Six candidates for the Town and Country Board of Aldermen attended a candidate forum moderated by the League of Women Voters Friday.
All six are running for aldermen seats in Tuesday's election.
At the table were Dorothy Greco Cooke and former mayor Richard “Skip” Mange, who are both running for a vacant Ward 1 seat. Incumbent Ward 2 Alderman Al Gerber and his opponent Chuck Lenz also came to the forum, as did incumbent Ward 3 Alderman Steve R. Fons and his opponent Gussie Crawford.
Phil Behnen, Town and Country Ward 4 alderman, did not attend. He is running for re-election unopposed and had a previous committment to be out of town with his son who was on spring break from school.
The League of Women Voters collected questions from the audience and presented them to the would be aldermen and women. About 50 people attended the meeting, which was held at .
The questions ranged from rezoning, the right of recall, transparency in government and deer management.
When asked about rezoning issues, all six candidate agreed that Town and Country should try to maintain its current status as a residentially focused community with plentiful green space. Mange said that keeping homes on a minimum of one acre is “critical” for Town and Country, while Gerber stated that the city has enough condos and shouldn’t allow more to be built.
All the candidates agreed that the city should focus on finding shops that could fill the already vacant retail space in Town and Country, rather than building new shopping plazas. Finding tenants for Manchester Meadows shopping center of Manchester Road came up repeatedly during the forum.
Lenz pointed out that is still paying rent on its , and will continue to do so until 2015. He feels the owner of Manchester Meadows lacks motivation to find new tenets, but that the city should work with them now to find a “destination” store to bring back shoppers.
The candidates were also asked how they felt about the hypothetical issue of Principia selling its land to developers.
Crawford pointed out that the board has not been told if the school is even interested in moving and that there’s nothing to do until the school decides if they want to sell their land. Her opponent Fons said that the main concern would be keeping Clayton Road a quiet residential street.
Gerber said the area is currently zoned for educational use and should stay that way. His opponent Lenz said that the city has already lost three legal battles in trying to prevent rezoning and that it would be hard to prevent a new owner from building a business park on the less desirable land that faces Hwy 40.
Mange said that the land on Clayton Road could not become retail and should only be allow to change to one acre home lots. He felt the land facing Hwy 40 could become an office park. His opponent Cooke said she did not want to rezone the land and would like it to stay green as a park or farmland.
The candidates did not agree on the issue of deer management.
Fons said that though he voted for culling the deer, he had concerns if the sharp shooters did their job safely enough. His opponent Crawford said that White Buffalo handled the hunt safely, used headshots only and applauded that the deer meat had been donated to charity.
Cooke said she would lean toward non-lethal methods of deer management. She also said that the city should restrict the deer to a number the residents can tolerate, rather than the number of deer the land can support. Her opponent Mange was in support of shooting the deer until the numbers are at a manageable number, then switching to a non-lethal method. He said that controlling the deer population in was important and felt that he had the connections to get St. Louis County’s support in lowering the deer population in the park.
Gerber said he was in support of sterilizing the deer, which may seem expensive, but he felt would be a cheaper method over the long term. His opponent Lenz said he was in favor of using sharp shooters and felt that would be the cheaper method. He said the contractor they would hire to sterilize the deer is paid by the hour, not by the deer. After the deer numbers drop he felt they would be harder catch, requiring more time to medically treat fewer deer.
When asked about transparency in government, all the candidates were in favor of greater transparency.
Gerber said transparency should be increased as much as possible and that people should have time to react and give feedback on issues facing the aldermen. His opponent Lenz said the city keeps everything “on the table” and he feels that citizens should put more effort in finding information that is made publicly available on the website and newsletters.
Fons said the city has a good system of communication already and that citizens with concerns need only call or email their aldermen with questions. His opponent Crawford agreed that the city is very open and admitted that she has learned much since she started attending board meetings. She invited residents to come to the meetings regularly and not just when they are upset over an issue.
Cooke said that the average citizen finds aldermen meetings confusing and wanted to find out why people are so frustrated. She said that as a medical internist, she feels she is a trained listener, a skill she would like to use in office. Her opponent Mange said the city has strong sunshine laws and said the space between the two required two readings of every bill gives citizens a time to react.
The question of giving the citizens the right to recall their elected officials was asked, which puzzled the candidates somewhat as it is not a power the aldermen can give.
Mange pointed out that Town and Country is officially a “fourth class” city, and by state law is not allowed to hold recalls. He said the voters would need to change the city’s status to “third class” in order to have that power. His opponent Cooke said that she would be in favor of the city changing to third class.
Gerber said the city has certainly grown enough to become third class and that he would support a vote to change the city’s status. His opponent Lenz said the city is fine as it is, and that by the time they could put together a recall vote an alderman’s two year term would be up anyway.
Fons said the problem isn’t whether or not citizens can recall their officials, but a lack of communication between the aldermen and the voters. His opponent Crawford said the city should stay fourth class.
*Check back to Town and Country - Manchester Patch for more information on the April 3 election, including a local voters guide.
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