Brentwood aldermen talk tree removal; mayor won’t apologize

The subject of trees to be removed by the city came up several times in the Brentwood Board of Aldermen on Tuesday. On Dec. 23 the city removed a resident’s oak tree on Urban Avenue without notifying him, which upset him.

The resident, Doug Gruder, told the aldermen in the meeting that cutting down the 120-year-old oak (by his estimation) from his yard was “wrong and criminal”. He asked if a title search had been done to determine if the tree was in the city right of way. He said he has an attorney looking into that.

He questioned the city’s decision process.

“The city made the list of trees to be cut down in 2014, yet two years later my tree all of a sudden became a hazard? If it was a hazard back then, it sat that whole time, no damage to my property, no limbs fell on Pine. Then Peter Van Linn (city arborist) in 2016 in June made his report, and the tree still sat there. All of a sudden in December, now it’s a hazard. I don’t get it.”

In response, Gruder’s aldermen, Sunny Sims and Brandon Wegge, both apologized to Gruder for the failure to notify him. Wegge said he has asked City Administrator Bola Akande to look into the notification process.

Mayor Chris Thornton said he also felt badly about the failure to notify to Gruder, but he said he stops short of apologizing.

“There seems to be an underlying assumption that had he received notice prior to the tree coming down something might have changed, and I just don’t believe that,” he said. “The judgement of the city, for good or for ill, was that that tree needed to be taken out, and it was taken out. And it would have been taken out regardless if Mr. Gruder had received three weeks notice.”

Thornton also said that Gruder had criticized him for not responding to him, but said Gruder had never contacted him, and he would talk to him if Gruder tried. He also said the city should reimburse Gruder for his past expenses to maintain the tree.

City attorney, Kevin O’Keefe, said the purpose of the notice is “for people to get their stuff out of the way.” The notice is motivated by the desire for public safety, he said.

The aldermen also discussed how a resident should be notified — whether a letter should be certified or registered, or sent at all. And if a tree should have a neon ribbon tied around it or have a letter taped to it.

They also discussed if a resident should be allowed to hire his own arborist, in addition to the city arborist and one from Davey Tree, for another opinion. Wegge said that would only lead to too many opinions, which wouldn’t be helpful. Alderman David Plufka questioned the impartiality of a Davey Tree arborist, which makes money from taking down trees. Alderman Kathy O’Neill, a Missouri Master Naturalist, said Davey is primarily a tree service company, not a tree removal company, and had a high opinion of the company.

The board made no decisions about trees or how to notify residents of tree removal.

Resident Doug Gruder tells the board of aldermen how unhappy he is with the city removing his oak tree.

Also in the meeting, Thornton said he was excited about a plan to solve the flooding problem on Manchester Road, but said he’s nervous because it’s a big project and would take dedication for a long period of time. He said it could involve companies being forced to move and a property tax. He plans to meet with the aldermen later in the month about the plan.

The board also approved a resolution to condemn a property on Hanley Industrial Court so the city could proceed installing a sidewalk. All other property owners have given the city an easement for a sidewalk there, but repeated attempts to contact this owner for his permission have failed, according to Thornton. Alderman Andy Leahy and others were against condemnation — Leahy cast the only ‘no’ vote. They hoped when the letter to condemn the property was served to the owner he would contact the city to give an easement.

16 thoughts on “Brentwood aldermen talk tree removal; mayor won’t apologize

  1. “The judgement of the city, for good or for ill, was that that tree needed to be taken out, and it was taken out. And it would have been taken out regardless.”

    Translation: F.U. The City will do whatever it feels like, whether it makes sense or not, and there’s not much you can do about it.
    PS. While you elected me on the pretense of representing the people and providing oversight to our government, “for good or for ill”, I still collect a paycheck.

    • Do you really think the city was just doing whatever they felt like? Do you think that the mayor just decided one day when he woke up that he would cut this tree down? From what I read, a certified arborist deemed this tree unhealthy and dying and the city cut it down before it became a hazard. If you want to talk about the lack of notice given then that’s a separate argument that is reasonable. Or, the damage to the property from the equipment used to cut it down – fine. But to pretend this was some senseless decision and insinuating the city had ulterior motives in cutting down this tree is a bit dramatic.

  2. The tree was very close to dead. Look at the lack of foliage. They did him a favor.

    • I agree. If you look at the google map street view of the tree it was only a matter of time. However, Brentwood still should have given notice to Doug as common courtesy.

      • If you look when the Google picture was taken you would see that it was in the fall when all trees start losing leaves.

        • No it wasn’t. Trees in the background have full branches of leaves. The picture I looked at last night showed a tree covered in ivy and with multiple dead branches with no leaves on the top of the tree.

          • Did you read Mr. Gruder’s letter? He had removed all the ivy, some time ago. I think a couple years. This is an old picture on Google.

  3. just to correct a misstatement, by Alderperson Kathy O’Neill, Davey Tree does remove trees.
    they took one out for me, and i agree, the service was terrific.

  4. Brentwood city trespassing, damaging private property and strong-arming tax payers. This mayor is a poor leader and needs to go.

    • Our billowing bundle of banal bloviations & BS mayor DOES NEED TO GO. But for the time being, i suggest a proclamation that the Chris Thornton Phallic-looking tree be registered as an historical presentation of his legacy. There are so many different (slang) names for phallus that each and everyone would apply. I think Doug Gruber should put a permanent placard onto that tree so Chris’ job as mayor will never be forgotten. I have worked with some very good engravers and i will pay for it. To the Grubers, this is still your private property. Just let me know about turning this lemon into lemonade. (and Chris, you REALLY need to go…) best regards, maureen

      • btw–every time peace reigns and my “bad self” slumbers, Chris lays a trip-wire for an IED and someone else has to deal with the mess.

  5. Is Brentwood replacing the trees they are removing one for one? I faintly remember Brentwood enforcing that on business during a P&Z department meeting. Anyone know?

  6. Just imagine if Gruder put this type of effort in anything else in his life. That would be simply amazing.

    • Man, that seems a little harsh & judgemental. Do you even know this guy? Or are you just snarking from the cheap seats?

    • You are a jackass Mr. Stan. What an awful thing to say about a fellow human. Glad you aren’t my judge and jury.

    • Mr. Gruder was done wrong, Mr. Tarkenton. (And note that I afforded you the courtesy of a “Mr.”) Why are you dissing this man for defending his property? His actions strike many of us as both reasonable and justified. Perhaps because of him, you won’t come home someday to find something you value wrecked or confiscated by the City.

      As for Mayor Thornton, I liked his decision last month to post a comment here expressing regret that so many residents were upset over the killing of the trees in Oak Tree Park. I wish he had reached out to Mr. Gruder to express regret for this disaster. Good mayors of yesteryear like Ed Wright Sr. and Art Oppenheim would have knocked on the poor man’s door to personally apologize and discuss the matter.