lead the south St. Louis County town, which was hit hard in recent years when two Chrysler plants shut down in the late 2000s. Mayor Dennis Hancock is leaving his post after a long tenure.
Seemayer is a paramedic with the Fenton Fire Protection District. Polizzi is the owner of a security firm who left the city’s Board of Aldermen in 2010.
Seemayer’s top priority is finding a tenant for the old Chrysler site. He said that will require working with a variety of stakeholders, including the region’s chamber of commerce, the St. Louis County Economic Council, and the emerging economic development partnership between the city and the county.
“I just want to be involved with those organizations – speak with them as well as some of our state legislators and federal legislators to get somebody that’s suitable in there,” Seemayer said. “It needs to be somebody that works well not just for the city of Fenton, but for St. Louis County as well. It’s going to be there for a long time and hopefully produce some good-paying jobs and some subsidiary companies to assist that business.”
Polizzi said one his primary goal is implementing long-range plans for developing the city, which he added would “secure the success of Fenton well into the future.” He added that he, too, would seek out companies for the Chrysler site that would “produce good-paying jobs that we can secure our future with those companies 15, 20 or 30 years into the future.” “St. Louis County really does currently have a lot of space available for development, but I don’t think any of them have the ability or the road structures and capability that they have here in Fenton,” Polizzi said. “And that’s part of the planning process.”
Both candidates want to seek changes to the county’s sales tax distribution formula. Hancock has been an outspoken critic of the system, noting that the city sends out more money than it takes in as a so-called “point of sale” city.
Getting the formula changed could be challenging. Last year, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, told the Beacon that forging consensus on legislation changing sales tax distribution will be difficult because various legislators from St. Louis County have substantially different views on the issue.
Normandy Mayor Patrick Green is facing a challenge from Councilwoman Erma Ratlif in his bid for another term to lead the north St. Louis County municipality.
Among other things, Green – who did not return messages from the Beacon – received plaudits from the University of Missouri-St. Louis for working with the university on a number of community improvement projects. UMSL Chancellor Thomas George, for instance, praised Green in a statement for his role in redesigning Natural Bridge Road.
Green also gained some notoriety in 2011 when he criticized St. Louis County circuit judge John Ross’ nomination to a federal judgeship. Green – along with U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and others – was critical of Ross’ role in the operation of the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District.
In an interview, Ratlif said her priorities as mayor would be an “open door” policy for business and residents and providing more “transparency” about the city’s finances.
“I decided to run for mayor because I think I can do a better job than the mayor that’s in there now,” said Ratlif, who has been on the council since 2008. “I just think I have the experience, the fairness and the respect that the community deserves.”
She also wants Normandy residents to have priority access to UMSL’s facilities – and for the university to encourage its student body to become more involved in the community.
“UMSL could work better with the community of Normandy way more than it’s doing now,” Ratlif said. “In Columbia, students are everywhere. Here, UMSL keeps their students on campus. You rarely see a student in the community. And Natural Bridge could be a Main Street for that.”
In Valley Park, residents face the unusual situation of choosing a new mayor to finish out the term of former Mayor Nathan Grellner, who was charged in 2012 with multiple felonies in connection with his use of the city credit card for personal purchases, including appliances and a visit to a Sauget strip club.
Alderman Michael Pennise has been serving as the mayor pro tem since Grellner’s resignation last summer. Pennise now is competing against Russell Causey to serve as mayor until next April, when a new mayor will be elected to a full four-year term.
Pennise, 54, is operations manager – and owner – of Fab-Cat Express Inc. Causey, 59, is a consultant and former alderman who unsuccessfully sought to oust Pennise in an election last year.
Grellner has injected himself into the race by sending out letters to Valley Park residents in which he attacks Pennise’s business dealings and calls for an investigation. Pennise says Grellner’s allegations are unfounded and that he doesn’t understand why Grellner has sent out the letters.
Causey could not be reached.
Pennise said his key message to voters is that “we want to move forward’’ and not dwell on the Grellner episode.