About 30 residents attended the City Council Candidate Forum Tuesday night. Creve Couer Patch sponsored the event.
The candidates attending the session were Anthony Kardis, Beth Kistner from Ward 1; Charlotte D'Alfonso and Robert Hoffman from Ward 3; and Scott Saunders and Mel Klearman from Ward 4.
Two council seats in Ward 3 are up for election. D'Alfonso is running against Robert Haddenhorst, who did not attend, for one seat. Hoffman is running unopposed for the second seat to fill out the one year remaining on the seat's term.
The League of Women Voters moderated the forum.
7 p.m: The League of Women Voters moderator explained the procedures. The candidates are seated in the order they will appear on the ballot, she said.
Each candidate gave a two-minute opening statement.
Kardis: Said he is retired and has the leadership skills, time and energy to fulfill the duties of his office.
"Unlike my opponent, I will follow the election laws of the state of Missouri," he said (Kistner got a letter from the St. Louis County Board of Elections for failing to file election campaign funds. Later, she said she had raised no funds for her campaign).
The League of Women Voters representative prevented him from making an additional statement regarding Kistner, his opponent, stating it is against forum rules.
Kistner: Praised Patch.com for sponsoring the forum.
She said she served for a decade on city board and the council to learn what Creve Couer residents care about by meeting with hundreds of residents and listening to them.
"I feel strongly about putting that experience to work for the residents of Ward 1."
D’Alfonso: Said she was a Ladue Pines subdivision trustee and fielded questions from residents regarding city actions. She said she started attending city council meetings, and saw that residents from many areas attended at different times with the same questions: "Why?" and "How?" She felt there is a lack of communication and transparency in city government.
Hoffman: He served on various committees, including Planning and Zoning.
"I am running unopposed for the Ward 3 seat (not against D'Alfonso or Haddenhorst). That's not understood by many people," he said.
He strongly supports a balanced budget, and thinks the council should continue looking for efficiencies to balance the budget.
Saunders: He said while on the Planning and Zoning Board, he listened carefully to residents and their concerns. "I have not taken that responsibility lightly."
He took a course at UMSL on planning and zoning so he could better represent residents.
Klearman: "Every elected official has a solemn duty to act in the best interests of the residents. You must be given the opportunity to learn where your tax dollars go and the benefits you are receiving as a result."
He said council members should adopt a 'Truth in Spending' requirement that would require them to publish factual and timely reports on how tax dollars are spent in the monthly newsletter in plain language, he said.
Q: As a council member, how would you make sure people are informed about potential zoning issues in your ward?
Kardis: He wants to have more ward meetings and start an email newsletter to inform residents quickly when changes happen.
Kistner: Rezoning issues don't happen often, and when they do happen there is quite a bit of time to inform residents. The city newsletter goes out, and there usually are several articles about an issue like rezoning over time. There are ward meetings, town hall meetings and signs go up at the site.
D'Alfonso: She has already started an email newsletter.
“I could utilize that for zoning. Sometimes rezoning keeps up our neighborhoods. Neighborhoods need to know as soon as rezoning (issue) happens.
Q: Explain eminent domain and how the city should use it to protect existing businesses and residents in the path of proposed developments?
Kistner: Said the city council had not used eminent domain in her 10 years with the city has been on the council.
She said she considers eminent domain the most drastic action a city can take and should be used "only in dire circumstances."
"I don't think there's ever a reason the city should do use eminent domain on residential property for a development," Kistner said.
Hoffman: "It certainly should never be used for private development and only for dire city needs. The threat of eminent domain itself is significant and it should only be used in dire circumstances."
Kardis: Governments should use eminent domain only in special circumstances when it is for the benefit of all its citizens.
There was a threat of eminent domain that drove a businessman out of the city, a gas station. Nothing happened at the site.
Q: Have you accepted campaign contributions from developers?
All candidates said they either would not accept, or had not accepted any donations from developers.
Kistner: Said she had not accepted any campaign donations.
Q: The Olive Transportation Development District needs only a vote of TDD board not the people, to raise sales taxes in the district. Would you approve a TDD that had the ability to raise sales taxes without a vote of the people?
Hoffman: "This issue came up not too many meetings ago. I was quite clear that I believed it would be taxation without representation and I was very opposed to that," he said.
Saunders: He clarified that the city council had to vote to create the TDD first.
“I agree there are problems with creating a TDD without approval of the residents involved," Saunders said. He added that another problem with TDDs is lack of oversight.
Klearman: You have a working stop light at Olive and Graeser and a safe intersection."
They realigned streets using the TDD and made it safer, he said.
"All TDDs are not bad," he said.
Q: How would you enhance city revenue?
Klearman: “In 2009, City Place Six (an office building) did not pay their $500,000 in real estate taxes,” he said. He went to the county council and told them about it.
"One week later, they paid their taxes," he said.
Saunders: He said it was a good thing that Klearman brought up the property tax oversight, but the city gets little property tax revenue, which mostly go to school and fire districts. Most of cities’ funding comes through sales tax receipts, he said.
He said the city should try to increase business in the city - which would increase sales tax receipts,” he said.
Question: What would it take to convince you to build a new city hall to anchor a retail development would?
Kardis: “It would take a lot,” he said, adding he does support retail developments to
“I’m all for new retail developments in the city
He doesn’t think the city should abandon its current city hall to become part of a retail development, but he would support retail development to bring in new taxes.
Kistner: I have a little bit of trouble envisioning how a city hall could be paid for out of a new development. But I'm always open to proposals that come before us and creative developments.”
Q: What's more important in the budget: leaves or pensions?
Candidates agreed that picking one above the other is not a choice. Some noted that the pension is a financial obligation to current and former employees, not a choice.
Klearman: My vision for Creve Coeur is one happy day when they learn to live within their means.
I want to empower you so you are not the first resort to finance their plans.
We need to empower you by giving you information instead of having you dig for it.
We need more sales tax, that's true, and I have a plan for that. Swamp the switchboard if you don't like the way the council is spending your money.
Saunders: “You need a city council member who is dedicated and competent to respond to all these problems, one who isn't focused on one narrow concern,” Saunders said.
He said, as a physician in an intensive care unit, he makes a lot of critical decisions every day. He doesn't make those decisions in a vacuum, but gets input from stakeholders, including parents and other physicians, he said. His decisions respect all of those unique points of view.
“I think that’s a unique set of skills to apply to problems faced by the council,” Saunders said. “I’m undaunted to apply those to even the most complex set of problems.”
D'Alfonso: Said she would be at town hall meetings, subdivision meetings. She will be at those meetings to keep residents informed and to listen to them.
“My opponent is not here tonight, and he hasn't been at other town hall meetings. That's important,” she said.
Decisions need to be made in a transparent manner. Residents shouldn’t have to hire lawyers to protect their homes, she said.
Kistner: “The role of city council member is to protect and enhance those things we hold most dear,” she said. “To have the means to do that, we need to keep our financial
Residents want someone to answer the phone, explain problems, and walk with them through the process until they come to a resolution, she said.
Kardis: He said he’s worked on committees behind the scenes in Creve Coeur for many years. His experience in budgeting, working through problems will help him formulate solutions to the city’s future budget problems.
He said he would work hard and attend meetings, listen to other council members to incorporate their ideas in his proposals.
“I am not into promoting my ideas for my glory. I will work for the citizens of Creve Coeur with honesty integrity and good manners.”