Monday, March 21, 2011

My Interview with Andrew Podleski - Candidate for Florissant Mayor

As I said on my last post, I am not coming out in favor of any one candidate. I do not think it is my place. With that said, I feel it is very important that all of the people voting for the Florissant mayor should know something about the candidates. That is why I have chosen to get involved with this mayoral race. I said it before and I will say it again, as Florissant goes, so goes North County.

As you already know, I reached out, via email, to the candidates for Florissant mayor requesting an interview. Three of them responded and said they were open to it. After reaching out to my readers, I drew up 15 questions to ask. All three candidates were sent the same questions. Below, you will find the response from Andrew Podleski exactly as he responded to me, unedited and just as he sent them to me. I hope you read what he has to say and think about it as you decide and choose which candidate will best represent you.

1. What makes you qualified to be Mayor of one of the largest suburbs in the St. Louis area?

I believe I have the necessary professional experience and education to effectively manage our City. My work history has given me opportunities to perform in many roles and our City needs someone who has a varied background, who understands and knows how to organize staff to accomplish the work that needs to be done. I believe I have these skills which will be a great advantage as Mayor. Having been a team leader and
team member allows me to understand both roles necessary to accomplish team tasks.

2. What advantage/skill set makes you more qualified than the other candidates?

A wide range of experiences, and an ability to resolve complex issues or problems is what sets me apart. I have worked in the Military, U.S Government service and in Private Industry in both large and small companies. I have a strong belief in my abilities but recognize a team needs members with varied skill-sets and strengths.

3. What is your stance on the strong Mayor system that Florissant has and why do you feel this way?

The “strong Mayor” system can work well given that the Mayor has good professional skills, experience and personnel management abilities. Using the alternative system with a Mayor and City manager and other staffing to support the City manager is usually more costly because you have multiple salaries to pay versus the one.

Our Charter form of government defines our current Mayor wearing both hats, not only as the head of our City government (i.e. signs legislation into law) but also the role of the chief City Administrator and is charged with running the City on a daily basis. Other cities have a part-time Mayor and a fulltime City Administrator (and in some cases an Assistant Administrator).

I believe the Citizens who framed the Charter wanted to combine these positions so there would be accountability to Citizens through the ballot box. A City Administrator is selected by the City Council, who hires and fires them and is beyond direct accountability to the voters.

Being Mayor is an enormous responsibility. But the Citizens through our Charter have the final say on the direction of the City by controlling the ballot box. I will never forget they are the ultimate boss through the power of their vote.

4. Younger families are flocking to St. Peters and O’Fallon. As Mayor, what are you going to do to attract and retain young families to Florissant.

One thing I believe we need to address is the common perception of many in the metropolitan area that our City and North County is in decline. Our City has housing stock of a wide variety and age range. A great many of our homes were built when materials and craftsmanship in home building was far superior to what you see in many homes today. These well-built homes in established neighborhoods are affordable and excellent values. Plus they have excellent commuter and travel access. The dedicated men and women of our Police Department keep our community safe and our parks system is enviable for a City of our size.

In my comprehensive plan to market Florissant, our housing office will aggressively sell these points to employers like Boeing, ExpressScripts, UMSL and other new facilities in North County (North Park). These companies will be hiring young professionals who will be looking to gain a credit history and equity in a home. It is my desire to help them make that home choice in Florissant. To pursue a plan for enticing younger residents, we will need to highlight the many services and variety of neighborhoods we have to offer. I plan to develop a professionally prepared, cohesive and aggressive marketing package to entice them. There are many possibilities and I will always be open to suggestions from our employees, current
Citizens and potential new Citizens.

5. Considering these tough economic times, do you see any cuts to the City’s Senior and youth programs?

I feel we have many great programs for our Citizens and we must try to maintain or improve them. While I do believe we need to look at every service our City offers to be sure it is run efficiently and provides value, I think any proposals to change current services needs to be viewed in the light of which programs serve the most people in Florissant. I will also look to the Senior Department and Parks Department as well as the Parks Board and Senior Committee to offer suggestions for enhancements and efficiencies in our programs.

6. The two school districts in Florissant do not have a great reputation. This is major reason people cite for not moving into Florissant. While the City does not control the schools, what are your thoughts on how the City can help change this perception?

Last week, I attended a candidate forum for the Ferguson-Florissant School Board. It became clear one topic which needs to be addressed is the engagement of the Cities (not just Florissant, but all the surrounding communities) with the School Boards and their Superintendents. I want to have regular meetings with them to discuss possible involvement by Florissant in their efforts to improve the schools. For instance Florissant may be able to provide access to our Civic Centers for after-school programs.

Dialogue is needed here. They may have ideas how we can help them, and I believe they will be receptive to ideas I will bring to them as we share a common desire to make our Community the best it can be.

7. What do you like about the City of Florissant?

As I indicated in my earlier answer about attracting and retaining younger families, there are many things I like. Our rich history is impressive and varied with interesting twists and turns in its development. Driving around the City, I see quiet neighborhoods that are obviously well maintained by their residents.

Florissant is conveniently located near several interstate highways and because of our many large arterial streets you can travel to just about anywhere you choose in the metropolitan area either by highway or by main arterial streets. We have an incredible variety of park space both large and small. I remember in my youth when these parks were always in use. I hope to see them again very busy with the new Citizens we aim to attract in the future. The best part of any neighborhood or City is the people. We have good people who are the backbone of any community. We need to keep these good neighbors here while we try to recruit new ones to join their ranks.

The large and diverse collection of businesses that includes many large well-known companies but also many small and unique enterprises makes shopping and dining easy and interesting. Small entrepreneurial operations like the City Diner or long-time successful family busineeses such as Handyman Hardware, in addition to the big outlets, provide us with an excellent retail market place and great entertainment opportunities.

8. There are a lot of vacant businesses in Florissant. What are you going to do to fill those vacant buildings and attract vibrant businesses to the city?

Empty storefronts are a problem here as in many communities during these tough economic times. I will work with the Economic Development Director create a new plan for recruiting more businesses for Florissant.

Besides the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce, there are regional groups that can be tapped for information and help to attract specific shops and/or restaurants. One of these is the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that has ties throughout the Metropolitan area. I will ask for Citizens to help by suggesting what they want to see in the way of new or expanded businesses.

Look at Florissant Meadows. We now have a sushi/seafood buffet(Hokkaido) that is drawing large crowds. This traffic creates synergy that can only help other businesses in this shopping center and the surrounding businesses of the Lindbergh corridor. I have already been in contact with several commercial Real Estate professionals who have given me an insight into how to bring new business into Florissant.

We need to let businesses know that we really want them here to serve our community. The first step is to develop a welcoming attitude for them, by becoming more business friendly. I want to establish a system in Public Works to help prospective businesses get through the City requirements of bringing their companies to Florissant. We will have a one-stop coordinator who will assist in outlining the steps to satisfy the requirements of Planning/Zoning and business licensing so the businessperson can negotiate them with reduced frustration.

9. Some residents complain that there are too many check cashing, payday loan, rent to own and used card lots in Florissant. They feel that this brings in a seedier element and detracts from the City. What are your thoughts on this?

As a Councilman, I have voted for moratoriums on car lots within our borders. While we cannot prevent businesses from coming to Florissant if they are an approved use in any particular zoning district, we can certainly try to recruit other more desirable businesses to fill these empty spaces. It will take a well thought out plan and a Mayor who will stick with this plan to make it successful.

10. It has been said that our current Mayor can be contentious if you do not agree with him. How do you plan on working with the City Council?

While there always will be areas of disagreement in government, I believe as Mayor I need to set the tone on civility. My role is to lead the discussion not overwhelm the discourse with strong opinions and a personal agenda.

A successful leader listens to all sides of the discussion before making a decision.
I want to actively involve and engage the Council on City matters. For example, creating the budget earlier and including them in the process. But as the Chief Executive of the City, I will make the decisions that need to be made. I will explain my position very clearly, and it will not be just because I do not like the opposing viewpoint. As a Councilman, some have called me a naysayer because I asked pointed questions about Bills coming before that body. I view my position on the Council as the representative of the people, who cannot ask those questions I ask those questions to help Citizens understand the processes and duties of the Council. Open dialogue is never bad, however, it must be civil and respect the other person’s viewpoint.

11. Politically speaking, who do you model yourself after?

I greatly admire Missouri’s own Harry Truman. When he was elected to the U.S. Senate, he immediately thrust himself into his work so he would be as prepared as possible. I will strive to be involved in all aspects of the City operations, but I will also try to ensure City employees are the best they can be and can move with autonomy when needed.

In the book A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, she describes how Abraham Lincoln convinced his rivals for the Presidency to join his cabinet. He was not afraid to have these strong-minded men as advisors. In fact he wanted them for that very reason. They would offer him frank advice and they would not be yes men. I hope I can also achieve success in that area by utilizing our City employees in the positions where they can perform their best.

12. Is there anything you want to accomplish in your first year?

To strive to develop a budget that is balanced without re-directing money from the Capital Improvement Fund, the Parks Improvement Fund and the Sewer Lateral Fund. The Citizens of Florissant voted for those funds to be used for very specific purposes and that should be respected. I want the budget to have input from the Council at an earlier stage.

The budget must be presented in a way that is clear to all of our residents and it will be posted on our Florissant website. This will be a difficult task, but I believe with hard work it can be done.

13. What do you think people should know about you?

Most of my life I have been a very private person and one who believes I should do my very best in whatever I pursued. I ran for Mayor in 2007 and I am running now because I feel I can make a positive difference in the City I long called home. I have accomplished much in my life, but I always remember it was not just my efforts that helped me to succeed. To manage the City effectively, I will need the assistance of every department employee and staff member, but I will be the first to give them the credit for their efforts. It is important to be approachable; Citizens and employees will be able to contact me with opinions and questions without feeling apprehensive.

14. The trash/recycling contact will expire during the next Mayor’s term. Do you want to continue with a City wide contract or have it go back to being resident’s choice?

I was somewhat skeptical about this working in Florissant, but I knew it worked in other Cities. I have been pleased with the results so far. I think we need to continue this program. Can it be improved? Yes. In negotiating a new contract with Meridian or whoever will compete for this work, there are things we can do. I would like to see curbside leaf pickup in the Fall. I will investigate the possibility of the “tag-a-bag” program for Seniors. All options are open, except going back to six or seven different haulers. Besides the huge increase in recycling in Florissant, the reduction of truck traffic on our streets reduces wear and tear on them and extends their useful life which is a great thing. Any solution implemented, would have never met all needs and expectations. Overall, I think the single hauler solution we developed was a reasonable answer.

15. WalMart in Florissant, where do you stand and what are your thoughts?

Some of WalMart's business practices in dealing with manufacturers and employees run counter to the ideals of a great many citizens, including myself. The entrance of WalMart into a community often brings a highly negative impact for smaller businesses. It has been documented how their presence can devastate smaller competitors by undercutting prices in what I see as unfair practices.

Last year, WalMart presented a proposal to build in Florissant, but only with the help of Tax Increment Financing. It is their prerogative to ask for TIF money, but we do not have to give it to them. The Council turned down the proposal.
They now have a new proposal that asks for some special considerations which requires the support of the City. I will not support any proposal which involves taxpayer money for WalMart. I believe one of the largest corporations in the world can afford to build on their own money not ours.

However, if they satisfy all of the Planning and Zoning requirements on property in our City approved under our codes for this use and build a store using their money to build it without special considerations from the City, it would be difficult to prevent them from opening in Florissant.

So, there you have it. Andrew Podleski ladies and gentlemen.

If you would like to hear from one of the other candidates, or you are a candidate and wish to have your voice heard, please email me and I will be more than happy to interview you too.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Interview with Robert Garrett - Candidate for Florissant Mayor

First let me say this, I am not coming out in favor of any one candidate. I do not think it is my place. With that said, I feel it is very important that all of the people voting for the Florissant mayor should know something about the candidates. That is why I have chosen to get involved with this mayoral race. I said it before and I will say it again, as Florissant goes, so goes North County.

I reached out, via email, to the candidates for Florissant mayor requesting an interview. Three of them responded and said they were open to it. After reaching out to my readers, I drew up 15 questions to ask. All three candidates were sent the same questions. Below, you will find the response from Robert Garrett exactly as he responded to me, unedited and just as he sent them to me. I hope you read what he has to say and think about it as you decide and choose which candidate will best represent you.

1. What makes you qualified to be mayor of one of the larges suburbs in the St. Louis area?

I’m an attorney with deep roots in the Florissant community, some understanding of small business and the problems facing small business owners as well as the important role of business in Florissant, and extensive experience in, and understanding of the workings of, Florissant city government.

In such regard, I’m currently a self-employed patent attorney and mediator. That means that not only can I practice as an attorney throughout the state of Missouri, but that I am also licensed to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and can do so throughout the country. In addition, I am qualified as a mediator for both civil and domestic matters under Missouri Court Rules.

I’ve been married to my wife, Toni, who is a math professor at the Meramec campus of the community college district, for over 41 years, and we have 3 adult kids, Anthony, Joe, and Susan Therese, spread from coast to coast. We have lived in our current house here, in the middle of Old Town, on the same block where I grew up, for over 33 years. We bought that house from my grandfather’s estate.

I’m a Florissant native, and at least 3 of my ancestors have served as Florissant Mayor: my great grandfathers Sidney Garrett and August Albers, and my great great grandfather Charles Castello.

I attended Sacred Heart School, including classes held in the old school building, and, with the aid of some scholarships, eventually obtained Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Electrical Engineering from Washington U.

I’m an Air Force veteran and was commissioned and began my active duty service as a Reserve Officer before being awarded a commission as Regular Air Force Officer. While on active duty I served as an engineer in satellite checkout and launch at Vandenburg AFB. My duties included activities with a variety of systems and also required me to work with and to exercise oversight of contractor engineers and union technicians who were working on the satellite vehicles.

Following my active duty time, I attended, and graduated from law school at St. Louis U., using the GI Bill, while remaining in the inactive reserve as a Captain.

Subsequently, for over 31 years, until April 1, 2009, I operated and, for many years, managed the patent law firm of Haverstock, Garrett & Roberts LLP, a small to medium size patent law firm in downtown St. Louis, and, in so doing, became familiar with problems facing small businesses and their owners, including management of personnel.

During the time that I was with that patent law firm, I also served on the Florissant Planning and Zoning Commission, and was later elected to and served 6 terms on the Florissant City Council from 1984 to 2002. During my City Council tenure, I served 1 council term as council Vice-President and two council terms as President of the City Council. During part of that time, Jim Eagan was Mayor and during the latter few years Bob Lowery was Mayor.

During that same time period, I served on various committees and commissions of St. Louis County and the St. Louis County Municipal League, including the St. Louis Co. Capital Improvements Committee, the Boundary Change Committee, and the Special Laws & Boundary Changes Committee.

I subsequently also served on the St. Louis County Interstate 270/ Highway 367 Corridor Advisory Commission, and I more recently served as Chairman of an Old Town Partners committee that was addressing business development and the possibility of establishing a new improvement district that would encompass at least the Old Town business district. That particular committee included not only Old Town Partner members, but also several business owners from the Old Town area and several City officials.

While I served on Council, I was a strong advocate for infrastructure maintenance and improvement, and was the driving force behind establishment of a long-term plan for the improvement of streets in the Old Town grid. That plan has been initiated, but will take many, many years to complete.

I was also a supporter, along with various other council members, and in opposition to Mayor Eagan’s desires, of numerous creek paving and improvement programs that have proved a boon to the City and to residents along those creeks.

Although I was sometimes at odds with Mayor Eagan, I also worked with him on various matters, including the purchase by the City of what is now the Florissant Government Building at St. Francois and Florissant Road. I was the one who initially proposed that purchase, and was invited by Mayor Eagan to appear with him for the closing of that purchase.

Over the years I have been a staunch supporter of our City’s police department, and I believe that it is imperative that we maintain a strong and effective force into the future.

I have worked to try to respect the history of Florissant and its historic treasures while also allowing residents and the City to be able to undertake property maintenance and updates without undue regulation and interference by the City. In such regard, I worked for many months in meetings with Rosemary Davison, then Council member Geri Debo, and City Attorney John Hessel, and sometimes others, to develop an improved ordinance regarding historic structures throughout the City and the Historic District. Many compromises were necessary in order to develop a workable ordinance that would address not only historic preservation, but also desires of residents of historic structures and of the Historic District to be free of unnecessary regulation. Had we not worked out and adopted a new ordinance when we did, repairs, and even the scheduling of repairs, would have been significantly delayed and impacted following the hail and ice storms we experienced some years ago because of the previous requirements regarding approval processes.

I have been a strong advocate of business development within the City, not only because of the more immediate favorable tax consequences for the City, but also because of the jobs that are made available to City residents and because of the general improvement that such businesses afford all of us in our daily lives. In such regard, I, along with four other Council members and Mayor Lowery, pushed for the redevelopment of the old, outdated shopping center that had been located at Cross Keys, which has now been replaced with the Shoppes at Cross Keys development and includes, among other stores, Barnes & Noble, Schnucks, Pier One, OfficeMax and Home Depot. At the time, that action was very controversial, and I faced a great deal of criticism from various other Council members and a significant portion of the Florissant populace. In the days before the final vote for that project, I met at Sansone offices to discuss and work out with the principals of that corporation some of the final amendments and concessions to be included in the bill, and to address with them the significant possibility that the project might not be approved, and the consequences of non-approval. I ask you to consider what that area would look like today had that development not been pursued. Fortunately, the project was very narrowly approved. In hindsight, I would hope that everyone could agree that that was a good decision!

2. What advantage/skill set makes you more qualified than the other candidates?

No other candidate has the background, qualifications, and wealth of experience that I do. See the answer to Question 1.

Significantly, no other candidate has the legal training and experience that I do.

In addition, no other candidate is a trained mediator.

Additionally, while I was a Councilman, I believe that I became known for my attention to detail, my desire to “get things right”, and my ability to work with the Mayor and other council members even when we did not agree, and without the exhibition of ongoing rancor and personal animosities.

I believe that those abilities, especially when coupled with my business experience and my long service on the City Council, including as both Council Vice-President and Council President, make me more qualified and better able to address the challenges as Mayor of Florissant.

3. What is your stance on the strong mayor system that Florissant has and why do you feel this way?

Florissant has had a strong mayor system since the adoption of the current charter almost 40 years ago, and that system has served the City well over that time period.

I am an advocate of the “don’t fix what ain’t broke” school of thought. It doesn’t appear to me that the strong mayor system for Florissant is broken.

Florissant’s mayor serves not only as the chief executive of the City, but also as the chief operating officer. In council/manager systems, a city manager or administrator, typically chosen by the city council, acts as the chief operating officer.

Some argue that a city manager would be more qualified to run the day-to-day matters of city government because the city manager would be specifically trained for such a role. However, the history of city managers in numerous other communities shows that that is not necessarily the case. While some city managers do have specific college training and some previous city administration experience, others, when first hired by a municipality, have little or no previous administration training or experience. In some instances, the city manager is a previous police chief or other city official or politician who was able to secure the support of a majority of the council to be hired.

Some also argue that adoption of a council/manager system would get away from the more obnoxious “politics” associated with city government. That is clearly not the case. A city manager is a political appointee of the council, or more accurately, of a majority of the council. In far too many instances, a change in the make-up of the council may result in the firing of one city manager and the hiring of a new city manager. In some instances, especially where the council is fractious and closely split, the election of any new council member may result in a change in the council majority. In recent years, in several municipalities locally, on the East Side, in St. Louis County, and in St. Charles County, we have seen cities experience revolving door firings and hirings of city managers.

Some also argue that it would be cheaper to have a council manager than a full-time mayor because the mayor would be paid less. While I would expect a mayor in a council/city manager system to be paid less than the mayor of a strong mayor system, that does not mean that there will be an overall savings, however. If the City wishes to attract and be able to employ a well qualified city manager, the pay for that position would need to be commensurate with the pay for city manager positions in cities of comparable size and with comparable responsibilities. In many cases, that pay would need to be set as high or higher than the current pay for Florissant’s mayor. As of several years ago, the pay for O’Fallon, Missouri’s city manager was set at about $168,000, and an assistant city manger was paid an additional approximately $122,000. I don’t know the pay of other city managers and assistant city managers throughout the area, but a survey conducted by University City several years ago reflected that, at that time, there were at least 13-14 city managers in St. Louis County who were then being paid over $114,000. I think that the pay of the city manager of Hazelwood, which is considerably smaller than Florissant and which also employs an assistant city manager, is among those city managers who were then making over the $114,000, and I believe substantially more. Since Florissant is the largest community in St. Louis County, and is generally comparable in size to O’Fallon, Missouri, at least as of the time of the city manager pay referenced above, it would seem that it might well be MORE expensive for Florissant to move to a council/manager system.

If Florissant could not attract and elect qualified individuals who could act as both chief executive and chief operating officers, it might make greater sense to move towards a council/manager system instead of a strong mayor system, but that does not currently seem to be the case.

4. Younger families are flocking to St. Peters and O’Fallon. As mayor, what are you going to do to attract and retain young families to Florissant.

While St. Peters and O’Fallon have indeed grown rapidly over the past decade, as Florissant did in the 1960s, I don’t know that all, or even most, of that growth can be accurately attributed to younger families “flocking” to those communities. On the other hand, I do not doubt that such growth is, in part, due to some substantial influx of younger families into such communities.

Over the same period, while Florissant, as a more mature community, has not seen such substantial growth, it has remained a very stable community, and the latest 2010 census shows a slight increase in Florissant population over the 2000 census.

Part of the problem that Florissant faces is a perception problem—a perception that Florissant is stagnating or in a decline, a perception that North County is not a desirable place to live. This is attributable in no small part to repeated media statements that tend to paint the entire North County area as a less desirable part of the region and to ongoing, often incorrect, media reports that identify various problems, or crimes, or criminals with “Florissant” when, in fact, those problems and crimes are NOT associated with the City of Florissant.

Because a large swath of North County, from Hazelwood to the Mississippi River and generally from I-270 north to the Missouri River, is serviced by the Florissant Post Office, many people, including many journalists and members of the media who should know better, attribute almost anything “bad” that occurs within such area as being associated with the city of Florissant, rather than as something that is associated with an area, largely unincorporated, that is outside of city limits and, in many cases, many miles outside of the city limits. That type of “reporting” is grossly misleading and highly unfair to the city of Florissant.

Additionally, the media frequently ignore or don’t address “good” things that happen within such area, and especially within Florissant city limits, with the same fervor, and seem to prefer to issue praises for portions of West County and areas west in St. Charles County.

We have to take issue with those media outlets and personnel when they engage in such misleading “reporting”, such as when they state that a “Florissant apartment complex” has been closed down because of building and maintenance problems when, in fact, that complex is not within the city limits of Florissant and Florissant has no jurisdiction or control over the complex, or when they state that there has been a shooting, believed to be gang related, in a Florissant neighborhood when, in fact, the shooting occurred miles from the city of Florissant in an unincorporated area patrolled by the St. Louis County Police Department and not by the Florissant Police Department.

Florissant is still a vibrant community with many amenities. We offer an extensive park and recreation system and are one of only a handful of local communities that have NO property tax. Many generations of Florissant residents, of which I am one, remain in and return to Florissant and continue to call Florissant home.

I believe that we must emphasize the advantages and amenities available to young families, including the lack of a property tax, the ready access to interstate highways for rapid travel to the city of St. Louis as well as to St. Louis County and St. Charles County, the proximity of the Florissant Valley campus of the community college district, the many shopping areas within just a few minutes drive, our extensive parks and recreation system, our award winning police department, an our family life centered approach.

I would take issue with those who wrongly “report” about problems with Florissant, and would encourage everyone else to do the same, and would attempt to continue the tradition of providing the services and amenities that have made Florissant the great community that it is.

5. Considering these tough economic times, do you see any cuts to the city’s senior and youth programs?

Not at this moment.

However, it will be necessary to continually scrutinize our budget to make sure that we remain financially viable and self sustaining. Consequently, we will have to continually evaluate all our programs to ensure that they remain cost-effective, that they are truly addressing what they should be, and that they are being efficiently provided. If not, over time, changes of some type may become necessary.

6. The two school districts in Florissant do not have a great reputation. This is major reason people site for not moving into Florissant. While the city does not control the schools, what are your thoughts on how the city can help change this perception?

It was not that long ago that some of the Ferguson-Florissant schools were cited nationally for their excellence in education.

Within the last few years, the Hazelwood school districts superintendent was selected to become the head of Missouri’s department of education.

Despite such positives, test scores in those school districts are down in recent years and possible accreditation problems have surfaced.

Large, if not the greater, parts of both school districts lie outside of the Florissant city limits.

Part of the problem appears to me to be non-motivated students and a lack of involvement by parents in pushing their children to succeed and excel.

Another part of the problem is undoubtedly school funding, and the hit that such funding has taken in this down economy.

Because the City of Florissant forms only a portion of both of such districts, any actions that can be taken by Florissant are limited. Even if every Florissant child were a straight A student and every Florissant property had an average or higher property valuation, those effects can be diluted by the rest of the districts.

Consequently, we must work with the surrounding communities and unincorporated areas to try to maintain high property values and the availability of good jobs within the entire region, and we must try to reverse the perception that North County is an undesirable region. See also my response to Question 4 in such regard.

We must also try to instill within the families a belief in the value of education and the need for heavy parental involvement in the education of their children.

In addition, to the extent feasible and financially possible, I want Florissant to actively push the DARE program within our local schools in order to combat gangs and crime within the schools and to promote good citizenship and a respect for laws and the police.

7. What do you like about the city of Florissant?

Many, many things.

Let me list just a few of those things:

Florissant’s sense of community
Its family centered values
Its rich historic tradition, including
Old St. Ferdinand Shrine,
Taille de Noyer,
Casa Alvares,
and many other historic buildings and locations
Its extensive religious heritage, including
the many churches and denominations throughout the City
Its convenient location
Its continuing designation as one of the safest cities of its size in the country
Its many parks and recreation facilities
Its superior senior citizen programs and facilities
Popular business locations such as
Old Town Donuts, and
Hendel's Market Café, to mention only a few

8. There are a lot of vacant businesses in Florissant. What are you going to do to fill those vacant buildings and attract vibrant businesses to the city?

As I have previously noted, over the years I have been a strong advocate of business development within the City, not only because of the more immediate favorable tax consequences for the City, but also because of the jobs that are made available to City residents and because of the general improvement that such businesses afford all of us in our daily lives.

Unlike certain other candidates seeking the office of mayor, I was an early and ardent supporter of the highly successful Cross Keys redevelopment, and worked hard to get that approved, despite criticism for my position and despite the political downside associated with strongly advocating for what was then a highly controversial project during an election year for me. Despite the political hit that I knew I would take, I pushed for such redevelopment because I truly believed that that was the correct thing to do for the betterment of Florissant. Unfortunately for me, I lost that following election. Despite that, I believe that I made the right decision when I pushed for such redevelopment, and I believe that my position has been vindicated over time.

Mayor Lowery and the administration have worked diligently for years now to try to attract additional developments and businesses, and are to be commended for their actions in such regard, which have contributed to Florissant’s stability as many surrounding communities and areas in St. Louis County have, unlike Florissant, experienced population declines in the last decade. We have to continue such activities, especially in the current economic climate, and continue to try to improve and update the City’s business base and business properties.

With regard to some of those businesses that have opened developments in Florissant in more recent years, Mayor Lowery has advised that various of those businesses report that their Florissant facilities are among the highest performing sites of those chains throughout the country. Such reports enhance the attractiveness of Florissant as a city in which other businesses will want to expand or to set up shop.

I would continue the efforts of the administration over the past few years to attract new businesses and developments to the City and the North County area.

I believe that other activities in the past few years bode well for the future, despite the more recent economic downturn throughout the country. The North Park business park near the airport holds promise for attracting businesses to the North County area. Ferguson has established an improvement district along its downtown area that has revitalized its business area. Florissant and Hazelwood have participated in beautification and improvement projects along Lindbergh Boulevard (N. Highway 67). All of these activities are helping to overcome negative perceptions about Florissant and the North County area (see responses to Questions 4 and 6), and Florissant needs to encourage such activities.

I want the City to be seen as a partner with businesses and as a location that will work with businesses to help those businesses realize success, and not as a municipality that inhibits businesses or seeks to have them jump through hoops simply for the exercise.

That does not, however, mean that I think that the City should automatically approve everything, or relax standards, or blithely ignore circumstances or situations that may properly require critical analysis (see, for example, responses to Questions 9 and 15 relative to payday loan and related businesses and to Wal-Mart).

I would continue to aggressively pursue new business development and the jobs they would bring.

9. Some residents complain that there are too many check cashing, payday loan, rent to own and used card lots in Florissant. They feel that this brings in a seedier element and detracts from the city. What are your thoughts on this?

I agree with their complaints regarding many of those businesses.

When I was on the City Council, we tried to prohibit or greatly restrict some of those businesses. However, courts have directed that under Missouri, or in some cases federal, law or constitutions, cities like Florissant cannot prohibit or impose many of the restrictions that I might personally consider desirable.

Under the circumstances, Florissant is bound by such laws and court rulings and must comply with those, even when they are at odds with prohibitions or restriction that I believe would be more beneficial to the City.

10. It has been said that our current mayor can be contentious if you do not agree with him. How do you plan on working with the city council?

People will always disagree.

We all disagree at times with our spouses, children, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Usually, we manage to limit our disagreements to particular issues and do not let those disagreements become ongoing sources of contention.

I do not expect to always agree with everyone on the City Council or in City government. I appreciate that sometimes I may even find myself in disagreement with a majority of the City Council.

From my very first Council meeting, I had significant disagreements with various other Council members. However, our disagreements over a particular matter were, more often than not, left on the floor of the council meeting. That did not prevent me and council members such as Dave Reynolds, Charlie DeMoulin, and Ken Bond, among others, from subsequently discussing our disagreements, sometimes in colorful terms and with colorful invectives, as we later met with one another and socialized--and such discussions allowed us all to gain valuable insights as to the positions and reasoning of one another, and to sometimes understand why that “ridiculous” position or proposal by that other son of a gun Council member was not really that “ridiculous”, and to also sometimes result in follow-up legislation that was better able to address all of our concerns.

On various occasions I disagreed with Mayor Eagan, with Mayor Lowery, and probably with every council member with whom I ever served. That did not mean that I thereafter acted with ill will toward those individuals on all other matters. I believe that I became known for, among other things, my ability to work with them even when we did not agree, and without the exhibition of ongoing rancor and personal animosities. I believe that my record shows that I was able to put a disagreement about a particular issue behind me and to move forward with other matters in the best interests of the City.

Over the years, I gained respect for everyone involved, even those with whom I disagreed the most, because I came to understand that, like me, they wanted the best for the City, even if their views were, in my belief, sometimes misguided.

11. Politically speaking, who do you model yourself after?

I don’t really believe that I model myself after any politician that I can think of.

Especially in more recent history, I’m not sure that the populace would consider any politician particularly worthy of emulation.

I try to represent constituents, to look out for their interests, to provide straightforward info without a lot of BS, and to take responsibility for my actions.

To the extent that such actions may be reminiscent of Harry Truman, perhaps it could be said that, at least in some respects, I model myself after him.

12. Is there anything you want to accomplish in your first year?

I want to break the pattern of personal animus and ongoing rancor that has increasingly become a part of City politics in recent years.

I want to secure passage of fiscally responsible budget that maintains our core services, such as outstanding police services.

I want to BEGIN the re-population of vacant and foreclosed houses throughout the City and to maintain property values.

To the extent financially feasible, I want to CONTINUE street and infrastructure maintenance and improvement and other successful and popular City programs, including Senior Citizen services.

I want to continue the pursuit of, and hopefully ATTRACT, additional businesses with good paying jobs for City residents.

13. What do you think people should know about you?

That I’m well qualified and will look out for their interests.

In such regard, I would hope

that they would check out my qualifications and positions as reflected by the Qualifications & Positions presentation available on the Facebook page “Robert M. Garrett (for Mayor of Florissant)”, a copy of which presentation I have provided with these responses,

that they would watch the video of the Candidate’s Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce, as available for viewing at, and

that they would carefully review my responses to these questions.

14. The trash/recycling contact will expire during the next mayor’s term. Do you want to continue with a city wide contract\ or have it go back to being resident’s choice?

At this point in time I am open to either possibility, dependent upon the desires of Florissant residents.

I have heard various complaints from people who believe that the service that they receive is not as good as the service that they were getting when they could select their own trash service.

On the other hand, many residents seem to believe that the “price is right” for the current city-wide program, especially when one considers the recycling collection and the senior citizen discount.

My present impression is that most residents favor the present city-wide program with a single hauler, and I would anticipate that, unless there is an outcry against so doing, the City will solicit bids for a new contract.

Ultimately, the bid responses, including the prices quoted, may have some bearing upon how the City will want to proceed.

15. Walmart in Florissant, where do you stand and what are your thoughts?

While I am not enthralled with the idea of a Wal-Mart development within the City, Florissant would be obligated to treat Wal-Mart the same as any other business that might want to build a new development within the City, such as a new Schnucks, a new Sears, a new Walgreens, or a new neighborhood hardware store.

So long as Wal-Mart complies with all zoning and other ordinances of the City, Florissant would probably have no legal basis to prevent Wal-Mart from opening a store.

That being said, I believe that, in many instances, Wal-Mart has proven to be detrimental to many local businesses throughout the country, which is regrettable, and has a questionable record relative to treatment of its employees.

Although development of a new Wal-Mart store within Florissant might seemingly result in some favorable tax consequences for the City, that could be offset if the result is a loss of other City businesses.

Furthermore, if the new store is simply the “re-location” of a store from a nearby community, such “re‑location” could actually be detrimental to the region as a whole and could result in regional, including within Florissant, devaluation of property values, thereby undercutting any perceived advantages associated with the new development.

Furthermore, absent other exigent circumstances, I currently see no reason why Florissant would want to consider any TIF or community improvement taxing district for a Wal-Mart development.

So, there you have it. Robert Garrett ladies and gentlemen. Robert also asked that I include a letter that he has drafted on his qualifications and positions. I have agreed to include this document to allow everyone the chance to be fully informed. You can find that document HERE.

If any of the other candidates, in the course of responding to my questions, asks the same of me, I will do so in kind.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Florissant Mayoral Debates - Some Thoughts

As a North County resident, I felt it was important to attend the Florissant mayoral debates last night. My father has long said that Florissant is the anchor of North County and I tend to believe him. With Florissant's population base and size, Florissant is the largest city in St. Louis county. Considering all of this, I decided to attend this event to see what the candidates had to say and what direction they wanted to take for the future of Florissant. Afterwards, I hung out on the sidelines and listened to what people were saying to each other and to the candidates. Below is some of my observations.

Tom Schneider:

Of all the candidates, this is the man that best represents the status quo. He did nothing but talk about all of the things he has done in the past and all of his accomplishments. He looked to the past and really exemplified sticking with the current course.

After the meeting, most of the talk I heard was that people were not overly impressed with him. He did nothing but read and re-read a laundry list of his past accomplishments from his 34 years of work for the Florissant government. Best comment I heard on Tom was "Is he going to answer the questions or just tell us all he has done for the city?"

With that said, many of the seniors seemed to like Schneider. He is a known name and will continue to offer what they have grown accustomed to.

Andrew Podleski :

Podleski has a lot of good answers, but comes off as rather arrogant. He seems pro business and wants to work with business to bring more people into the area. Based upon what he said, he wants to promote the affordability of North County and Florissant to big businesses that are in the North County area so that their employees will live and work here. This would then help stimulate small business growth as their is a more vibrant population.

After the meeting a lot of people were high on Podleski. Since he ran against Lowry last election, his name is out there and it is recognizable outside of his ward. He has a strong service background and seems to be more of a fiscal minded. Many of those same people, though, said they got a negative vibe from him. One person said that they thought he was smug.

Susan Geerling :

Geerling could be the dark horse for this entire race. She came off as very friendly,sincere and approachable. Here big themes of the night were fiscal responsibility and open communication between the government and the people. Many times she talked of making people aware of what is going on and happening
so residents can be informed. She made an early splash by talking about reducing the mayor's salary and perks (a hot topic after the St. Louis Post Dispatch investigative article on Lowery).

After the meeting, a lot of people were very high on Geerling. They liked what she had to say and felt she could be bring about a new direction for the community. Interestingly enough, the people that liked her the most seemed to be women and those under the age of 55. The older community did not seem to be as on board with her. The knock against her is her experience as she does not have a college degree and seeing as Florissant has a strong mayor system, the mayor is in charge of city administration. Some people saw it as a positive and other saw this as a negative, but there were comments on how she is not an established name, she worked 8 years in city council and has volunteered, but is not someone super entrenched in Florissant politics.

Robert Garrett:

Of all the candidates, Garrett is probably the biggest fiscal conservative of the bunch. Bringing in business and balancing the budget were his biggest points of the night and they were points he continued to repeat. While Schneider touted being a small business owner, Garrett and Behlmann came of as the only two that really seemed to know and could talk to business and business creation. Garrett also sees the problem facing Florissant as being associated with the issues and violence in North City and areas like Berkley and Normandy. This was a strong statement that I noticed a lot of head nodding too.

After the meeting, a lot of people did not seem to know what to think about Garrett. He has been out of Florissant politics for awhile, but is now re-entering the field. He does not have yard signs and does not have any information out there that anyone could really find. Many people liked what they heard, but want to know more.

Mark Behlmann:

Second only to Schneider, Behlmann was probably the best known name at the debate. Behlmann brought a mix of the status quo and business know how that appealed to many people. He came off as a fiscal hawk when talking about budgets, mayoral perks and pay but came off as a status quo person when talking of city programs.

After the meeting, reviews were mixed on Behlmann. People know the name in the Florissant area and they know of Mark Behlmann due to his work on the Hazelwood School Board. That seemed to be both a good and bad thing for him. He did upset some people as after the debate, a couple of senior citizens approached Behlman and while I could not hear the conversation, there were some read faces and very upset people.

Michael Spreng:

Spreng was the most unprepared candidate. He brought nothing new to the debate and really seemed to rest on his laurels as a state rep. He did not appear to be engaged in the discussion nor did he appear alert. He seemed to flip flop between keeping the status quo and fiscal conservatism depending upon the issue, but did not have much substance.

No one, and I mean no one, talked positively about Spreng. Based upon the audience, he is, for all purposes,a non issue. One of the best comments I overheard on Spreng was," I am not going to vote for another guy that looks like he could drop dead a couple of days after winning."

So, what are my thoughts. Well, Florissant has done some good things with programs like the Cross Keys development and improvements in the roads and parks. That said, there are a lot of things that need to be improved as there are too many used car lots and vacant businesses in the area. People are not staying in Florissant and instead they are moving to St. Peters and Wentzville areas. The next mayor has to be able to attract more youth as more younger couples and families will bring more money and small business to the area. If I had to be pressed, I would say that Behlmann, Garrett and Geerling probably came away with the highest marks. Having lived in Florissant, though, I know the seniors will really sway this election which can really help Schneider.

It is my understanding that there will be another debate soon. When I know more, I will
post it here.

So, were you there, if so, comment with your thoughts.


I received requests for websites and email addresses. These have been added below

Name - Website - Email Address
Tom Schneider - -
Andrew Podleski - -
Susan Geerling - -
Robert Garrett - No webpage but you can find him on Facebook -
Mark Behlmann - -
Michael Spreng - No website or Facebook page - No updated email address