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Better Together fallout: Wildwood forms commission to preserve local interests

By JEFFREY BRICKER

The Wildwood City Council met this past Monday night with the potential St. Louis City-County merger in the forefront of many minds. 

The proposal fronted by the Better Together organization has raised many concerns among Wildwood leaders and residents with nearly unanimous opposition to the potential merger. Thus, the council took initial steps to forge a defense against the initiative. 

At the request of Mayor Jim Bowlin, the council unanimously approved the formation of the Wildwood Preservation Commission. The commission is to “identify and prioritize all of Wildwood‘s key assets that warrant protection, such as watersheds, ecological systems, highway systems and other key aspects of the Wildwood Master Plan.”

“The proposed city-county merger is a fluid situation, and we do not know how it will end,” Bowlin said. “It’s imperative that we are proactive and put in place measures that will forever protect Wildwood’s key assets.”

Any Wildwood resident may apply for appointment on the Wildwood Preservation Commission consistent with the procedures detailed on the city’s website. 

In other council business, Bowlin was unsuccessful in replacing the chairman of the city‘s Planning and Zoning Commission. This is the fourth time Bowlin has attempted to insert a replacement for Rick Archeski, who has served on the commission for the past 11 years. 

Bowlin claims that Archeski is part of a small group of influential people in Wildwood that have prevented others from taking part in local government in “an inviting way.” He said he talked with Archeski in the past and asked him to step aside. 

“Unlike many, if not most, individuals who have been appointed to positions, he has refused to do that,” Bowlin said. 

Some councilmembers expressed concern that replacing Archeski would lead to a loss of expertise that is sorely needed on the commission. 

“Although I’d like to see new people involved at various points, and we’ve had new people involved at various points, we don‘t get that many requests [to P&Z] on a regular basis,” Councilmember John Gragnani [Ward 1] said. “And if you don’t have experience dealing with things of this nature, you really have a learning curve.”

In a follow up interview after the meeting, Bowlin disputed that argument. 

“It’s simply not the case that there’s not long-standing expertise on our planning and zoning commission without Rick Archeski being there,” Bowlin said. “I think it really strains reason to believe any of us are irreplaceable.”

Archeski has remained on the commission despite a measure passed by voters in Wildwood last year to limit elected and appointed terms to eight years. An amendment to the city charter contains a clause that provides an exemption for officials serving at the time the ballot measure was passed. 

It‘s not clear when and if Bowlin will offer a fifth possible replacement for Archeski on the commission.

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