April 24, 2013 - Some Grantwood Village residents last week questioned the accuracy of information sent to residents regarding the recently approved sewer lateral program at last week's Board of Trustees meeting.
Voters considered the program, also known as Proposition S, in the April 2 election. The measure was approved, receiving 75 percent of votes cast.
Homeowners will be assessed up to a $50 annual fee as part of the program. Before the election, then-Chairman Mark Kienstra created an informational letter regarding Prop S in question-answer format and listed trustee votes on issues relating to the proposition. Questions stated in letter were compiled from questions Kienstra received from trustees and residents, according to Kienstra.
Resident Ed Brimer addressed the board April 16 regarding the letter, which listed trustees who voted "no" or abstained in the same column on a voting grid. Trustees Will Larson and Walter Rust abstained on three votes relating to Prop S — withholding trustee stipends, placing the issue on the ballot and establishing a fund for the former stipends.
"To represent these two together is inexcusable and blatantly false," Brimer said. "In fact, there were actually zero 'no' votes cast … These abstentions made by Trustees Larson and Rust were made because they were given the resolution at the last minute and did not have adequate time to read and evaluate the full extent of the resolution prior to the vote."
Kienstra told the Call said the information distributed about Prop S is "correct and is accurate and it's public information."
Although, Kienstra said he advocated for Prop S in his "campaign piece," which was labeled as such.
"The Prop S letter was, in my opinion, was objective," Kienstra said. "It was purely question and answer, and it was very different from the campaign piece. And I think people may be confusing or lumping together my campaign piece advocacy for Prop S with the public information that I disseminated, that I published, in the Prop S letter."
However, resident Genny Webelhuth said she was "pretty appalled" by the Prop S letter.
"I think it did inform the public, but it also had additional information that was not necessary and it was political," she said. "And it causes people to change their voting thought mode."
Webelhuth said she spoke to the Missouri Ethics Commission about the letter and was told "whoever wrote that letter walked a very narrow line of being unethical and ethical."
Kienstra, who was re-elected to the board April 2, told the Call residents who "had concerns" about the Prop S letter "strongly supported" his opponents.
"So what you're hearing is a political dialogue," Kienstra said. "And you know that because they identified themselves and they have signs in their yard."
Rust, who serves as public works commissioner, questioned why trustees were not given a copy of the draft letter "like we were told we would" and said there are "inaccuracies and false statements" in the letter. The main "discrepancy or false statement," according to Rust, was that the program would be "totally administered by St. Louis County."
"We never voted on that," Rust said.
The resolution, which was approved in January, was to enter into a contract with St. Louis County, according to Kienstra. The resolution does not specifically name St. Louis County, though Village Attorney Rich Magee told the board it was his understanding the village was voting to work with St. Louis County.
Kienstra told the Call the letter was "not a letter that was subjective in any tone," and when publishing public record information "it's not really something that needs proofing."
"We didn't have time," Kienstra said. "If we had waited a week or two to get everybody to proof it, the election would have been over."
Kienstra also said trustees had input in the content of the letter through their votes.
"They had input when they voted in December to approve or not approve withholding the January stipend. They had input when they voted in January to approve or not approve the resolution," he said. "They had input when they voted in January to put this issue on the ballot. So they did have input to the letter. Now, I totally reject the suggestion that they didn't have input."
Kienstra also said the village has "a number of months" to work out questions about the sewer lateral program.
"We'll have probably a resolution at the May meeting establishing the $50 fee that will be assessed of each resident. So we still have work to do on this …," Kienstra told the Call after the April 16 board meeting.
However, the board met Saturday and approved an ordinance establishing the $50 fee and an ordinance to enter into a contract with St. Louis County for the administration of the sewer lateral program. Both ordinances were approved in a 4-0 vote. Larson, who serves as village clerk, was absent.
Moving forward with Prop S is "what we as trustees have to do," according to Kienstra, as part of continuing progress in the village, which he said includes improving the streets program and increasing village funds.
"These are all things that make the village a better place to live …," he said. "I think the nonsense that we hear about people misrepresenting things and the discussion you hear about people not getting along is really not relevant to the business of the village. We are moving the business of the village forward every day …"
Editor's note: Larson submitted his resignation — effectively immediately — before a special board meeting Saturday morning.