Despite a special meeting called May 2 to fill an unoccupied Fenton Board of Alderman spot, the board still has a vacancy because that evening’s business meeting was canceled.
At the special meeting, when Mayor Bob Brasses twice nominated Ward 3 resident Robin Huels to fill the vacancy created by his mayoral win, four board members comprising the majority did not vote in favor of her. A third attempt was thwarted due to overall meeting rules the board follows.
Huels, a 27-year Fenton resident, was a Fenton alderwoman 14 years ago. She’s been serving on the city’s human rights commission since 2000. As a write-in candidate for the April 2 election, she lost to Alderwoman Chris Clauss by only 28 votes.
Differing opinions about a vote-sequencing issue clearly spilled over from April 25, the evening that Brasses was sworn into office and had planned to nominate Huels and then elect a board president and two liaisons. Instead, a call earlier that day from Alderman Richard Patton to indicate some aldermen did not agree with the plan prompted the mayor to announce that night that all remaining board business was suspended.
Four of five Fenton residents spoke at the special meeting in favor of first filling the board seat, referencing due process, respect for ward residents, full representation and hope for changes.
Patton on April 25 cited a concern he said was related to the board vacancy in that he and other sitting board members thought the board’s leadership roles should be voted on first, followed by a vote regarding the open board position. He referenced precedence, but not existing rules, from two prior similar ward vacancies in 1993 and 1995, when board of aldermen were elected Fenton mayors before their board terms were fulfilled.
He also pointed out without a board president in place, there’s no official successor to the city’s mayor.
Fenton City Attorney Erin Seele confirmed at the May 2 meeting that no Fenton board policy, statute or city regulation was in place to dictate procedures about filling board vacancies.
Seele said what the mayor had planned for April 25 was “legal, within his rights and set up correctly.”
She said when there’s a void in city statutes, procedures divert to state laws.
“The Missouri law does not say when the special meeting must be called. That’s up to each mayor,” she added.
“The mayor wants to have his cake and eat it, too. It doesn’t work that way; it never worked that way,” said Patton. “We’ve never had anyone vote on board positions who themselves weren’t elected. Only those elected as aldermen determined who their leadership would be.”
“I respectfully disagree with Richard. There is no process written down for filling vacancies,” said Alderwoman Susan Jokerst.
“Two prior instances do not make a process. It just means that’s two times that we did it that way,” added Jokerst. “We have a qualified person willing to fill the seat. The mayor was elected by a large margin, that’s what the people wanted. This is how he feels is best to move forward and it makes more sense.”
Brasses made it clear he believed due to overall voters’ rights, every ward should be fully represented in any future board decisions.
When Brasses nominated Huels the second time, the same four board members – Patton, Clauss, Andrew Sobey Jr. and Paul Seemayer – again voted against the placement. Alderman Joe Maurath and newly elected board members Jokerst and Brian Wisbrock voted in favor of Huels.
After the third nomination for Huels was shut down, Brasses abruptly canceled the meeting scheduled to follow in which new board committee chairs would be elected, along with taking care of routine city business items.
Fenton personnel reportedly immediately expressed concerns about addressing imminent decisions, such as permits, city trash hauling, grant funding requirements and employee benefit renewals.
“America was founded due to lack of representation. My job is to be here for the residents,” said Brasses. “I am fighting for Ward 3 citizens to be represented, and I would fight just as hard for any other ward, too.”
Brasses said the matter has come down to certain board members not supporting Huels “without first getting what they personally want.
“But they’re trying to strip Ward 3 citizens of their decision-making opportunities, and that’s just wrong,” the mayor added.
At press time, a special meeting was called for May 9 so the city’s carryover operational items from May 2 can be processed.
“Our city can’t be jeopardized by this silliness,” stated Brasses.