O'Fallon City Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto of Towing Contract
The vote came after arguments over bidding procedures and the city charter.
O’Fallon City Council overrode Mayor Bill Hennessy’s veto of the city towing contract six to three at Thursday night’s meeting, but not before a heated discussion.
Council members approved the towing contract with Rodlin Enterprises, operating as Budget Towing, six to three at the Feb. 10 meeting. Later that week, Hennessy vetoed the decision, citing the council's failure to provide specific reasons for selecting Budget Towing over the other four bids submitted. He also said city staff was in the process of refining the bid criteria, and there was no reason that process should be abandoned.
Budget Towing, Sherman Towing and three other companies submitted bids to the city. While Budget Towing submitted the low bid in November, city staff recommended continuing the contract with the city’s provider at the time, Sherman Towing, citing a positive working relationship and the company's possession of the required equipment.
That same month city council members went against the city staffers' advice, and rejected Sherman Towing’s bid nine to zero. They advised city staff to refine the process and seek new bids.
Some council members said on Thursday, they disagreed with city staff’s recommendation. Ward 2 Councilman Jim Pepper said the city charter requires all components of a bid sheet to provide pricing; Budget Towing was the only company with a complete bid.
Pepper and Ward 4 Councilman Jeff Schwentker also said despite the recommendation, Sherman Towing fell short on some of the requirements specified. Pepper said the company was not complying with the conditional use permit for the property.
Schwentker brought forward the resolution to award the contract to Budget Towing at the Feb. 10 meeting.
“My reason for doing so, was I thought there was a lack of timely action to bring this forward,” he said Thursday.
The mayor’s veto of the towing contract earlier in the month placed the item on Thursday's agenda, allowing council members to uphold or override the mayor’s decision or take no action.
According to the city charter, the council can override the mayor’s veto with two-thirds majority of the council vote. O’Fallon City Council is comprised of 10 members, two from each of the five wards, which means it would take seven council members to override the mayor’s veto.
However, Dan Haney's resignation in October leaves the council at nine members. This had council members debating whether the charter referred to the established or existing number of council members, which would change the two-thirds majority to six votes.
City Attorney Kevin O’Keefe said when the charter uses the terms the “entire city council,” it is referring to the established size of 10 members and a temporary absence of a member does not change the meaning.
Several council members disagreed and said they believed the two-thirds majority should be based on the number of current council members serving. Ward 1 Councilman Rick Lucas said he sought advice from two other attorneys, who disagreed with O’Keefe.
“The charter says the entire city council,” Ward 3 Councilman John Haman Jr. said. “It’s not what it can be, it’s what it is. There’s no specified rule here—as I look up and down, the entire city council is nine members.”
Haman said the charter is not worded to “provide the mayor or council full folly,” but rather its purpose is to ensure checks and balances. He added that if four council members resigned, the mayor would control every action of the council.
“That’s just too much power for one mayor to have,” he said.
But Ward 5 Councilman Mark Perkins, who was on the charter commission, said the issue was debated during the framing of the charter and it was decided changing the make-up of the council would harm the legislative process.
“I feel this is a dangerous position because it was not the intent of the charter,” he said.
Perkins, who voted not to approve the contract Thursday, said his decision had nothing to do with specific bids, but rather the specifications based on 25 years of political input he would like to see removed. He said minor tweaks would make for a more respective bid process. He agreed with the mayor, and said he would have liked to see city staff complete the refined bidding process.
Some council members criticized Hennessy’s decision to leave Haney’s seat vacant until the elections. Hennessy decided not to fill the vacancy in December, because he said it would create an unfair advantage for the upcoming April elections.
According to the city charter, when a vacancy occurs on the council, the position shall be filled by a selection of the mayor. The city council may also adopt procedures to fill vacancies.
“You chose not to appoint someone and by choosing not to, you made this a nine person council,” Schwentker said to Hennessy on Thursday. “It was taken out of our hands.”
Hennessy fired back stating it is also in the charter that if the mayor does not make the appointment, the council may choose to appoint someone.
Haman made a motion to clarify the wording of two-thirds majority in the charter to consist of sworn and active council members, which the council approved six to three.
Council then overrode the mayor’s veto six to three, approving the towing contract with Budget Towing.
Perkins said he would challenge the council’s approval of basing the two-thirds majority on the number of acting members. He told O'Fallon Patch on Friday morning that he has a call into the Missouri Municipal League and is waiting to hear back.
“Our charter, to me, is no different than the constitution and must be protected as written,” he said. “If we go about changing it based on who is there or active, that doesn’t give members the incentive to make sure there are 10 council members there.”