Opinion: Maplewood Strategic Plan, by Sandi Phillips

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Opinion: Maplewood Strategic Plan

After serving on City Council for five years under two different Mayors and three different City Managers, I would like to offer my perspective on why I will be writing in Barry Greenberg on April 2.

When I joined council in 2018, it was a time of transition. Marty Corcoran had been our City Manager for 35 years, and the previous members of council were not as active in proposing changes. With the election of Jenny Schmidt, the subsequent election of Eleanor Pardini and myself, and Marty’s retirement, we began exploring how to effectively work together to modernize our procedures. We proposed changes to the process of soliciting, reviewing, and choosing Board and Commission members, changes to the budget process, to the agenda-setting process, and we initiated a City Council booth at the summer concert series. I am proud to say that these changes – with the support of Mayor Greenberg, Acting City Manager Anthony Traxler, and every other council member – brought about more community engagement, and more transparency in Maplewood government.

We began to be a more proactive City Council: we implemented a second public comment forum at the end of meetings, we actively solicited feedback from the community with the citizen and business surveys, we hosted budget town hall meetings, and increased the frequency and availability of the Maple Leaf newsletter. We created an RFP to secure a firm which began the multi-year project to create an Equity Policy for the city. We created Ordinance Review committees to engage even more community members in the process of updating the language in our ordinances, and to view them with an Equity lens. I would be remiss if I did not recognize that Sarah Crosley was elected in 2020 and was instrumental as we worked on these projects. I am proud of the progress our City Council made over the years that I served. I was, however, surprised at just how long some of those changes took to propose, find funding for, research, get community input, and to implement. My friend Laura Arnold (who was elected to Webster Groves City Council the same year that I was, and who is now serving as Mayor of Webster Groves) referred to it as the “glacial pace of city government”.

Another process that suffered from the slow progression of the clock was hiring a permanent City Manager. Maplewood was led by one of the most well-respected City Managers in the state, but we didn’t realize that hindered us until we went searching for his replacement. Not many experienced City Managers were willing to step into Marty’s shoes. At the same time, the “Better Together” proposal would have potentially eliminated the position of City Manager as municipalities would possibly merge with each other or with the City of St. Louis. Anyone considering moving their family to Maplewood (because we have a residency requirement) could have been out of a job in short order. Finally, while in the throes of more interviews, soliciting input from city staff and community members about our finalists, we were hit with COVID lockdowns and had to revamp the interview processes. After 18 months of stops and starts, multiple rounds of interviews (both on our own and with the help of a search firm), and employment offers which were declined for various reasons, we found Michael Reese. We were thrilled with his experience: Mr. Reese was previously chief of staff for the Mayor of Columbus, Ohio, and he managed 14 departments with over 9,000 employees and a budget of over $2.5 billion. He was also excited about moving to Maplewood and being involved in the change he saw that was happening in our community.

Mr. Reese became a valuable partner in implementing the vision that the City Council created. He led the process to implement the Council Retreat held May 6-7, 2022, where the council created the Strategic Plan for the city. This was a two-day long workshop that was based on the feedback we received during a well-attended town hall (held in January 2020), from our survey responses (from September 2021) and input from Mayor Knapper and City Council (the Council included me and Shana Jones in Ward 1, Eric Page and Sarah Crosley in Ward 2, and Shawn Faulkingham and Nick Homa in Ward 3).

I say all this to remind our community members that our progress has been the result of hard work by the women and men who have served our community for years: some of them on Boards and Commissions and some of them as Mayor or City Council. We have all been working toward the same goals for our community: a safe, inclusive, innovative and forward-thinking community. After working with Barry Greenberg for three of my five years on City Council, I can assure you that will not change when Barry is elected Mayor. He is a collaborative person who fully embraced the changes we proposed.

What will change is that he will ensure that we remain a City Manager form of government – where the City Manager is the “chief administrative officer of the city” according to our Charter. He will support the Strategic Plan’s Vision that embraces transparency, and the Mission to promote a high quality of life for our residents by providing equitable and accessible services that are fiscally responsible, collaborative, customer focused, and continuously improving.

One of the reasons that I am supporting Barry Greenberg as a write-in candidate for Mayor is because the Strategic Plan created in May of 2022 and adopted by Resolution R22-73 on September 27, 2022, has recently been set aside in favor of less transparent means of governing. This was clear in the hiring process of the current City Manager: the position was never posted publicly, the community members engaged in the process were required to sign non-disclosure agreements to participate, and the ultimate selection was made even after the community resoundingly spoke up in favor of a delay simply to understand the situation and to participate in the process – like they had been able to in the past. The lack of transparency with the current City Council extends to tabling agenda items and discussing city contracts in closed session. To be clear, these are not contract negotiations, which are appropriately discussed in closed session. These were discussion of city contracts after the bids were received and already part of the public record, and the staff had made their recommendations. It is still unclear to me why this was discussed in closed session: these annual contracts had always been reviewed during an open meeting. Finally, the negotiations with a potential developer for the Immaculate Conception property that – according to Mayor Knapper – have been “three years in the making” were never discussed with City Council while I was a member, and definitely not with the community who would be affected by the redevelopment, nor the property owners of record where a portion of the project is sited.

The concerns I’ve mentioned here are wholly inconsistent with the Strategic Plan’s Vision to “Embrace Transparency”. They are inconsistent with the Expectations of the Organization: “Our organization is committed to transparency with our citizens” and “Our organization is good stewards of the public’s money and trust”. Finally, the last section of the Strategic Plan notes the Expectations for Customer Service/Civic Engagement: “Timely Responses, Civic Engagement, Educate Citizens on Services, and Accurate Information” – areas where the priorities state that information should be “easily understood” and “clearly and accurately written”. The current Mayor’s recent statement calling our form of government a “council-manager” form of government (as opposed to a “City Manager” form of government) is misleading. The ballot language for Proposition J is intentionally vague. The language adopted for Proposition S has a “scrivener’s error” and includes the phrase “Police Projects” when the proposition is intended for Streets, Sidewalks, and Street Lights. All these things, over the course of a few months and viewed individually, may not have been noticed by all but the most ardent listeners/viewers/attendees of City Council meetings. But, when considered together, show a pattern of overreach and lack of concern for the goals of the community that we were elected to serve.

Editor: Sandi Phillips is treasurer of the Write-In Barry Greenberg Campaign, which supports 40 South News through advertising. This opinion piece was unsolicited by 40 South News. Other opinions are welcomed.

 

29 COMMENTS

  1. Another question I have is if there is so much being said about lack of transparency and the quest for power of our current Mayor, Niklyan Knapper why is everyone on the Council supporting her?

  2. I’m glad Sandi Phillips characterized her statements as opinion and noted that she is treasurer of the Greenberg write-in campaign. There is still lots of information that she hasn’t included in her piece, maybe because it is convenient not to do so? What was Barry’s role in the former city manager search and why did that take two years? Why did we lose an extremely qualified city manager candidate to Webster Groves under Barry’s search efforts? Everyone was excited when Mr. Reese was hired, but how was he doing? I have heard that many of the positive changes happening at that time were driven by Mayor Knapper and not Mr. Reese. How was Sandi’s experience with Mr. Reese? How was Mr. Reese evaluated by the council members he reported to? What was city staff’s view of Mr. Reese as a leader? None of these important questions have been answered. Were they glossed over for a particular reason – like they don’t show Greenberg or Reese in a positive light? Or was it just not part of what Phillips chose to highlight?

  3. Generally, any time someone plans on hiring “a close friend” to run something in government, that’s sort of a red flag. We’ve seen this problem at the federal level in recent years. We’ve seen this problem at the state level for decades. We know too well what it can do at the city/county and municipal level (maybe not here in Maplewood, but in North St. Louis County where I was from). And it generally doesn’t bode well for a functioning government.

    There’s something telling about an incumbent who would not appear before the League of Women Voters. While this election season is on the verge of hostile and is probably one of the most contentious in years, refusing to participate in a debate involving a nonpartisan organization changes the narrative of a campaign where more than ever we need women as leaders in our community–especially if they stand up for black and brown lives, LGBTQIA, and the disabled and neurodivergent–from “yes, she is qualified and will likely stand in support of everybody” to “Is she just staying to maintain her power”?

    I really wanted to throw my support for Mayor Knapper, but if the political process in Maplewood is one where the incumbent won’t participate in the election process, and challengers have to be write-in candidates, I’m afraid my support will have to be behind former Mayor Greenberg.

  4. The information I am trying to obtain is the reason the previous city manager resigned. Was his name Michael Reece? I’ve forgotten now. There’s not much information about that situation.

    • It’s because he threatened a lawsuit for “emotional and physical injuries” and they paid him off to go away.

      But she and many of her supporters have twisted into some diabolical race conflict because she cannot take accountability for any bad decision she ever makes.

  5. By providing input here, I may be putting at risk my ongoing participation in Plan and Zoning Commission for our fine city, where I have served for several years as a voice from past experience with an eye on needed change and balance for our citizen’s future. (As folks may or may not know, such volunteering in such positions which is up for review and reappointment every three years or so by the mayor and city council). Most frequently hesitant to keep my most ardent opinions “in meeting”, I say this in concern for how so many decisions appear to be made of late.
    So, here goes: I live in a block in town that has necessarily evolved from many long term residents into a relatively recent crop of new and vibrant younger folks along with several who have continued to live here for years. Those who come to a Maplewood that has grown into an even more lovely place to live, walk about, enjoy community and educated kids are most welcome! I, who grew up here, went to school here and became a teacher in the St. Louis area, also lived internationally and returned to hold many roles in our good city. This has included the Maplewood Betterment Foundation, first Maplewood Housing Corporation President, a two term MRH School Board seat in the mid 1980s, two kids through MRH, PTA president and Boy Scout troop officer and participating member of the Maplewood Methodist Church, etc …along with several terms on the Plan and Zoning Commission.
    All this is NOT about any kind of pat-on-the-back bravado as this community has been as good to me and my family as I have tried to be for it. I am not alone about the involvement and long term care about our community either. It really has taken a village to be where we are today. I AM known for speaking my mind, however, which I try to do constructively and in the proper context with a constructive and appropriate focus.
    I, too, admire Sandi in her commitment and skill in work with our city’s needs. Thank you Sandi! With a diverse family, I also appreciate how our community has grown to be forward thinking and inclusive. I returned to Maplewood from abroad and was pleased to find this city stabilizing while broadening in perspective as I returned to the combination of elements within which we could all grow…one found in the good things of the past while part of a new and diverse future that very much matched my new family.
    In my work over many years outside of Maplewood in educational leadership, I grew also in understanding more about group dynamics and decision making. A depth of experience, a valuing of the community served with a close ear to a constituency, is essential for successful leadership. Not as though missteps are eliminated, but that who and what the leadership is FOR matters in the end. Any loss of that valuing by leaders or perceived so by followers creates a dysfunction which is very difficult to overcome, if at all.
    In my view, we are at that junction. Sandi’s piece above demonstrates only some of that disfunction from my perspective. I had wished that our mayor had waited for more knowledge and experience within our community before taking in such a role and said so early on. I, too, have had my questions and concerns with former leadership…most who became well known for their commitment, dedication and generally unselfish leadership. I too had my disagreements with Marty Corcoran, Barry Greenberg, Superintendents, Chamber if Commerce leaders, etc. But, no disagreement with these clearly dedicated, committed, often long serving folks caused severe, breaking concerns…as each of us worked through concerns within each context. Collaboration is key. Enough said, I’m looking for that to be restored. I am supporting Barry Greenberg for Mayor.

    • PL, thank you for sharing your perspective and historical context. (I’d sure hope doing so wouldn’t risk your ongoing participation on a commission!) I’ve seen so much mud-slinging and hyperbole while trying to understand the perspective of each candidate’s supporters, it’s refreshing to read a measured take.

      • I’m afraid that since the isolation of the pandemic and the vitriolic input on social media, far too many have not circulated enough among their neighbors nor remembered the friendly tenor within what composes a close, caring community that strives to understand one another. This has occurred before and with tragic, ongoing hard feelings. I’m hoping we can all maintain a civil tone as we share our thinking and differences of experience and opinions. Thx for participating Jaz! Apathy is the death of great groups and constructive change.

  6. This opinion piece alludes to question I’ve been unable to get a clear answer on, and plead for thoughtful responses here: For those clearly supporting Greenberg who raise the “council-manager” vs. “City Manager” form of government (and some even in this thread who fear “authoritarian” traits in the current mayor), why are you so in favor of the City Manager model? (I’m not even certain that is a real point of contention, but it keeps coming up as if it is.)

    I ask because the mayor is an elected position, the previous one was defeated after only one term; whereas the City Manager is not elected and can be in place…for 35 years, for example. So when people say they’re concerned about power in a single person (elected mayor), my first thought is to wonder why power in a different single person (unelected city manager) is preferred? I understand that Corcoran (who I see is helping fund an anti-Prop J postcard I just received) was well regarded and there was much change in Maplewood during that time; I also understand there were frustrations and a “What are you going to do? He’s entrenched” sentiment at least among some who aimed to initiate change during that time. Even assuming Corcoran was well-respected as this opinion piece says, it notes that he was therefore hard to replace — and indeed, one welcomed replacement is already gone, and some are up in arms about the next replacement or at least the method use in naming them.

    From what (admittedly limited) research I’ve done, Mayor-Council and Mayor-Administrator-Council models appear far more common in Missouri. (Not that I would assume commonality means better function, especially in this state!) Are people so wed to the City Manager model in Maplewood for functional reasons? Creating continuity in a position that is a little further from the winds of electoral politics? Or colored by positive impressions of the previous long-serving (and likely rare) city manager? Just upset with how the current city manager was hired and suspicious of current mayor motives?

    • Hello Jaz. It’s fine to question our type of City government, but if anyone would like to change from the current form to another form, that would require a lot of time/effort and changes to the City Charter I would think. That could be a very good discussion and should involve the entire community to make such a decision. As it is though, our form of government is Council-Manager, and as such the job of making laws resides with the Council and Mayor, and the job of administering the city goes to the City Manager. That includes hiring and appointing. We do already have differences to the model built in where the Mayor appoints the municipal judge or commissioners.

      I guess the question would be, is it appropriate to add additional differences as proposed in Prop J, and if so, why? Does it make sense to consolidate the entire municipal attorney appointments under the Mayor?

      An additional question, already posed here I believe or on FB would be why there is a discrepancy between the prop language and the city’s FAQ. The prop clearly states the city law positions would be appointed by the Mayor with consent of the Council. While the FAQ says “In changing Maplewood’s charter to have Department of Law personnel appointed by the City Council.” This seems to downplay the role of the Mayor in the process.

  7. Thank you for labeling this an opinion piece (truly, the Mitten piece should have been too, with its editorial use of “savings” in quotes, etc.) and disclosing the position of the author as a member of the candidate’s campaign; that goes a long way toward transparent dialogue and knowing where people who weigh in are coming from. If only everyone who has a connection to one campaign or the other (or a severed relationship, etc.) would do so!

  8. Is Barry willing to make a public statement in support of LBGTQ youth in our community, saying that he will support laws that protect their rights? I heard he was not willing to do that. Rather wanting to leave that to the schools. Wondering if he doesn’t want to make a public statement because he might lose support of his more conservative supporters. Can you clarify?

    • Hi Mary,

      When it was conveyed to me that LGBTQ+ children are experiencing harassment at MRH schools, I responded by saying that the school district should be the authority dealing with it. MRH has a board and administration that deals with district issues, just as the city has elected officials and staff that addresses municipal issues. My statement regarding not taking a stand on school issues was to recognize that the district has sovereignty over matters that affect our district. Likewise, the city government should be allowed to operate without interference from the school district.

      That doesn’t mean that the City and School District shouldn’t coordinate their efforts in addressing the joint goal of eliminating harassment of any sector of our population. This includes LGBTQ+ and also includes race, religion, gender, age, national origin, and any other characteristic that differentiates people from each other.

      There are federal laws that address discrimination and supercede local governance. We don’t need to add more ordinances, we need to enforce the ones we have and stop sowing the seeds of division that I see consuming many in our community. In an effort to to exert power and control by claiming victimhood, anyone that doesn’t show fealty to the current mayor is being labeled as a racist, especially myself and anyone who supports me.

      I don’t have to spend my time defending myself against these accusations. My family includes a mixture of different races, religions and sexual orientations. I unequivocally renounce all forms of discrimination, hatred, and harassment, whether it be against LGBTQ+ members of our community or anyone else.

      • Good answer Barry. Since the first thing that the now ex mayor did was to make sure that everyone knew that we couldn’t make fun of her hair, I’m thankful that you got voted in. It sounds like you are on track as far as dealing with all walks of life and who should do what jobs.

    • Mary, More in-depth in conversations were/are probably needed personally for the clarification you request here…as each entity in city leadership works to stay in their lane when it comes to the multiple avenues of roles within any caring community. Short answers and brief quotes seldom tell the whole story. Many of us, including Barry, have personal stories about living in/with diversity too. Bringing us together and knowing one another has long been, if not stated, an unstated mantra of what makes this community work. We may be out of practice with the several circumstances of recent years. Have a conversation with Barry Greenberg. He’d be happy to talk with you! I recommend this for anyone. And, you won’t get simply “diplomatic” answers. The conversation might be a little look . (And careful, don’t do this, anyone looking for a “gotcha” quote. Those of us who know him will catch you on it.)

  9. As an undecided voter, this is one of the few pieces that has been helpful in understanding the divide in Maplewood. I’ve lived here for 12 years, but it’s the first time I’ve put effort into being an imformed voter other then reading the voters guide and reviewing candidate websites. Honestly, it’s been difficult to cut through the drama and pettiness to see the truth from either side. I thought that I’d gain some clarity by watching recent council meetings/work sessions but after the hysterics of last week’s council meeting where residents callously (and casually) called each other white supremacists, without a word, bat of an eye, or alarm from the officials present, I found myself answerless and disturbed at the place I call home. I really appreciate the thought that went into Ms. Phillips piece in taking us through, not just the last 6 months, but where and when the divide began. I’ve shared the link with a few of my other equally puzzled neighbors. Thanks for posting it.

  10. Just remember it took a lawsuit by the ACLU for Barry to finally concede that maybe the nuisance ordinance needed to be revised. This is the ordinance that evicted her after her former boyfriend attacked her, something she had no control over but because there were more than two calls to her residence because her former boyfriend was attacking her she was evicted. I am guessing Barry was just to busy to figure out how awfult that nuisance ordinance was written.
    “The ACLU filed its lawsuit against the city on behalf of Watson, who Maplewood functionally evicted after her former boyfriend attacked her. Police were called to her residence on more than twice, exceeding the current law’s maximum.
    City officials deemed Watson a nuisance and revoked her occupancy permit, which barred her from the city for six months. She couldn’t afford to renew her permit, lost her Section 8 voucher, and struggled to keep new housing as a result. “It’s been an effective tool, and the concern was that tool could be used in a matter that might not be appropriate. I don’t think it has. I don’t think it was intended to do that, but the clarification of the language, I think, is helpful,” said Greenberg.” So Barry thought it was an effective tool to evict a woman who her former boyfriend was attacking her, and was not used in a way that might not be appropriate.

    Is this the kind of person who should be leading the city of maplewood that takes a lawsuit to get him to even admit he might be wrong.

  11. I guess my biggest confusion is why you work so hard to oppose Greenberg when he was previously in office. You and Jenny were instrumental in undermining his every move and eventually ousting him from office.

    How do you explain this 360°, other than as a means of directly opposing the Mayor Knapper?

    It’s impossible to believe you support Barry after all his blunders. It’s so much more likely you just have a personal vendetta against the current mayor.

    I’ve taking so much solace in Eleanor’s words through this entire process. She’s the one willing to do the work, and she’s supporting Knapper.

    • “Travis” – thanks for your comment. It is interesting that you think I was “instrumental in undermining his every move” – I am curious where that perspective comes from? I did not publicly endorse anyone during the last mayoral race. I spoke openly to my friends (I am nothing if not direct!) about my excitement for the vision of Maplewood’s future based on my experiences and conversations with Nikylan. Those conversations and experiences, however changed dramatically throughout my remaining two years on council. As for supporting Barry now, I have always had the utmost respect for Barry and his years of service and commitment to our city, and I think my reasons for supporting him are laid out in detail in this article. Further, Barry and I have had disagreements (and continue to do so) but we’ve always worked through them and come to consensus. I can also say that Barry has responded to criticism with humility and the willingness to learn from his mistakes, which I hope we all strive to do. In short, I hope you (and others) would take this opinion piece as just that – my opinion. It is based on MY lived experiences working with both of them in their capacity as mayor. Thanks for being an engaged voter.

    • Obvious indeed. The core problem in Maplewood is people feel afraid to question and speak up to anything in fear of the radical mob. I believe the majority of citizens are open to talking through issues, not dividing the community

      • well yes-just look at what happens to anyone who questions “Queen Nikylan.”

        These folks politics might be polar opposite of MAGA but the tactics are EXACTLY the same. It’s gotten cult like…they are melting down every dang day now. It would be funny were it not so bizarre and scary.

      • You are spot on, politics in Maplewood MO seems from my experience a Putin style. It involves the use of strong central power to preserve the political status quo. Being arrested and put in a jail cell is real.

    • I appreciate your opinion and thoroughly thought out responses. I too was excited and voted for our current mayor, but what was promised and what she’s done are two different things. I would rather have someone who is transparent and willing to admit his mistakes, than someone who cloaks things in secrecy, and expects us to blindly follow because ‘she knows best’.

      • She consistently puts her own agenda and political aspirations before the good of her constituents.

        She never accepts criticism and dodges answering questions publicly and now we know why. She is an authoritarian and Prop J is yet another blatant power grab.

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