The phone rang at The American newsroom. The caller said he was a resident of Jennings. “You all need to take a look at Jennings,” he said. “The new mayor is suing everyone in sight.”
The EYE took a look at Missouri Casenet. Indeed, Mayor Yolonda Fountain Henderson is suing everyone in sight.
In a pleading filed May 18 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, Henderson named the Jennings City Council members, city clerk, city attorney, city collector, director of public safety, director of housing and economic development, director of streets, director of parks, coordinator of special services, public health officer, municipal judge, Youth Commission members, Senior Citizens Commission members, Landmarks Commission members, Human Rights Commission members, and the members of the Board of Trustees for the Police and Firemen’s Retirement Fund.
What is the complaint?
According to the pleading, Henderson “prefers to have as members of her cabinet and those persons making policy decisions or implementing policy decisions of the mayor’s office, individuals and appointees of her choice.” She prefers her own appointees, the pleading continues, “in order to assure their loyalty and competence and to assure that her policies, as mayor of the City of Jennings, are implemented and executed effectively, efficiently and expeditiously during the full four years of her term of office.”
And, according to the pleading, the former of mayor of Jennings, Mayor Ben Sutphin, and his allies pushed through changes, in anticipation of Henderson being elected, that unlawfully blocks or limits these appointing powers.
According to the pleading, this scheme to disempower her began long before Henderson was elected in March 2015. The pleading claims that the scheme to limit Henderson’s appointing powers, in anticipation of her election, began back in 2006 and continued through two elections where she was not, in fact, elected mayor. By the time she actually was elected mayor, the pleading claims, her predecessors had rigged city government to leave Henderson with very limited powers.
“To the victor goes the spoils” is one truism of electoral politics. But according to this pleading, the victorious Henderson inherited only a bunch of people with “fixed terms of employment” whom she is unable to terminate in favor of new people whose “loyalty and competence” she trusts.
These limits on her appointing power, the pleading claims, are “unlawful and unconstitutional,” and the EYE trusts the judge to decide whether or not that is true, based on the Missouri Constitution and relevant law. However, the pleading does include one activist note when it claims that the limits on Henderson’s appointing powers are “detrimental to the public welfare in the case of the municipal court.”
The pleading continues: “The municipal courts of St. Louis County have been found to be plagued by many unjust practices and procedures in the administration of justice and it is the intent of Mayor Henderson, with the advice and consent of the City council, to commission an investigation of the administration and operation of the municipal courts of Jennings and take any action deemed appropriate or necessary as a result of said investigation to assure that justice is administered fairly and to assure that Jennings’ municipal courts are not guilty of any of the miscarriages of justice found to be prevalent in Ferguson, Missouri or other municipal courts of St Louis County.”
Jennings’ municipal judge is Judge John Duepner, one of many Jennings officials named in the suit who presumably is headed for the unemployment line if a circuit judge rules in Henderson’s favor.
The EYE believes it is relevant to note that Henderson is Jennings’ first black mayor. Certainly, her attorney, Elbert A. Walton Jr., is alert to the racial dynamics in the municipality. The pleading he wrote does not claim any racial bias against Henderson, but does elude to “stalking horse” politics allegedly used to defeat her at the polls previous to her winning this year. A “stalking horse” is a candidate with similar demographics to a feared opponent put into the race merely to deflect votes from the feared opponent. So the underlying argument to the pleading is that a white power structure rigged municipal government to disempower a black mayor – even though it took a few tries for a black mayor finally to be elected.
At the time of the 2010 Census, Jennings’ population of 14,712 was 90 percent black.
Walton is a veteran strategist for black political empowerment in North County and, as such, entrenched white labor’s most formidable foe in North County prior to the emergence last year of the Fannie Lou Hamer Democratic Coalition. He was last seen in action as attorney for the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District, until it was taken over by the courts in October 2009 “amid allegations that board members at the time were violating open meetings laws and spending large sums inappropriately,” as the Post-Dispatch reported. Among those allegedly inappropriate large sums were payments to Walton for his attorney services.
“The court's intervention was a key reason why Walton, attorney Bernard Edwards Jr. and former board president and district Chief Joseph Washington did not walk away from the nearly bankrupt district with almost $1 million in a cloudy deal struck with the board then in place,” the Post reported.
Knowles: still mayor
Petitioners seeking to oust controversial Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III have fallen some 800 valid signatures short of the number needed to trigger a recall election.
Eric Fey, the Democratic director of elections at St. Louis County Board of Elections, told St. Louis Public Radio that petitioners had gathered 1,008 valid signatures. They needed 1,814 to trigger a recall.
Fey also said that 1,125 signatures were declared invalid: 562 of the names weren’t registered in St. Louis County, while another 366 didn’t live in Ferguson.
As for the remaining 197, Fey said, 19 names had “blank lines” within the petition, 65 names didn’t provide an address, 65 names didn’t provide a signature, 18 names did not have the signature on file with the election board, and 30 names were duplicates.
According to the Ferguson city charter, St. Louis Public Radio reported, the petitioners will be notified by certified mail that they did not collect enough signatures. They will have two days to file an intent to pursue an amended petition with additional signatures. After that, the additional signatures must be filed within 10 days.
New city manager and judge
While Knowles lives to play mayor another day, two Ferguson officials who got the axe in the wake of the damning Department of Justice Report have now been replaced, though probably not for long.
The Ferguson City Council approved a contract with Interim Solutions, LLC, a municipal government staffing agency, to employ Ed Beasley as interim city manager.
Beasley took over for acting city manager Matt Unrein, the city’s Public Works director, who took over for Pam Hylton when she left for an assistant city manager job in Richmond Heights. Hylton took over for disgraced longtime city manager John Shaw, who resigned after the DOJ report revealed him colluding with Police Chief Thomas Jackson and the municipal judge to raise city revenues through aggressive policing.
Beasley, who is black, will not be here long either. His contract can be extended only up to six months for up to $84,500, which includes a housing stipend. Ferguson is still seeking to hire an executive search firm to assist with the nationwide search for a permanent city manager.
Ferguson’s new municipal judge also is, in effect, an interim African-American hire. The Ferguson City Council appointed Judge Donald McCullin as the new municipal judge, replacing Judge Roy L. Richter, who was appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to handle Ferguson court’s caseload after the DOJ report showed Municipal Judge Ronald Brockmeyer colluding with Shaw and Jackson.
McCullin currently serves as a hearing officer for the St. Louis City Parking Commission and the Civil Service Commission. He also serves as disciplinary hearing officer for the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri.
But he won’t hold court in Ferguson for long. As the Post noted, McCullin is 74 and Missouri law limits the age of municipal judges to 75.