Recall Language in Ellisville Charter Declared Unconstitutional
Ellisville Councilman Matt Pirrello filed suit last week claiming the charter's Article 9 was unconstitutional by Missouri standards, following recall efforts stemming from council Walmart decisions.
A St. Louis County judge declared a provision of Ellisville's city charter governing the recall of public officials unconstitutional, upholding the argument that came in a lawsuit filed by the city's former mayor last week.
Ellisville councilman and former Mayor Matt Pirrello filed the suit on Aug. 27 against the city and five residents, challenging a recall petition brought by the residents.
In his ruling on Wednesday, Presiding St. Louis County Judge Thomas Prebil deemed the recall language of Article 9 in Ellisville's City Charter unconstitutional and, Pirrello said, issued a permanent injunction preventing any recall activity in Ellisville.
The recall efforts emerged after decisions on a pending Walmart development and involved Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Residents opposing the development formed the Article 9 Alliance to arrange the recall of five council members who had voted in favor of the Walmart TIF: Pirrello, Roze Acup, Dawn Anglin, Troy Piper and Linda Reel.
The argument against Article 9 in Pirrello's suit is the lack of specific reasoning for a recall. The suit called the language illegal "because the recall petition blank...does not provide for or permit the specification of cause for the removal of Ellisville's elected officials," as Patch previously reported.
Ellisville City Attorney Paul Martin, representing the city in the case, said in an STLtoday article that Article 9 was "not defensible," adding that "his obligation to defend the city's charter was outweighed by the constitution."
Martin told Patch, "The Missouri Constitution is very clear. If you’re going to remove a public official, you have to do it with cause. Article 9 doesn’t have any cause."
In addition to the City of Ellisville, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster was named as a defendant as well as five residents who had been petitioning for the recall of council members.
The five residents named as defendants — Julia Dolan, Mary Ann Dust, Sandra McGrath, Vincent McGrath and Patti Murphy — were dismissed from the case.
The suit referred to the Missouri Constitution (Art. 7, Sect. 4) which states "elected officials who are not subject to impeachment 'shall be subject to removal from office in the manner and for the causes provided by law.'"
Pirrello said any recall action would be defined by a vote by the people.
"This is not a win for me and I don’t have animosity toward the people that followed the City Charter provision," Pirrello told Patch in an email. "The City Charter was wrong and now it can be made right."
Following an unsuccessful attempt to add language calling for specific reason to the charter, the addition of which would have been on the November ballot, Pirrello said he "was forced to place it in the hands of the court" and filed suit last week.
"If recall had never been used as a threat to influence votes I never would have considered challenging the constitutionality," Pirrello told Patch in an email. "I planned to file regardless of being an elected official targeted for recall without cause."
Updated: Sept. 5 at 3:25 p.m.