(Updated 10:45 a.m., Mon., March 10 with filing of Jayson Thornton in Kirkwood.)
A longstanding contract dispute between the union representing University City firefighters and some city officials could influence that city’s April 8 election of new council members.
Local 2665 of the Professional Firefighters of Eastern Missouri has endorsed two of the contenders. The union asserts that its decision to take sides prompted the city to announce the same day that new rules were being put in place regarding overtime and paychecks. The mayor and city manager deny any link.
In any event, the debate has attracted some of the top political figures in University City, who have chosen sides and helped raise money for some of the candidates.
The University City contest also exemplifies the local controversies that often swirl around the April municipal elections – even if most voters opt not to participate.
Traditionally, less than a fifth of the region’s registered voters show up to cast ballots in the April elections, even though the results often have more direct impact on their daily lives than votes cast in statewide or national elections.
Municipalities and villages usually elect their officials at April elections. That’s also when school districts usually elect their school board members and ask voters to approved tax hikes or bond issues.
This April election also features dozens of elections or tax proposals affecting sewer, water and ambulance districts throughout St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties.
Hotly contested school board races are being waged in Ferguson-Florissant, where the placing of Superintendent Art McCoy's on leave is a hot-button issue, and in Normandy, where student transfers have put strains on the district budget.
Dozens of decisions to be made on April 8
Just in St. Louis County, 83 municipalities and 16 school districts are among the entities that will have candidates, issues or tax proposals on the April 8 ballot.
In Kirkwood, Jayson Thornton, the nephew of "Cookie" Thornton, is running for a seat on the city council. Six years ago, “Cookie” Thornton went on a rampage at the Kirkwood City Hall and killed five people, including two council members. He also severely wounded the mayor.
Jayson Thornton said that he didn't want his uncle's actions to define him -- or Kirkwood. He told the Post Dispatch: “It doesn’t matter what my name is,” said Jayson Thornton. “This is where I’m from, this is where my father is from, this is where my uncles are from. It’s the beauty of living in America.”
In St. Charles County, at least 14 municipalities, an ambulance district and a junior college district have proposals on the ballot.
In Jefferson County, 15 communities, 14 school districts and four fire or ambulance districts have candidate elections or tax proposals.
In one Jefferson County community, Olympian Village, votes will elect a mayor, city collector, treasurer and alderman-at-large. Because nobody filed for any of the posts, the victors will all be write-in candidates.
And 24 other Jefferson County entities – mainly water, sewer and ambulance districts – will hold elections but won’t be on the ballot because none of the candidates are contested.
Conservative Group Highlights Tax Proposals
The Missouri arm of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group in favor of low taxes and less government, acknowledges the challenges of attracting voter attention for the April 8 election by launching its “2014 Municipal Tax Projects Initiative” that highlights all the local tax proposals on ballots around the state.
According to state director Patrick Werner, at least 77 percent of Missouri’s counties will see at least one proposed tax hike on their April ballots. Statewide, over 260 tax increases are being proposed, he said.
Werner said that Americans for Prosperity-Missouri wasn’t advocating that voters reject outright all of the proposed tax hikes – but simply calling attention to them.
"Missourians stand to get whalloped in the pocketbook at every level of government. The least we can do is make sure they know what is on their own local ballot in advance of the election," Werner said. “We’re just drawing attention to them.”
UCity battle pits police and fire against some city councilmembers
In the St. Louis area, thought, the bulk of the decisions facing voters on April 8 have to do with electing candidates to school boards and city councils. And, for the moment, that appears to be where rivalries are more on display.
In University City, for example, the firefighters and the regional Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed Jeff Hales in the First Ward, against incumbent Stephen Kraft, and Dennis Fuller in the Second Ward, against incumbent L. Michael Glickert. City officials and Hales tangled in court after the city declined to certify him for the ballot because of a dispute over his residency; a judge ordered that Hales be restored to the ballot.
Kurt Becker, district vice president of Local 2665, said the endorsements are aimed at countering “the lack of candor and unprofessional decorum’’ by some city officials. The union contends that the city has halted negotiations to craft a new contract to replace one that expired several years ago, but remains in force because of an “evergreen clause.”
The union also is objecting to the work-rules changes that were issued within hours of its endorsements.
City Manager Lehman Walker said the changes had been in the works for some time, with the firefighters’ knowledge. He says there’s no link to the endorsements. However, he added, “I believe the firefighters should be neutral… and not get involved in municipal elections.”
University City councilman Terry Crow hosted a recent event to help raise money to offset Hales' legal bills. Former state Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, also has endorsed Hales.
Becker notes that the firefighters often have taken sides in local elections, including University City's hot mayoral race in 2010. This time, however, incumbent mayor Shelley Welsch -- who currently is at odds with the firefighters' union, which had backed her in 2010 -- has no opposition.
League of Women Voters hosts forums
The St. Louis area League of Women Voters has agreed to host forums in a number of the higher-profile contests. Some of the forums are still being set. Following are the forums that have been scheduled so far, according to the League. All events are at 7 p.m.:
- Monday, March 10
Kirkwood City CouncilReim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center111 S. Geyer Rd., 63122
- Thursday, March 20
Crestwood mayorWhitecliff Community Center9245 Whitecliff Park Ln., 63126
- Monday, March 24
University City School BoardRonald E. McNair Admin. Building Board Room8136 Groby, 63130
- Tuesday, March 25
Rockwood School BoardCrestview Middle School Cafeteria16025 Clayton Rd., 63011
- Wednesday, March 26
Webster Groves School BoardHixson Middle School630 S. Elm Ave., 63119
- Thursday, March 27
Parkway School BoardParkway South Middle School760 Woods Mill Rd., 63011