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Alexander, Miguel vying for Ward 3 seat in Crestwood

Two Ward 3 candidates seeking election to the Crestwood Board of Aldermen agree that the city's fiscal condition is the most important issue in the race, but differ over the need for a state audit.

Incumbent Bernadine "Bernie'' Alexander and Jerry Miguel are vying for the Ward 3 aldermanic seat in the Tuesday, April 6, election.

Bernadine "Bernie'' Alexander
In Ward 2, Daniel Himebaugh, James Kelleher and Jeffrey Schlink are seeking election to the aldermanic seat currently held by Gary Vincent, who did not file for a third, three-year term.

Two other candidates — Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding and Ward 4 Alderman Pat Duwe — are unopposed in the April 6 election.

Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the Ward 3 candidates gave these responses:

Alexander said, "Foremost is the financial health of our city. As a result of my banking background, I have a conservative approach to budgeting and cash management. I voted against the car allowance for the city administrator because of its excessive amount. I also voted against the purchase of a used fire/rescue vehicle because of our current cash situation.''

Jerry Miguel
Miguel said, "Restore financial health. In the late '90s, Crestwood had $2.5 million cash reserves. The $2.5 million is now gone and the city is borrowing $1 million just to meet expenses. The general fund was $1 million in the red as of June 30, 2002. The audit for 2003 will show more red ink. And 2004 is budgeted at an additional $618,000 deficit. So my top priority is to put an end to the financial shortfalls and restore the city to financial health. This will entail a complete review of the city's priorities.''

But the two candidates differed when asked if they signed a petition calling for a state audit of the city's finances.

Alexander said, "No, I did not sign the petition for a state audit because as a member of the Board of Aldermen, I voted to approve a forensic audit in mid-September. Signatures were gathered and submitted to the state auditor in late October, after the forensic audit, as reported by the press, was under way.

"A certified public accounting firm is governed by a code of ethics to conduct an independent audit. The state audit will cost the citizens of Crestwood $16,000 to $24,000 in addition to what has been spent on the forensic audit,'' she added.

Miguel said, "You may recall that I called for a state audit at the Board of Aldermen meeting on Oct. 14, 2003, and in a letter to the editor of the SunCrest Call on Oct. 30, 2003. I did this only after writing a letter to the mayor and city administrator on Sept. 8, 2003 asking basic questions about the 2004 budget. Then I asked some of the same questions at Board of Aldermen meetings. When my questions went unanswered, I decided a state audit was needed to get an unbiased statement on the financial status of the city.

"So when the petition for a state audit became a reality, I signed the petition. Moreover, I discussed the city's financial issues with friends and neighbors, and I obtained about 70 signatures for the petition. Incidentally, my call for a state audit was not the first. A state audit was called for by two Crestwood citizens at a Board of Aldermen meeting on Jan. 28, 2003, six months before the $600,000 'anomaly' was reported in July,'' he added.

Alexander, 54, 9071 Whitehaven Drive, 63123, is a tax administrator and receptionist at Bohlmann and Co., CPAs. She and her husband, Robert "Bob'' Alexander, have a grown daughter.

Alexander has served on the Board of Aldermen since April 2002, when she was appointed to fill a vacancy created by the election of former Ward 3 Alderman Jim Robertson as mayor. Alexander was elected to the board last year to serve the remaining one year of Robertson's term as alderman.

She said her primary goal in seeking re-election "is to represent the people of Ward 3 and promote progress in our great city. I co-chaired the effort for successful annexation into the city of Crestwood. Having lived in Crestwood for 10 years before moving to our present home in unincorporated St. Louis County, I definitely wanted to 'come back home.' Following annexation, I felt a responsibility to the people to deliver on the promises we made during the annexation campaign.''

Miguel, 67, 7942 Camelot Lane, 63123, is retired from Anheuser-Busch. He and his wife, Judy, have four grown children.

Miguel, who has not held elective office, said he is seeking election to "restore the city to financial health.''

The Ward 3 candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

What is your position on the use of tax-increment financing — TIF?

Alexander said, "Competition in the marketplace has brought TIF and other tax tools to the forefront in the last 10 years. I believe government must be prudent in using tax tools, since we also must promote strong school districts; however, as was pointed out at the recent citizens' forums, the city of Sunset Hills approved $8.2 million in TIF financing for Sunset Plaza and the city of Fenton approved $49 million in TIF financing for Gravois Bluffs. We must be competitive in attracting retailers to the city of Crestwood.''

Miguel said, "The cities in our competitive retail market have used TIFs to the extreme. There is only so much retail business in the area. The $49 million TIF for Gravois Bluffs and the $8 million TIF for Sunset Hills have drawn a number of businesses out of Crestwood. Crestwood has to consider this fact in attracting new business.''

Do you agree with the direction the city is moving?

Alexander said, "There is always room for improvement, but we have worked tremendously hard to ferret out the details of our financial climate and we are now in the process of rectifying the situation.''

Miguel said, "The city is on a precipitous slide. We are in the midst of a financial crisis. As I noted above, we have gone from a $2.5 million surplus in the late '90s to borrowing $1 million this year to meet expenses. Businesses are leaving the city in droves; business vacancies abound. Crestwood does not have a business-friendly reputation. This has got to change.

"It appears that the administration is proceeding with a new police station — which we cannot afford — while the vast majority of citizens I talk to would prefer to see the city gets its finances in order first. Meanwhile, the administration promoted condos in areas that should have remained single family and pushed projects that the majority of people I talk to do not want, like the 240-unit apartment complex at Watson and Grant.''

What, if anything, would you propose to maintain the vitality of the Watson Road corridor?

Alexander said, "Our hopes to work with the state of Missouri to remove the medians were lost under the current state budget crisis; however, we are having preliminary discussions with Sunset Hills to join together in a collective effort to improve the appearance of Watson Road. Additionally, we must prudently offer assistance to any current or prospective business to optimize their competitiveness.''

Miguel said, "First, the verb in the question should be 'restore,' not 'maintain.' The corridor needs to be made business friendly. Small things like street number signs on the right of way. Have you ever tried to find 9700 Watson? Perhaps an open quarterly breakfast to get input from the business community. We also need to explore bigger things, like getting tenants for the large retail vacancies, attracting office construction, and redeveloping the Watson industrial park area. Look at what Creve Coeur did with One City Place. Perhaps a walkway could link a redeveloped One Crestwood Place to the mall.''

In view of the city of Crestwood's financial problems, should the city proceed with construction of a new police station, projected to cost roughly $7.8 million?

Alexander said, "Our current facility is too small and has substantiated security problems. For example, we have no provisions for holding juvenile defendants separate from adults which violates federal statutes. I believe we need this new facility for the future, but will make every effort to control costs when the final plan comes before the Board of Aldermen.''

Miguel said, "First, the project total is $8.7 million. Second, the city borrowed $9.8 million in November 2002. And the total cost, including interest on the 20-year bonds, is $15 million. With the May 2004 payment, interest payments alone will already total over $500,000, a huge waste of our financial resources.

"Just about all the Crestwood people I talk to agree with me that the new police station needs to be stopped, or at least put on hold until the city's finances are in order. Furthermore, many citizens tell me they want to see their streets repaired before we build a new police station. Assurances that we can spend $1 million per year for street repairs while we spend $15 million for a new police station are no longer valid, if they ever were. And has anyone calculated the annual operating cost the new police building will add to the general fund? The bottom line is the city cannot afford a new police building, at least not at this time.''

What are your thoughts about eminent domain? Please sight any examples of the city's "misuse" of eminent domain.

Alexander said, "Using eminent domain for commercial development is a useful tool for progress. Without eminent domain, Crestwood would not have a Best Buy or Schnucks supermarket. It is something to be used only as a last resort.''

Miguel said, "Eminent domain is good if all parties benefit and are satisfied. The proposed Mills project for Watson-Grant is an example of the misuse of eminent domain.''

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