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Government, Politics & Issues

Ellisville City Council heads into third day deliberating mayoral impeachment

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 2, 2013 - The Ellisville City Council was enmeshed in a long Night Two of its deliberations on the proposed impeachment of Mayor Adam Paul.

Four hours into Tuesday night's proceedings, the council was still listening to witnesses and the back-and-forth between the lawyers representing the council and Paul.

Around midnight, the board did what it had done the night before -- it temporarily adjourned.

Wednesday afternoon, the board expects to continue its proceedings. And this time, there can be no more delays. The board must act by Wednesday to comply with the timing stipulated in its City Charter.

An added factor: Half of the six-person council is being replaced as a result of Tuesday's election.

(As the Beacon reported earlier)

On stage before a gym packed largely with mayoral supporters, the Ellisville City Council spent hours Monday night listening to dueling lawyers as the panel initially sought to decide before daybreak whether Mayor Adam Paul should be impeached.

But by midnight, the participants had agreed to recess until 7 p.m. Tuesday – a delay that could put the result in doubt.

Time is literally of the essence because three of the council members – two of whom are critics of the mayor -- are on Tuesday’s ballot. And Paul is confident that those two will lose, bolstering his side as he attempts to retain his post.

Even so, Paul and his lawyer, Chet Pleban, had predicted before the marathon session began that the mayor would be impeached and that he’ll have to go to court to get it overturned.

“Do I think I’m getting a fair hearing? Absolutely not,” the mayor told the Beacon during one of the proceeding’s numerous breaks. “They’re just going through the motions. They don’t care. Whatever evidence we’re going to provide here tonight, it doesn’t matter. Their mind is made up.”

Councilman Matt Pirrello, Paul’s predecessor as mayor, denied that the fix was in. “I’m sitting in an unbiased capacity, under oath, to uphold the charter. … I need to hear what the defendants’ responses are to these allegations," he said in an interview during a break.

“I am not leaning one way or the other. I am leaning toward justice and want to sit objectively and hear both sides.”

Pirrello blamed the time crunch on the city charter’s requirement that an impeachment hearing be concluded within 30 days after the mayor requests one. That clock runs out on Wednesday, he said.

Monday’s proceedings included Pleban recounting emails in which Pirrello is portrayed as one of the instigators of the council effort to oust Paul.

The articles of impeachment, assembled by the council, center on allegations that Paul – in office less than a year -- abused his power and leaked confidential information.

Paul denies any misdeeds and contends the real reason he is a target is because he has opposed proposed tax breaks – known as tax-increment financing (TIF) -- for a planned Wal-Mart development.

His allies agree.  “The council people want the TIF," said Ellisville resident Mary Ann Carney. “They’re just not doing what the citizens want.”

Security was tight, with every attendee required to pass through a metal detector set inside the gym door. All purses and bags were searched.

Lawyer John Maupin was acting as the council’s special counsel – in effect, the procedural referee – and rejected Pleban’s efforts to force the individual council members to testify. Maupin noted that Pleban had deposed most of them and, thus, had their replies to his questions.

Acting as the council’s chief prosecutor is lawyer Keith Cheong, who appeared to focus on establishing the legitimacy of the city charter’s impeachment procedures and the council’s powers.

Those testifying including City Clerk Catherine Demeter and Police Chief Tom Felgate, who told of Paul’s inquiry soon after taking office as to whether he got a badge and a gun.

Monday’s hours of testimony and technical legal arguments were enlivened by the battle over a key missing witness – Ellisville City Attorney Paul Martin – who apparently skipped town so that he couldn’t be subpoenaed to testify, Pleban said.

Paul and his allies contend that Martin also is behind the impeachment because of the mayor’s talk of replacing him to save money. Martin also is accused of coaching Katie James, a disgruntled Ellisville resident who started the council down the impeachment path by filing a complaint against Paul.

James, who was present at Monday’s proceedings, maintained that her accusations against the mayor are valid. She also accused Pleban of intentionally dragging out the impeachment.

“Chet Pleban is an idiot as far as I’m concerned. … He’s doing everything he can to do the Chicago-style ‘dog and pony' show, “ James said. “I keep seeing him as Richard Gere (the dancing lawyer in the movie musical 'Chicago.'). 'Razzle dazzle 'em.'”

Paul, in turn, offered a movie analogy of his own. Recasting the most memorable line from the 1980s movie “Dirty Dancing,’’ Paul contended that the council always had one aim in mind: “Keep ‘baby mayor’ in the corner.”

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