I think new Pevely mayor Stephanie Haas is off to a bad start. Her first two major actions have been to push for the impeachment of an alderman and to sue the city for wrongful termination from when she was city clerk. Now, these actions may have legitimate merit, but to pursue both of them in this manner does not set a good tone for her tenure as mayor.
The target of impeachment is Dave Bewig, because of a fictitious online account (Joe Mott) he allegedly created to criticize activist resident Erin Kasten of Pevely 20/20. I’m not sure this offense rises to the level of impeachment (his behavior towards employees has also been cited), but if it does, it won’t succeed, because removing Bewig from office will require 4 votes from the board, according to my reading of the city code (“The Mayor may, with the consent of a majority of all the members elected to the Board of Aldermen, remove from office, for cause shown, any elective officer of the City”). But unless Ed Walters or Dave Young can be browbeat into changing their votes from the motion to draw up articles of impeachment, which they opposed, there are only 3 ‘yes’ votes. Bewig will abstain, so there will be no tie for the mayor to break. This issue will tie up the board for a few months, and we are only 10 months away from the end of Bewig’s two-year term. Perhaps this should be settled at the ballot box.
Haas may well have a case against the city in her lawsuit. She was fired as city clerk in September 2014 and ran for mayor successfully this past April. But I think she should have chosen only one option: sue or run for mayor. Especially since she started down the road to this lawsuit back in October, according to the Leader. Now the city is in an awkward position from top to bottom.
Haas told the Leader that “This is about making elected officials accountable.” But the board members who voted to fire her won’t be held accountable. The city and its insurance provider will be the ones to pay (in one recent Arnold lawsuit settlement, the city had to pay about
$60,000 $5,500 out-of-pocket). It is unlikely that this trial will proceed to completion; there will probably be a settlement, voted on by Haas’ allies on the board, Don Menkhus, Steve Markus, and Russ Shackelford. But they don’t make up a majority of the board. Replacing Bewig with a friendly alderman would sure help Haas’ chances of a bigger settlement. I don’t think that’s why she is pursuing his removal, but that would be a result, and appearance matters.
This is not to say I am justifying Haas’ firing or Bewig’s behavior. But because of the low likelihood of success in removing Bewig, the tension created by the lawsuit, and the distraction and the overall tone set by these actions, I think Haas has erred in making these moves, and that they will prove harmful to her attempts to move the city forward and address its many issues.