Sunset Hills Citizen Alleges PetroMart Vote Was Improper

Alderman's company does business with project's developer

01/25/2013 - Kathy Tripp, who took on Sunset Hills City Hall when it tried to redevelop Sunset Manor via eminent domain in 2005, is once again raising issues with the city.

Tripp is alleging that laws were broken Dec. 11 when the board of aldermen and Mayor Bill Nolan voted to approve certain aspects of Land West 7's plan to build a PetroMart on the site of the old Bob Evans restaurant.

In an email sent to area newspapers last week, Tripp stated she had formally requested from Nolan and every alderman letters disclosing any personal or private financial interests they may have in PetroMart, Land West 7 or First Bank (owners of the former Bob Evans site on Kirkwood Road).

The email names only Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau, and states he agreed on Jan. 14 to meet with Tripp and former alderman Frank Hardy (whom Gau defeated in the 2012 municipal election) at city hall.

Tripp stated that during the conversation, which she said was recorded, Gau acknowledged his company, John Henry Foster Co., did $8,000 of business annually with Land West 7 and that, according to Tripp's email, "an official of Land West 7 allegedly threatened to withdraw his business ... if the (PetroMart) did not pass."

Gau was one of four aldermen to vote yes on a preliminary development plan and conditional-use permit request that advanced the PetroMart project.

On Tuesday, Gau acknowledged he had met Hardy at city hall at Hardy's request and when he arrived, Tripp was also there. Gau said he was not aware the conversation was being recorded. Gau did acknowledge his company - of which he is the chief executive officer - does a small amount of business with Land West 7.

"We are a distributor of hydraulic and pneumatic equipment. We do business with many industrial-type businesses in Missouri and southern Illinois," Gau said. "I'm sure we sell parts to various other gas-station type businesses like the Circle K Shell."

The Circle K has fought the proposed PetroMart, which would be built directly across Kirkwood Road from it.

"Upon becoming aware of the business with Land West through one of our salesmen and this alleged 'threat' to withdraw their business, I then contacted the mayor and we did discuss this situation," Gau said. "We did not think it was or should be an issue."

On Wednesday, Mayor Nolan echoed that he "didn't think it was an issue."

"I know that (Gau) contacted me, and I believe he also spoke to at least half of the board of aldermen when he found out that there was a potential issue with (Land West) and his company," Nolan said. "Rich was very open about it. He agreed to meet (with Hardy). And his company is privately owned so I don't know what their annual sales are, but they are a multi-state operation. Does the CEO know about an $8,000 account?"

"Did this business have any affect on my vote on the PetroMart proposal? Unequivocally, in no way, did this impact my decision on this proposal and the allegation is totally without merit," Gau said.

Gau, along with other aldermen, opposed the initial PetroMart proposal, which would have included a traffic light at Monica Drive and a concrete median on Kirkwood Road between Watson Road and I- 44.

When those aspects of the proposal were abandoned, Gau dropped his opposition, saying he is "pro-development" of a site that has sat vacant for seven years.

"I decided to run for alderman to step up and get involved and to the best of my ability try to make a difference," Gau said. "It is unfortunate that more time, energy and attention gets spent on all the negativity rather than on proactively trying to make a difference and move our city in a positive direction."

According to Tripp, any subsequent vote for this project on Feb. 26, when the board next meets, "would bring additional concerns."

"The citizens of Sunset Hills place their trust and confidence in our mayor and aldermen to act in our best interests," Tripp said. "When an individual has the responsibility to represent another person -- whether as administrator, attorney, executor, government official or trustee -- a clash between professional obligations and personal interests arises if there is a potential for the personal interests of an individual to clash with his/her fiduciary duties as a representative of our city."

City Attorney Robert Jones could not be reached by press time.

  1. report reply print email
    Sunset Hills Citizen Alleges PetroMart Vote Was Improper Read m
    January 25, 2013 | 11:01 AM

    As Mr. Leicht knows (and frequently does)recording any conversation to insure accuracy of statements in order to write about them is legal. What Mr. Leicht did not do was reference the state laws and Sunset Hills ordinances that govern conflicts of interest. He allowed the Mayor and Alderman Gau their words but did not ask for comments from me. He picked parts out of my letter instead. So here are the laws- let the readers decide if politicians should have to follow them or not:
    Sunset Hills Ordinance Sec. 2-47 requires disclosure:
    “(2) Any matter of the governing body of the city who has a "substantial or private interest" in any measure, bill, order or ordinance proposed or pending before such governing body must disclose that interest to the secretary or clerk of such body and such disclosure shall be recorded in the appropriate journal of the governing body.”
    Alderman Gau did not do this.
    Gau said he did approximately $8000.00 in yearly business with Land West#7. State law defines “substantial” as any amount over $5000.00 (annually) and potentially, a first offense is a Class B misdemeanor, but subsequent actions could potentially become a Class D felony.
    RSMo §105.452.1. (4) states in pertinent part that: “In all such matters such officials must recuse themselves from acting.”
    Had Gau recused himself from the vote, the development would NOT have passed. The vote in December was a tie vote with the Mayor breaking the tie.
    Gau said he was threatened and named an official from Land West#7- now he denies it. Residents have no way of knowing whether the $8000.00 figure was accurate in Mr. Gau's business ventures because he did not disclose anything as prescribed by law. So, is it fair for the Mayor to discredit a resident, and say my complaint has no merit??? You decide.

    Kathy Tripp
    Sunset Hills
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    Petro Mart
    January 25, 2013 | 11:56 AM

    What a one sided article. Why wasn't Ms. Tripp interviewed for this article?
    Rich Gau is my Alderman and he is not acting in the best interest of the people of Sunset Manor. Over 175 people back here DO NOT think Petro Mart is a good fit for our neighborhood.
    It sounds like Ms. Tripp did uncover a conflict of interest and Mr. Gau should have abstained from voting on this issue.

    Rosanne Stein
    Sunset Hills
  3. report reply print email
    new gas station
    January 25, 2013 | 12:10 PM

    I think the good folks of Sunset Hills need to know that the laws are being followed and that all sides are in fact being heard. This entire process should be transparent to the tax payer without exception.

    jane e. petry
    sunset hills mo. 63128
  4. report reply print email
    petro mart
    January 25, 2013 | 12:16 PM

    The proposed Petro Mart will hurt this neighborhood. Many of us are trying to bring it back from the last disaster that almost brought this neighborhood down but the city usually does not support us at all. Kathy Trip should have been interviewed. She is the only one that fights for this neighborhood which, by the way, is in a prime location and could be developed into a much better cleaner neighborhood if the sunset hills gov. didn't just think of us as throw aways.

  5. report reply print email
    Petro Mart
    January 25, 2013 | 01:43 PM

    Journalism is lost by the "reporter" Joe Leicht.

    Kathy Tripp should have been interviewed by the reported before writing the article.

    The Honorable Mayor Nolan and Alderman Gau should remember this is a country of laws. Follow them Sirs or you will pay the price at the ballot box. If not in court.
    Out neighborhood was nearly wiped out with the last failed development. We will not go down as easy this time.
    Thanks Kathy for watching out for the neighborhood!

    Kevin Fears
    Sunset Hills
  6. report reply print email
    different view
    January 31, 2013 | 11:54 AM

    I've read the law (State and Sunset) and don't see how this is a conflict of interest. In fact, I know it's not and I think Joe knows that too. And I don't think there's any issue with recording a conversation, but to secretly record it tells me something else is going on here. Sounds like sour grapes to me, but what do I know...I don't live in Sunset Manor.

    Sunset Hills
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    Not a conflict
    February 01, 2013 | 06:37 AM

    This isnt a conflict of interest. Maybe he could have said something, but nothing he did was illegal. Its time for all of us to move on.

    Sara h
    sunset hills
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