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Former mayor's impact felt each day at City Hall

Though Jim Robertson's resignation as mayor of Crestwood was effective last Saturday, his impact continues to be felt each day at City Hall.

Robertson announced his resignation near the end of the Jan. 27 Board of Aldermen meeting. An attorney who was elected mayor in April 2002, Robertson said he was resigning to focus on family, medical and personal matters that for some time he has been unable to give the attention they deserve.

Given how the responsibilities of his mayoral post essentially have become a second full-time job, he "reluctantly'' concluded he could not focus on those family, medical and personal matters and give his mayoral duties the attention they deserve.

"His impact continues,'' Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood said of Robertson during an interview with the Call. "To say it in the past tense would not be really giving the efforts of the last 21 months credit.''

City Administrator Don Greer told the Call, "I've been managing local government services, for a brief time county services, since 1980. I've met a lot of mayors and a lot of elected officials. They're only a couple that stand out and in terms of the qualities that I have great respect for, quite candidly, I would put him (Robertson) at the top of the list. I've never met someone who is so consistently dependable, focused, driven ...''

Noting that he and Robertson did not always agree, Greer said, "But never once did I ever question his motivation or his sincerity. I know that my relationship with Mayor Robertson has made me better. It's made me smarter. It's made this new staff better and smarter. He insisted on that. We have a staff here that is committed to re-establishing the credibility of the city of Crestwood and he built that.''

During the Jan. 27 Board of Aldermen meeting, Robertson read a prepared statement announcing his resignation.

"As we sit here tonight, we now know that the city was headed for financial disaster. That disaster has been avoided. Expenses are under control, revenue sources are predictable and assured at least until 2023, and a number of staffing improvements have been made,'' Robertson said, noting aldermen earlier in the meeting had accepted restated financial statements for fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002.

"The audit for fiscal year 2003 should be completed within the next month and we will then have a complete and accurate picture of our finances for the first time in years. While there is and always will be room for improvement, Crestwood is on the road to recovery and now has the opportunity to realize its full potential,'' he said.

"In short, the 'fix-it' part is essentially complete and the 'improve-it' has already begun,'' Robertson added.

A forensic audit of fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002 was initiated last year after current city officials began an internal investigation into the accounting practices used by former City Administrator Kent Leichliter and former Finance Officer Robert Wuebbels. The forensic audit report alleges that Leichliter and Wuebbels violated the City Charter, numerous ordinances and their duties as fiduciary officers in their handling of the city's finances.

The city has filed a lawsuit alleging that Leichliter and Wuebbels breached their fiduciary duties by manipulating financial records to misrepresent the city's true financial condition to Robertson and the Board of Aldermen.

Both Trueblood and Greer credit Robertson's leadership for placing the city on the road to financial recovery.

During his tenure as mayor, residents approved a 15-year extension of a half-cent capital-improvement sales tax and a quarter-cent sales tax designed to offset some of the costs of providing fire protection.

"The city for the first time in I'll say at least three years if not longer has a true picture of its financial condition,'' Trueblood said. "The city has for the first time in as many years a program for development of Watson Road that meets the financial requirements of the city. It has a relationship that had started to develop and will continue to develop with the commercial aspects, retail aspects of our city.

"The citizens of Crestwood now have a better return on their tax dollar in the form of the services offered to them and provided to them by the employees of the city of Crestwood. The mayor was not one to tolerate less than 100 percent in that area of service to the citizens. I know that's not going to change,'' Trueblood added.

Greer, who was named city administrator in December 2002, noted that no one could have foreseen the financial crisis that was looming.

"... At times I've felt rather embarrassed. I've been here since 1990 as a department head. (I) should have had a better understanding of what our financial position was,'' he said. "I also know well enough there was a concerted effort to make sure nobody knew what our financial condition was. But when I came over here in December (2002), I had no clue.

"I knew that we had a lot of struggles and that we had a lot of issues. I knew that there was a lot of things that we wanted to do. There were a lot of things I wanted to do. It was very clear that there were a lot of things the mayor wanted to do, places he wanted to see this city move to or at least moving in that direction. We accomplished a lot of those,'' Greer said, noting in his resignation statement, Robertson said the mayoral post had become a second full-time job. "That would imply it was 40 hours a week. When I read his statement, I laughed. I said: 'When did you put in 40 hours a week?' You know, he and I probably had that much time on our cell phones. That's the part that I know I'm going to miss. It's the push. It's the coordination. It's the organization. It's the commitment ...''

The city administrator later said, "... How do you measure the impact that the man's had? He stopped it. He stopped the bleeding. We would have been bankrupt.''

Robertson and his family resided in Crestwood from 1977 to 1990. They became Crestwood residents again in 1997 when voters approved the city's annexation of 290 acres east of the city between Grant Road and Rock Hill Road. Robertson, who was involved with Neighbors for Annexation, was elected to the Board of Aldermen in 1998 and was re-elected in 2001.

In his campaign for mayor, Robertson said one of his goals was to establish an administration that would promote full communication between city officials and residents with the goal of "building a better way together.''

Before he was elected mayor, however, he already had been recognized for promoting open and accessible government in Crestwood, as the Call in 2001 nominated Robertson for the Missouri Press Association's Sunshine Award, and he was one of two winners statewide to receive the honor.

He also was at the forefront of the struggle to amend the city's Open Meetings and Records Policy to require the tape recording of closed sessions of the Board of Aldermen involving litigation and real estate matters and the new policy remains in effect today.

"... His theory on open government is probably second to none that I've ever run across and I have quite a bit of respect for that,'' Greer said of Robertson. "We work for the people of the city of Crestwood. We've got a long way to go. There's a culture here that has to change. But what Jim Robertson established was that it had to change. There was no choice and right now it's mine, it's the department heads and the Board of Aldermen, it's our responsibility to carry that forward. The board's a very cohesive unit and I think that a big part of the mayor's job is to do that, keep them informed, keep them educated, kind of balance their wants and needs.

"They're eight individuals and they all have the best interests of the city of Crestwood — as do we all — but we all have different interpretations of what should be done ... The unanimous votes that this board has done on significant issues is a tremendous testament to the work ethic and level of commitment that this Board of Aldermen has,'' he added.

The city and its citizens are better for Robertson having served as mayor, the city administrator said.

"Somebody asked me if Crestwood is better off today than we were yesterday,'' Greer said Friday. "And we're not — and we're not. We're better off because he was mayor. I'm going to miss him. He was good for the city. He was good for where we're going. He was the right man at the right time. We're all better off for him having been mayor — even those who didn't agree with him or don't agree with him, never will ...''

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