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Government, Politics & Issues

Ellisville mayor takes back the gavel, amid another legal move to force him out

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 11, 2013 - After a standing ovation from allies and a quick search for the gavel, reinstated Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul was back in charge Tuesday night.

Despite his ear-to-ear grin, even Paul acknowledges that the reunion with fellow city officials – some of whom still want him out -- may be rockier than he’d hoped.

Shortly before Tuesday’s special council meeting, his opponents won a new court hearing on Friday. Their aim is to persuade Circuit Judge David Lee Vincent III to reverse his earlier order that restored Paul to his post.

Vincent ruled Monday that the council had failed to follow the city charter during its impeachment process. Paul was impeached on April 8. As a result, Vincent ordered that Paul be restored as mayor during his court fight that also challenges his removal.

Paul said he’d heard the news shortly before entering the council chambers.  “I’m just trying to maintain professionalism. It’s an emotional night for me," he told reporters afterward. “I’m so excited to get back to the work, but then when I hear that the city is trying to appeal -- it took the sail out of my winds, temporarily.”

But Paul displayed none of that personal turmoil during the meeting, as he quickly sought to put his stamp on several controversial council actions – mainly by putting them on hold.

Council delays tax breaks, property deal

With the help of supportive council members, Paul moved to delay action on the city’s plan to award tax breaks to Wal-Mart for a planned superstore. Paul and his allies believe that his opposition to the tax incentives is at the heart of the impeachmen since his opponents – including councilman Matt Pirrello, a former mayor, and city manager Kevin Bookout – support the project.

(Paul's critics say his impeachment was for various improprieties, most of them unrelated to Wal-Mart.)

Lawyer Jane Dueker, who has sued to block Wal-Mart, argued for the delay, saying that the city shouldn’t award tax breaks if the developer failed to follow through with required actions.

Paul said afterward that he planned to submit a proposal at the June 19 council meeting to drop the whole project because the developer has failed to meet the land acquisition deadline.

“I would like to see Wal-Mart just go away," Paul said. But if the retailer wants to locate in Ellisville without tax incentives, the mayor added that he’d be fine with that.

Paul also blocked the city's effort to purchase a building and revamp it as a new City Hall, courts building and police station.

That came after several residents complained that more study and public discussion were needed before the city spends millions of dollars for the building, which is being vacated by Tri-Star Mercedes-Benz.

Pirrello said in an interview after the meeting that Tri-Star is offering to sell the property to the city for $3 million, about half of its initial assessed value.

Pirrello said that the smaller brick complex that currently houses City Hall and the police department, just off Manchester Road, could be sold for more than $2 million.

Pirrello, who had been mayor pro tem during Paul’s absence, said that the local Chamber of Commerce also has shown an interest into subleasing part of the Tri-Star building, which could further reduce the city’s costs.

Pirrello said that Paul’s apparent opposition to the plan was a surprise “since he earlier had voted for it.”

Paul said that he was paying attention to public concerns and city officials should examine whether it might be more cost effective to improve the current City Hall.

Special election on hold, as court fight continues

At Paul's suggestion, the City Council also declined to set a date for a special election to choose a new mayor -- since, depending on the court result, the city may not need one.

Pirrello made clear he was pleased by Friday’s hearing, successfully sought by lawyer John Maupin who has represented the city in its effort to oust Paul.

Pirrello said Maupin’s legal argument will include questions about council actions taken while Paul is in charge because Paul now is providing a key swing vote on a City Council that has changed dramatically since the April 8 impeachment. Two of Pirrello’s allies were ousted, replaced by two Paul supporters.

As mayor, Paul has a vote, but no veto power.

“We need clarity on the issue,” Pirrello said.

Several residents attending Tuesday’s council meeting argued the same point – but from a different angle. They want Paul back in charge for good.

Chris Holtgreven blasted what he called “the kangaroo court" at the City Hall that had attempted to force Paul out.

Complained Shirley Krausch, who has lived in Ellisville for 40 years: “From Day One, they set out to get him out of office. The council people acted like we didn’t have anything to say about it.”

Several residents complained of the city’s legal costs, which could increase sharply if Paul wins.

For financial reasons alone, Paul said he’d like to see certain city officials to drop their legal fight and accept that he’s mayor.

“I’d like to drag Ellisville out of the mud," he said.

At the moment, though, Paul has other concerns.  “I’m really excited to be back in,” the mayor said. “But I’m a little nervous about Friday.”

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