Maplewood voters to decide city attorney issues: Mayor Knapper explains

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The Maplewood city council is set to consider placing four items on the ballot in April having to do with the mayor (and not city manager) appointing the city attorney, separating the office of the city attorney from the prosecuting attorney, creating a new office of defense attorney, and to provide for a procedure to remove members of the department of law.

The ordinances were on the agenda for the November 14 meeting but Mayor Nikylan Knapper struck them from the agenda to reconsider the ballot wording. Knapper this week explained (by email) the purposes of the ballot issues. The mayor’s comments below are in bold.

Q: Why should the mayor and not the city manager appoint the city attorney?

A: Council believes that the city attorney should be determined by Council because the attorney is an employee of Council like the city manager. Further, the city attorney can only be hired or fired by the Council. The city manager cannot hire the city attorney without the consent of Council and the city manager cannot fire the city attorney; only the Council can terminate the city attorney’s employment.

Council serves as the community’s voice as its Council members are elected by the people of Maplewood; The city manager is not. Due to this and the explanation provide above, Council would like to see the appointment of the city attorney be the same as the appointment process for the Municipal Judge and appointments to Boards and Commissions. 

Q: Why is the city attorney and prosecuting attorney offices being separated, with the prosecuting attorney being appointed by the mayor?

A: A conflict of interest can occur with the city attorney also serving as a prosecuting attorney. Because of this, Council would like to see the position separated so a conflict of interest cannot arise. 

Additionally, as previously explained for the position of city attorney, Council would like to ensure that the voice of the community, not solely the city manager, is heard when appointing and approving the city prosecutor. The appointment of the city prosecutor by the mayor with the approval of Council will ensure the community’s voice is a part of the hiring process, as well as follow the same process for the Municipal Judge appointment and appointments to Boards and Commissions.

Q: Why create a new office of defense attorney?

A: The defense attorney position is being proposed by Council to assist individuals that have tickets for driving without a license, driving with a revoked license, driving with a suspended license, driving with expired tags, and driving without insurance. These aforelisted infractions can cause someone that is financially struggling to face more financial struggles, which could start or keep someone in a cycle of poverty. 

Council would like to ensure that persons with infractions such as these receive defense and legal advice that will help them to get on a path of getting their driver’s licenses and not being in debt because they cannot legally drive to work or the fines from such infractions have become insurmountable. 

The defense attorney scope of work is limited to those infractions listed above and there will be no increase to the City’s budget with the creation of this new position. Should the Maplewood community support this amendment, our municipality would be the first in the region to have such a position in its municipal court.

Q: Why does the city need a procedure to remove a member of the department of law?

A: Currently, the city’s charter does not have such a procedure. That is why Council seeks to include it. Council believes it is prudent to have a procedure in place to remove someone from a position.

Mayor Knapper also said that the process to locate a new city manager is underway. The previous one left the city in September, and Maplewood Police Chief Matt Nighbor was named interim city manager.

A: There is a process underway to hire a new city manager and it began on October 14, 2023. Because the hiring process is a personnel matter, discussions regarding the process and potential interview candidates took place during closed sessions. The Council decided to look locally before engaging in a national search. From our past experience, it was expensive ($20K+), and it took quite a while. One of the requirements of a City Manager is that you have to live in the City of Maplewood, per our charter and state statute. We felt it made sense to start looking locally before attempting a national search. It was not posted locally, but up to the Council to come up with candidates, which there were 3. One declined because of the residence requirement, and we interviewed 2 very capable candidates. 

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11 COMMENTS

  1. If the council and mayor can’t be trusted to hire a city manager who would make a good choice about the city attorney, then why should we also let the city council and mayor choose the city attorney? Appointments to the City Judge and boards and commissions have resulted in mostly the mayor’s friends and campaign contributors getting board seats. Should the person responsible for protecting the city also be a friend and campaign contributor of the mayor? That doesn’t seem right to me. Also, the math doesn’t make sense – how do you add a new position with no cost? I don’t know that it matters if we are first to create a new thing, if it also means we are first to hit financial ruin as a result.

    • Well said Jaye. I wanted to add some details about the board appointments. I spent 20 years volunteering on multiple city boards. Shortly after the mayor was sworn in, I was replaced on a board with one of the mayors’ friends. The way it was done was regrettable. I was replaced with no communications. Not even a phone call or email. Heck even a text message would have been appreciated.

      I was acquainted with many that worked at city hall and have a lot of respect for the jobs they do. I found out that I was being removed from the board by a city staff member. They noticed I was being replaced when the agenda for an upcoming council meeting was released and the mayor was appointing a friend instead of extending me to another term.

      At the time, I was on two other city boards. I decided shortly after this to resign from all board assignments. I decided to donate my volunteer efforts elsewhere.

      • I served on the Design and Review Board for 7 years and was chair of the Historic Preservation Commission before I got elected to City Council. I am a registered architect, Maplewood business owner and Maplewood resident. I applied multiple times for the commission since there was no architect on the board(s). Not only was I not selected despite vacancies needing to be filled, I never received any correspondence with regard to my status. It appears that the mayor waited for another architect to apply before filling the position. I designed Schlafly Bottleworks, St. Louis Closet Company, Side Project Cellar, Side Project Brewery, Mauhaus Cat Cafe and other commercial and residential projects in Maplewood, but apparently I didn’t have the necessary qualifications to serve on the board.

        • This is outrageous. The level of pettiness and spite shown by how the process Mr. Greenberg describes above played out should call into question the judgment and motivations of any of our current mayor’s decisions. In full disclosure I supported Ms. Knapper in her election against Mr. Greenberg because I liked her fresh ideas and energy, but can’t help but feel bamboozled in light of things learned recently. Not to mention there are quite a few of those fresh ideas that once elected, never seem to have been talked about again. A shame!

      • Dan, I was on the same board as you for a long time. I too was removed so that the new mayor could appoint her friends. I looked into who went into our places and they were all supporters of her campaign. There was another member treated as we were who was highly qualified as a director of parks and recreation in another municipality. After serving the community for over 20 years, I was booted so that she could fill the commission with her supporters.

        I voted for her as mayor, because I thought a fresh feel would be good for our community. Once in she kicked me off a commission without even a phone call or a thank you, I realized my mistake. I have learned through her term that she has different ideas about what is good for Maplewood than she talked about in her campaign. And reading her above responses and other communication to the public reinforces my thoughts. Hiring a defense attorney that she gets to choose, and the City Manager that she picked for the job, shows me that she is hand picking who is hired and assigned to commissions that support her agenda and not necessarily that of the community as a whole. I feel very deceived by her actions.

  2. What on earth is going on in the corridors of Maplewood City hall? Why did the city manager resign? The timing of all of this seems more than a little bit sus….. where are Thelma, Daphney, Fred, and the gang? I want some answers!

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