Stephen Kraft (click for larger version)
September 10, 2014A group of University City residents has launched a petition to remove Stephen Kraft from his position on the city council.
The recall committee, Citizens for Restoring Transparency, is collecting signatures for a petition to file for Kraft's removal for misconduct in office.
At least 25 percent of registered voters in University City must sign the petition for Kraft's removal to take effect, according to the city charter. More than 60 residents have signed up to help collect signatures.
Citizens for Restoring Transparency launched the effort based on Kraft's "unbecoming conduct as an elected official and representative of University City," the group's president, John Woodworth, said. He said the committee formed after months of turmoil on the city council that included episodes of repeated inappropriate behavior by Kraft toward residents.
The most egregious of those was when Kraft called a resident an "---hole" during the May 12 city council meeting as the resident was addressing the council.
Kraft, who won re-election for Ward 1 in April by 22 votes, initially denied using the expletive, but later admitted to using the term when a video of his actions were posted on YouTube.
"Despite a warning from Mayor Shelley Welsch that sanctions would be imposed if future behavior occurred, Kraft threw a water bottle across the city council chambers while shouting at a resident," Woodworth said, noting that incident occurred at the May 27 council meeting.
Hundreds of citizens attended council meetings demanding Kraft be reprimanded for his inappropriate behavior. At three consecutive meetings, council members Paulette Carr and Terry Crow placed a resolution on the agenda calling for the reprimand of Kraft, but each time it was removed with the support of the mayor and Kraft. Woodworth said Kraft's votes were a direct conflict of interest.
Carr expressed frustration that the resolution got shot down before it got to the discussion phase, and is supportive of citizen involvement.
"As a council we tried to handle it and were spectacularly unsuccessful," she said. "Our resolution was taken off the agenda, so at this point it (the petition) is the only recourse they have."
Councilman Rodney Jennings doesn't believe Kraft should be removed from his council seat.
"Stephen Kraft has been criticized for mouthing a bad word and throwing an empty water bottle, but he is also being attacked," he said. "I've gotten to know Mr. Kraft and he's not a bad man – he's a good man and has a wealth of knowledge."
Woodworth disagreed and said it's a disgrace that the mayor and the council have not addressed Kraft's abusive behavior toward residents.
"Citizens came out in record numbers asking that Kraft's behavior be addressed and were soundly ignored," he said. "Kraft needs to be accountable for his actions. Residents will not condone this unbecoming behavior from our elected officials and therefore will seek a recall of Kraft and new representation."
In response to the petition, Kraft said: "This is a continuation of the spring election campaign that attempted to defame me and physically assaulted my family."
A Call For Cooperation
The petition for Kraft's recall notes additional grievances against him, including derogatory comments he made to a fellow council member during the Feb. 11 meeting. It also cites Kraft's involvement in what the Citizens for Restoring Transparency calls the "clandestine" hiring of City Manager Lehman Walker, as well as Kraft's vote to remove the contract clause that required Walker to be a member of the International City/County Management Association so he could not be dismissed from office after the ICMA censured and barred him from membership for an ethics violation.
Jennings said to his knowledge there have been no "clandestine" plans or "secret meetings" in University City politics, but rather a case of differing opinions and an unwillingness to cooperate with one another.
"There are a lot of people who are adamant in their differences and they refuse to compromise, and that's really what's going on," he said. "There's a lot of people who don't get along – who don't want to try to get along. We have forgotten how to agree to disagree."
Jennings said those petitioning for Kraft's recall are making their voices heard, but are small in number.
"I think there's only 10 or 20 percent of people who want to see him removed, but those are the ones who are most vocal," he said.
Woodworth said there are currently about 15 members who are part of Citizens for Restoring Transparency, but he expects the group to grow now that the petition has officially launched.
Jennings is asking citizens for patience moving forward – and for more understanding among council members and between council members and citizens.
"I want to see this city council take a whole new direction – put our differences in the past and go forward," he said. "I would like to propose a strategic planning session and a retreat so we can try to get past these personal differences. We need a time of reconciliation and healing, and trying to embrace a new attitude of working together."
Mayor Shelley Welsch declined to comment on the issue.