FOREST PARK — Last Monday's Forest Park City Council meeting featured insults, outbursts and a failed vote to remove one member.
The meeting was held in Municipal Court chambers at the police station because workers were renovating council chambers at City Hall.
The night started with comments by Councilman Dabouze Antoine that drew a series of sharp rebukes from Mayor Angelyne Butler.
Butler tried to call for order in the chamber. Antoine told the mayor, “That was just rude. I don’t care who you are.”
After two warnings, Butler, who chairs the meetings, called Antoine out of order.
“I’m not out of order,” Antoine replied. “You’re out of order.”
Butler called for a vote from the rest of the council, asking whether Antoine should be removed. The vote was 3-2 against Antoine’s removal and the meeting continued.
Councilwoman Sandra Bagley introduced a motion that she said was aimed at greater transparency. Bagley said that she wanted the city to start recording its executive sessions in case paper minutes went missing. The council did not want to discuss the matter in public.
When asked for his legal opinion on the matter, City Attorney Mike Williams said, “I would reserve my legal opinion until we go into executive session.”
After the matter was ostensibly discussed behind closed doors, the council voted 3-2 against recording its executive sessions. Council members Antoine, Kimberly James and Latresa Akins-Wells voted against the measure, while Bagley and Allan Mears voted for it.
Under state law, executive sessions are not required to be open to the public. However, the body must take minutes and those minutes must specify each issue discussed. The exception to specificity is the substance of attorney-client discussions. Executive session minutes are not “secret” documents and are subject to review by a judge, who may then rule that whatever was discussed during the executive session should have been more properly discussed during an open meeting.
Bagley also called for the city to start keeping sign-in sheets for all visitors who meet with city employees, other than routine visits to pay for tickets or permits.
“It got absolutely nowhere. I’m going to bring it back to the next council meeting as an agenda item,” Bagley told the News.
Council members also bickered over how long Saturday voting should be on Oct. 26. Elections Supervisor Lois Wright said Saturday voting was an “inconvenience” and that the city had not held Saturday voting before. Wright wanted hours from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., while the council voted to extend voting that day until 4 p.m. Wright said the decision to set polling hours was her perogative.
Asked why she opposed adding Saturday voting, Wright told the News, “That’s why we have advance voting.” Wright also said the council had had plenty of time to schedule a Saturday vote without calling for one with only two weeks’ notice.
In recent months, Forest Park City Council meetings have regularly included numerous personal attacks among council members, as well as by council members on citizens in the audience. During one recent public comment session, Antoine asked a citizen who wanted to plant fruit trees around the city, “Are you mentally ill?”, drawing gasps from the audience. Monday night, Akins-Wells accused an audience member of cursing her and referred to “wolves in sheep’s clothing” while decrying negativity that she said seemed to follow her.
Several citizens complained Monday about how the council has conducted itself. Samuel Ibanez said, “Stop blaming. Act like an adult. I’m sick of it.” Carl Evans added, “Dude, we’re getting tired of it.” Evans also complained about recreational land at Gillem being sold to a private company with little public involvement.
Another citizen and business owner, Shantel Harris, said she was “outraged” at what she felt was the city’s non-responsiveness to citizens. “This panel passes laws without knowledge of the law,” Harris said. “The only thing I get extra in Forest Park are additional fees.”
She added, “We voted you in. We can clearly vote you out.”