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Effort to quell criticism of Miguel sparks airing of concerns about him


March 02, 2005 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

An attempt by Crestwood Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox to quell criticism of fellow Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel apparently had the opposite effect as other elected officials last week elaborated on their concerns about Miguel's conduct as an alderman.

Near the end of the Feb. 22 Board of Aldermen meeting, Maddox read a statement contending that criticism of Miguel stems from his role in collecting signatures for a state petition audit of the city's finances.

But Mayor Tom Fagan and other aldermen responded that Miguel's involvement in the drive for a state audit merely is one aspect of the criticism toward Miguel.

Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher said, "... I think the state audit is merely a portion of it. The bitterness stems from repeated attempts to try to bring up the chief's automobile allowance again and again and again, ridiculous comments about the Creston Center, trying to change minutiae in the minutes, constant negative attitudes with no solutions once again, soliloquies that go on and on up here ad infinitum and then most recently abstaining from probably one of the most important votes of anybody's aldermanic career, which I still can't understand. So I suggest that those are the reasons there is bitterness toward Alderman Miguel and the state audit is merely a portion of that ...''

In his statement, titled "Comments on the Board's Attitude Regarding the State Audit,'' Maddox said, "... The board should accept that the audit petition was a lawful outgrowth of the concern expressed by our voters. Those who organized and supported it, including Alderman Miguel, do not deserve expressions of criticism offered by members of the board.''

Kelley Isherwood of the Crestwood Smart Growth Alli-ance told the Board of Aldermen in October 2003 that the alliance was seeking signatures for a state petition audit of the city. Less than a week later, city officials released the results of a forensic audit of fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002 performed by Brown Smith Wallace that alleged two former Crestwood officials violated the City Charter, numerous ordinances and their duties as fiduciary officers in their handling of the city's finances. On Nov. 19, 2003, the city filed a lawsuit against former City Administrator Kent Leichliter and former Finance Officer Robert Wuebbels.

The lawsuit alleges that they breached their fiduciary duties by manipulating financial records to misrepresent the city's true financial condition to then-Mayor Jim Rob-ertson and the Board of Aldermen. The suit is pending.

During a presentation to aldermen last summer, Director of Finance Diana Madrid said the total cost to the city of Crestwood for the state audit conducted by the Missouri State Auditor's Office could be as much as $42,636. She also noted that non-residents collected 766 signatures or 67.85 percent of the total number collected.

Four members of the Boegeman family, who own the Creston Center at the southeast corner of Watson and Grant roads, collected 584 signatures on the petition calling for a state audit. The Boegemans have been at odds with city officials since early 2002 when a request for proposals was issued to redevelop 18.79 acres at Watson and Grant roads, including the site of the Creston Center. The Boegemans repeatedly said they would not sell their property, vowing to fight any efforts to acquire their property through eminent domain. The RFP later was withdrawn.

Of the residents collecting signatures for the state petition audit, Jesus J. Miguel, also known as Jerry Miguel, obtained the most — 68. Miguel of Ward 3 was elected to the Board of Aldermen last April. One of his campaign planks was to eliminate the $830-per-month car allowance for City Ad-ministrator Don Greer, who also serves as police chief.

When aldermen voted 7-0 in January to place a $6 million bond issue on the April 5 ballot, Miguel abstained.

Of the state audit, Kelleher said, "... I think it's ridiculous to make the assumption that this was a reasonable thing to do because at this point we're at about $44,000, $45,000, and at a point when we're struggling with our financial situation. I'm embarrassed that this thing took place. Especially when we find out the results, I think I'll be more embarrassed. I could say more, but I'll just get myself into trouble ...''

Ward 2 Alderman Tim Trueblood said to Maddox, "I would just suggest that you change the title of your document to 'Comments on the Board's Attitude Regarding Al-derman Miguel' instead of state audit because honestly I think you mention his name more than the state audit.''

Maddox said, "There was a general feeling throughout the city that something was wrong. Over 1,000 signatures were obtained from residents that agreed that a state audit should be done. That is not insignificant ... Patience could have been exhibited by the residents. However, at the end of October going into November, those answers still would not have been forthcoming because we were then in litigation and we would not have been able to answer the questions that were coming up. And that just would have led to more frustration. Your thoughts that just the audit report would have satisfied everybody, I don't think would be true at all ... I disagree with Alderman Trueblood. I think the whole crux of the attitude toward Alderman Miguel springs from the state audit. OK?''

Miguel said, "I think the board needs to look at this issue from the other side of the fence and first let me thank Alderman Maddox for his comments and I was not aware of this letter or statement. But what I think this board has failed to do is look at this from the perspective of the citizens and the board, I think the board is still in a state of denial, self-denial, state of denial on this ... I was approached by CSGA to support the audit. I don't feel it was a knee-jerk reaction. I thought about it long and hard for at least a week. I made a statement I believe in August (2003) calling for a state audit and I think that letter, statement that I made is part of the record ...''

Miguel said that as he continued to research the city's finances, that research raised many questions, questions that he contended went unanswered by city officials.

Fagan said, "I'm going to make a couple comments here. No. 1, I really question what the people were told who signed this petition because I've had people come up to me and say: 'You know, I didn't know we had a forensic audit going on.' So I really, with all due respect, the people are more than welcome to sign, they did sign. Whomever signed this had a right to do so and request a state audit. No one is disputing that. But you know what? It really galls me when people don't tell the entire story and specifically I'm going to point to you, Alderman Maddox and Alderman Miguel, because you guys have — you are now attacking us and I really resent some of the comments that you've made here tonight and I'm going to bring up a point about the question with Don Greer's car ...

"We talked to you and I asked you about what do you tell residents when they ask you about the car and do you tell him, tell (that) particular resident that Don Greer's salary is less than what a city administrator makes? Do you clear up any misconceptions? And both of you said, 'No,' and I think it's patently unfair. If you disagree with the car, I think everybody has a right to their opinion about that, right, wrong or indifferent. If you think we didn't do the right thing, you're entitled to that opinion and you may be right or wrong. But when you don't correct any misconceptions that a person has about the total compensation package, I think you do a tremendous disservice to this board and to the city and it really is galling to me ...

"The third thing is was the Creston Center really doing this for the benefit of the city or were they doing it as a sword for themselves and to attack the city? And I guess the question is: How many freedom of information act re-quests have they made of the city? If you think that's done because they want all that information or is it done be-cause they want to put us through the wringer? I don't know, I'm just posing the question, but it certainly seems to me that a lot of that is done as the use of a sword, certainly not the use of a shield,'' the mayor continued.

"I also have some concern. You claim that the board has some contempt or dislike for Alderman Miguel because of what he did with the state audit. I will say to you that I have, it's not contempt, he has the right to his opinion, but when I've asked him this on several occasions, what do you propose we do? You seem to be against everything, but you don't seem to be for anything and you are entitled to be against everything. But it seems to me it gives your stance a heck of a lot more credibility if you have some solutions. And on numerous occasions, I have been told: 'I don't have any solutions.' And it seems to me with all the problems this city has had, that people who are carping about what has transpired — and they have a right to and I tell everybody, nobody is madder about this than I am — but they would do all of us a favor if they came up with some possible solutions as opposed to sitting there and just carping about what has gone on,'' Fagan said.

Maddox later said, "OK, first you alleged that we don't, at least I don't, speak clearly about Administrator Greer's automobile allowance. You know, I've ... had that issue raised with me, you know, that that's an unreasonable automobile allowance and I've pointed out that I think it was a mistake. I voted for it. I voted for it twice. I think it was a mistake on my part. But I also point out that he is paid as the police chief, not as city administrator and that was the reason that that was done. And I don't think that that was really a good reason for doing that. I think there were other alternatives to that particular route that we took.

"As far as (Creston) Center's motivation, I agree with you. They were afraid that we were going to allow Mills Properties to have eminent domain to take their property away from them. When you looked at the plans, Creston Center would have become a little pond with a few rocks on their one-acre site and they felt like that was not in their best interests to lose their piece of property. I don't fault them for fighting us in every way that they could. You know, that's their right as a citizen. As far as solutions go, I think Administrator Greer has had several meetings with us, talking about solutions, asking for us to come up with solutions. And there are some specific things that we could do ... I've talked to Administrator Greer about some things that we could do and some of the things that he's talked to me about. I don't know whether those should be made public right now. One of the things that was discussed in our sessions was right now we have a two fire-truck response. We don't really need a two fire-truck response ... If we went to a one-truck response, it would probably result in an increase in insurance for our commercial properties, not likely to affect residential insurance. That's one of the solutions that we discussed in our meetings. So there are solutions, essentially cutting costs ...,'' Maddox said.

Fagan later said, "... I agree with you it is Creston Center's right to fight us tooth and nail with every legal maneuver they can. But you know what? They ought to be called on the carpet by people who have signed the audit for them ... 'You know, you got your state audit, don't put us through the wringer just to make us spend costs and use this as a sword.' Because from my perspective, maybe I'm wrong, it certainly seems like that, the state audit.

"Secondly, the vitriolic nature of attacks on some of the people on this board, not just to Alderman Miguel, but to some of the other people to me has been distasteful and uncalled for. Everybody has a right in this republic form of government to express their opinion, to express it tastefully, though, and to do it civilly. And that's not done, unfortunately, and it seems to be, frankly, from some of the people who are your supporters,'' the mayor said.

"Specifically, one gentleman giving Al-derman Kelleher the bird. To me, that's uncalled for. That's childish. We can all disagree here ... But some of the actions taken and some of the misrepresentations made, it really just chafes my backside when people's positions are misrepresented — and I don't want to say half-truths because I don't want to accuse anybody of lying or anything like that. But when people's positions are distorted, it does everybody a disservice and we ought to be arguing about the merits of certain propositions and whether one side should prevail because it's in the best interest of the city of Crestwood, not be-cause somebody wants to distort truth and distort what's going on and that's what has happened a lot in the past several months from my viewpoint ...,'' Fagan said.

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