Two years ago, City staff wrongfully removed campaign signs from a polling place at 9 AM on election day. The City claimed there was an ordinance that prohibited the placement of signs on public property. Campaign signs had never been removed from a polling place before. Any city ordinance prohibiting the placement of signs on public property is superseded by the First Amendment constitutional interest.
I spent much of that election day working with lawyers and other elected officials trying to reason with the City, but it wasn’t until nearly 4:00 in the afternoon that the City Manager relented and allowed the signs to be put back up.
The removal of political signs from a polling place amounted to an effort to suppress the vote by removing the usual identifiers the polling place, discouraging some from voting. Additionally, the removal of the signs from a designated polling place violates citizens' First Amendment rights.
In spite of the attempt to control the outcome of the election that day, I won by nearly 12%. Many were angered at the removal of the signs by the City, but in the interest of moving forward I decided to let the issue drop, being assured by the City Manager that the code would be changed and this would never happen again.
Unfortunately, the City has once again intervened in the election process. This time, the City Clerk refused to certify candidate Jeff Hales for Ward 1 Councilmember in the April 8, 2014 election, based on her (and the City Attorney’s?) “understanding” of the definition of residency. The issue was brought to her attention by one citizen who demanded that the City Clerk "DQ” Mr. Hales. Incidentaly, the complaining citizen is a friend and supporter of the incumbant in the race.
By refusing to certify the candidate, the City Clerk forced Mr. Hales to seek a very expensive legal remedy… Mr. Hales had to hire a lawyer to ask the Court for an extraordinary order commanding our City Clerk to perform a ministerial act that the law recognizes as an absolute duty and not a matter for the City Clerk's discretion. Last Wedesday afternoon, the court issued a writ of mandamus directing the City Clerk to certify Mr. Hales as a candidate for election as a Councilmember for Ward 1; directing the City of University City to compel the City Clerk to certify Mr. Hales’ candidacy; and directing the St. Louis County Board of election Commissioners to place Mr. Hales on the April 8, 2014 ballot for the election of Ward 1 Councilmember in University City.
Let’s be very clear: The judge decided in Mr. Hales’ favor, and the City Clerk and the City lost.
All the while, this Councilmember and at least 3 others were NOT informed of the legal action taken by Mr. Hales until after the court had ruled in Mr. Hales’ favor. Since the City Clerk is the employee of the Council, not the City Manager, a suit involving her should have come to the attention of the entire Council IMMEDIATELY.
hy was due process not afforded Mr. Hales by our city, though it is provided for in Resolution 2006-9
? Since when has University City ever required a candidate to pay attorneys’ fees to get on the ballot? What if you could not afford the attorney's fees or could not find a way to raise the money??? Would you be OUT OF LUCK??? Why was the full weight of the City and the City Attorney behind the complaint of one citizen (who is a friend of the incumbent) without involving the Council in discussions? Finally, who stood to benefit from preventing a citizen from running for office and limiting the voters’ choices?… certainly not the voters!
This is a shameful chapter for our city!
**The City Election Certification will be discussed at the City Council Meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, 6:30 PM on the 5th Floor (Council Chambers) of City Hall**