A potential shift election, similar to the one in 2005 when citizens stepped in because of Sunset Hills’ policy that imposed eminent domain to clear Sunset Manor for redevelopment, could be looming again this April.
While the specific hot-button issues differ — “cluster homes,” the revision of the city’s zoning code, the city’s lease agreement with the St. Louis Bombers Rugby Club and the development of Bander Park — the urge to challenge current city policy seems to be running high.
The mayor’s seat, as well as the aldermanic seats currently held by Ann McMunn (Ward 1), Casey Wong (Ward 2), Keith Krueger (Ward 3) and Thompson Price (Ward 4) will be up for grabs in April. As of Jan. 7, incumbents Fribis, McMunn, Wong and Price had filed for re-election.
Two members of a group that organized last year to galvanize criticism of Sunset Hills’ government have also filed to run, one of them against Mayor Fribis. Resident John Stephens, who created and runs a closed Facebook group with his wife Gena called Sunset Hills Neighbors, has filed to challenge the mayor.
Cathy Friedmann, who is also affiliated with the Sunset Hills Neighbors group, has filed for the Ward 3 Ward seat currently held by Krueger.
Randy Carrico, a West Watson Road resident, has also filed in Ward 3. Drew Hrach has filed to challenge Price in Ward 4. The filing deadline for the April 7 municipal election is Jan. 21.
For the better part of 2019, the Stephens attended Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen and Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, frequently offering input on development issues. John Stephens is a physician and engineer.
The Sunset Hills Neighbors social-media group, which claims more than 700 members, states its purpose is “to connect residents, promote community, share information and ideas, enhance safety and security and facilitate civic participation.”
Public officials, however, are requested to “not initiate posts or post or re-post public meetings, events or notifications” unless they are responding to a member. Comments posted on the page cannot be viewed by anyone who has not been vetted by the group’s administrators.
Sunset Hills Neighbors has also hosted its own “town hall” meetings at the Sunset Hills Recreation Center, providing a format for discussion of current public issues.
Without calling out the Sunset Hills Neighbors group by name, some city officials have pushed back against what they believe has been an effort to characterize several decisions made by the city over the past few months as nefarious.
“These disinformation campaigns lead to an unproductive process,” Sunset Hills Planning and Zoning Member Michael Hopfinger said in October when the zoning code revision was being discussed. “It merely feeds uncertainty and doubts. We are not looking to invade our own city.”
Alderman Steve Bersche has also suggested that some people are imputing bad faith among the city’s elected officials.