About 25 Maplewood residents, business owners, city staff and elected officials gathered Wednesday evening for a town hall meeting at Schlafly Bottleworks to hear about the city’s fiscal year 2025 budget and propositions that will be on the ballot in Maplewood. It was the propositions, not the budget, that had the most interest and prompted the most questions.
City Manager Amber Withycombe presented the information on Proposition S, with director of public works, Anthony Traxler adding information from the floor. The $6 million bond issue is for “constructing, reconstructing, extending, repairing and improving city streets, sidewalks, and street lighting,” from the ballot wording.
One of the first questions had to do with speeding. Traxler said traffic calming measures are planned — which will likely be speed bumps/speed ramps — on five streets. They are:
Bellevue Avenue – Manchester Road north to city limits
Lyndover Place – Big Bend Blvd. to Bellevue Avenue
Flora Avenue – Laclede Station Road to Sutton Blvd.
Rannells Avenue – Laclede Station Road to Big Bend Blvd
Oxford Avenue – Big Bend Blvd to Kensington Avenue
Traxler said bids for the street work are out already. He said that if it passes we will begin to see improvements by this summer.
He also said the Great Rivers Greenway bicycling route project is progressing, as a collaboration between Great Rivers Greenway and the city. The route will run up Oxford from Big Bend, the turn north up Sussex, then east on Greenwood and south on Canterbury. There will be neighborhood meetings on the project in 2025 he said.
Proposition J, presented by council member Nick Homa (Ward 3), prompted the most discussion. The proposition has been passed by the city council and needs to go to the voters before becoming law.
The proposition would make two changes: it would add a defense attorney to the city’s law department, which currently includes a city attorney and a prosecuting attorney. It would also make the change that the mayor and not the city manager would appoint all three with the approval of the city council.
The defense attorney would represent defendants in Maplewood court accused of: 1) driving while license or driving privilege is cancelled, suspended or revoked, 2) driving without a valid license, 3) failure to have the minimum required insurance, and 4) operating a vehicle that is not registered.
Someone asked if DWI would be defended, and Homa said, no. He made clear that these four citations are the only offenses that would apply.
Some wondered if this change wouldn’t incentivize some to break the law, since their defense would be paid for? David Schlafly, CEO of Schlafly Brewing, said there has been a year-long crime spree of break-ins on the Bottleworks parking lot, with no arrests so far. He asked if it wouldn’t incentivize robbery, and also wondered if it would tell the victims that the city doesn’t have their backs.
Homa said later that since the defense attorney won’t provide counsel for anything other than the four citations listed, he can’t make the connection to see how it would incentivize higher level crimes like robbery.
Another resident asked if given the recent controversy over the hiring of the city manager, do we want the mayor also appointing the defense attorney? Homa responded that the council has to confirm the appointments so the mayor doesn’t have total control. He also said having the mayor appointing the attorneys brings the process in line with similar appointments, (such as the municipal judge and commission members, Homa said after the meeting).
Maplewood Richmond Heights School Superintendent Bonita Jamison said she appreciates that the proposal would provide defense for anyone of any income, that this would help many people of color, who are unfairly impacted by the current system. “I’m proud of the city council for trying to dismantle racism,” she said.
There were more questions when Homa presented the ballot wording:
Shall Article IX. – Department of Law of the City Charter of the City of Maplewood,
Missouri, be amended as outlined in City Ordinance No. 6035?
Withycombe said the ballot wording was recommended by the city attorney, and also that the length is limited — which is why the wording doesn’t describe what the voters are voting on in practical terms. Homa said the city will put out information about the proposal.
There were also questions about why the cost to taxpayers for the attorney isn’t mentioned on the ballot. Homa said the reason is that the city doesn’t know the exact amount. He said it can’t just be based on what the city attorney and prosecuting attorney are paid, which is a retainer.