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Wildwood opts for independent investigation following campaign complaint dismissal

By: Jessica Meszaros

Tony Salvatore [personal photo]

At the Oct. 22 Board of Aldermen meeting, the city discussed reports from special prosecutor Tim Englemeyer regarding complaints made by Wildwood resident Tony Salvatore against Mayor Jim Bowlin and Councilmember Ray Manton [Ward 2] dated Sept. 14, 2018. According to an official report to the Wildwood City Council from Engelmeyer & Pezzani, LLC dated Oct. 12, Salvatore’s complaints against both parties have been officially dismissed.

Salvatore filed complaints against Bowlin and Manton claiming both violated Sec. 3.4[c] and Sec. 11.3 of the city charter following multiple instances where police were reportedly sent to Salvatore’s campaigning locations in the city.

Sec 3.4 [c] states that, with few exceptions stated in the charter, council members cannot interfere with administrative city officers or employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the city administrator, and councilmembers also can’t issue orders to any such officer or employee publicly or privately. Sec. 11.3 states that no city officer, board member, councilmember, commission member or employee can use official authority or official influence to affect or interfere the result of a city office election.

Salvatore ran for a Ward 2 city council seat in the April 2018 election against Manton, who was the incumbent.

According to Engelmeyer’s report, Salvatore argued that Bowlin violated the city’s charter after allegedly speaking with City Administrator Ryan Thomas following the receipt of an email complaint made by Manton about Salvatore’s campaign tactics in March 2018 citing concerns about public right-of-way and traffic. Salvatore stated Bowlin contacted Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation to inquire if Chesterfield had ordinances prohibiting the holding of campaign signs on or near a roadway.

For evidence, Salvatore supplied a copy of a transcript of a taped interview with City Administrator Ryan Thomas, emails, text messages, phone records and official St. Louis County police reports.

According to Engelmeyer, Salvatore’s charter violation complaint­­s against Bowlin and Manton were ultimately dismissed under Sec. 125.140[c][2] because there was “no probable cause” to believe the charter was violated.

Engelmeyer also stated that Sec. 3.4[c] did not apply to the Bowlin or Manton accusations or the overall situation because it applies to interference with officers or employees who are subject to the direction of and supervised by the city administration.

Bowlin’s call to Thomas regarding Salvatore’s campaigning went directly to the city administrator, not to anyone supervised by the city administrator. Also according to Engelmeyer’s Oct. 12 report, additional evidence was needed to ultimately prove Bowlin used official authority or influence pursuant to Sec. 11.3 when contacting Thomas about possible campaign and ordinance violations by Salvatore. Thomas also testified that Manton and Bowlin’s inquiries were handled like any other complaint received.

The submitted evidence also didn’t change Engelmeyer’s opinion that Bowlin did not violate Sec. 11.3 by reaching out to Nation to inquire about Chesterfield ordinances about living signs or signs in the right-of-way.

“Simply put, the mayor, like any citizen, is free to inquire about or report a perceived ordinance violation, both of his own city administrator or of a neighboring city,” the report stated.

In addition, Engelmeyer determined that Sec. 3.4[c] did not apply to Manton because the evidence provided by Salvatore didn’t show he was using official authority or influence when he contacted Thomas about the possible ordinance violations.

The council took a 14-1 vote in favor of extending an invitation to Engelmeyer to attend the next city council meeting on Nov. 13 to answer questions regarding the dismissals. Manton abstained from the vote.

Following a discussion of Engelmeyer’s reports, Councilmember John Gragnani [Ward 1] made an additional request to the council to investigate the allegations made by Salvatore. Some councilmembers expressed concern with Engelmeyer’s decision, specifically with the interpretation of Sec. 3.4[c] in relation to Manton, the issuance of police officers to handle the complaint as well as findings by Engelmeyer in the Oct. 12 report that state not all of Salvatore’s campaign locations or living signs violated city ordinances.

“Every year that I run, somebody puts a sign in the right of way, and I will email Joe [Vujnich, director of planning & parks] or I’ll call him,” Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3] said at the Oct. 22 meeting. “Code Enforcement goes out there, checks it out, picks it up and it’s over.”

Gragnani suggested that the item be moved to the city’s Admin/Public Works Committee to decide and return to the council mechanisms that would assist in an independent investigation to determine alleged city charter or ordinance violations.

“The council has to own this,” Gragnani said regarding the motion. “We have to decide how we’re going to take charge of this, and we have to do this and get it done.”

The vote for the investigation passed 14-1, with Manton abstaining from the vote.

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