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After Political Ambush in St. George, Write-Ins Await Confirmation of Their Sweep

In a huge turnout for the tiny city, the Disincorporation Steering Committee may have seized the government for a new purpose. This is part one of a series on St. George’s politics.

In , a group of write-in candidates who favor disincorporation of the small city appear to have won four seats on the board of alderman as well as the mayor's seat in . However, the write-in votes must be counted by the St. Louis County Board of Elections before their success can be confirmed.

The campaign was an electoral ambush. The town's incumbents were left unchallenged until the write-in candidates made their intentions public barely a week before Election Day. On March 21, Carmen Wilkerson mailed a letter to St. George residents declaring herself a write-in candidate for mayor, opposing incumbent Mary Kaufmann.

“Instead of fight city hall, we decided to become city hall,” Wilkerson said in a interview Wednesday.

Wilkerson is a current St. George alderman and an activist who worked to dissolve the city’s scandal-fraught police department. With the city now contracting with the St. Louis County Police Department, she said she had not filed for re-election.

However, she changed her mind when she discovered what she said was a plan by Kaufmann to bring back the municipality’s notorious speed trap by contracting for police service with the City of Charlack in North County. Kaufmann disputed this claim and said that she was merely consulting with the other city as the board of aldermen prepared to renew their contract with the county police. (Editor’s Note: Patch will have a full story about this issue in the second part of our series early next week.)

With her were write-in aldermen candidates Jeremy Collier, Christina Charpentier and Susan Preis, as well as current Ward 1 Alderman Dianne Burns, who ran unopposed.

“Crazy Carmen was going around in the snow one day distributing letters (about the Charlack plan),” Charpentier said Thursday. “I told her, ‘This isn’t going to happen. I just can’t deal with that.’”

The group—sometimes called the Disincorporation Steering Committee—canvassed the neighborhood furiously up to the election, promising citizens that they would use city hall resources to explore the option of dissolving the city to become part of unincorporated St. Louis County.

“Having a city government is a big responsibility,” Wilkerson said. “If we aren’t going to treat it as a responsibility and participate, we should just get rid of it.”

One hundred and fifty-six write-in ballots were cast for mayor, versus 137 votes for Kaufmann.

In Ward 2, there were 52 write-in ballots against 47 votes for incumbent alderman Barbara Dierstein. In Ward 3, there were 37 write-in ballots, 36 votes for incumbent Herbert Pyne and 19 votes for another candidate Thomas True.

The other seat in Ward 2 was also up for grabs, but with no candidate having filed it will presumably go by write-in vote to Charpentier. Collier and Preis ran for the contested seats in Ward 2 and 3, respectively.

Wilkerson said that the voting levels on Tuesday might have broken St. George records for an April municipal election.

“It was really a great victory,” said Bob Burns, Dianne Burns' husband and a retired staffer for Senator Claire McCaskill. “I think it is really going to be a great thing for the people here.”

Kaufmann said she was disappointed with the election results. “The people were misled by many things, by Mrs. Wilkerson. Very much misled,” she said. "We put out the facts...I feel good that I kept my integrity in this.”

The initial unofficial election results only compare votes for filed candidates with the total number of write-in ballots. The board of elections has 10 days after the election to sort through those ballots and count them for any declared write-in candidate. If too many of those votes turn out to be illegible or were cast for someone other than Wilkerson’s crew, one or more of the filed incumbents may win.

However, if only one of the write-in alderman candidates loses, the disincorporation committee will likely still have three seats plus the mayor’s tie-breaking vote—enough to control the government.

As the city waits for the official results, incumbent mayor Kaufmann and her allies have accused Wilkerson and the disincorporation candidates of campaign ethics violations.

“I think that there were some very unethical things that went on. I think they preyed on older people,” said Marilyn Schneider, who has been St. George’s full-time city administrator for 26 years.

According to Kaufmann, Wilkerson distributed campaign literature without the mandatory “paid for by” disclaimer. Wilkerson admitted that she was out of compliance with the law in her first mailing, but she said that when it was pointed out she contacted the board of elections and is working with them to resolve the issue. It is unclear what, if anything, the county could do to sanction Wilkerson now that the letter has gone out.

“I’m concerned about it. It was totally ignorance on my part. I’m not a politician, I’m an activist, and I’m prepared to deal with the elections commission on it,” Wilkerson said.

Kaufmann also said that on election day several citizens had reported being asked by election workers in St. George if they were planning to cast a write-in vote. This is indeed against the rules for poll workers but may have been a natural, albeit illegal, response to the unexpected slew of voters asking for help with write-in ballots. Wilkerson argued that she had no control over election workers.

“We were very careful at the polls that day not to intermingle with the judges and to stay 25 feet away,” she said.

Schneider further said that the write-in candidates put campaign literature in mailboxes without postage, but Wilkerson said that this claim was false.

Finally, Kaufmann also said that a disincorporation supporter named Kathy Heins brought a group of elderly citizens and some of St. George's Bosnian residents to the polls. She did not say what law this might be breaking, but simply that these were "people who don't usually vote." According to Wilkerson Cathy Heins is a resident of St. George's condominium community who "spends her time doing random acts of kindness for elderly people."

“I don’t think our mayor is a dishonest person, I just think she is fighting hard to keep the city,” Dianne Burns said.

Others who oppose disincorporation see the election differently.

“She wants to be the mayor of a city that she doesn’t want around. It doesn’t make any sense to me," said Shannon Kaltenbronn, Kaufmann's daughter. “I think she is going through all this trouble because of a disagreement she’s had with others in the city. Pardon my French, but I think it lit a fire under her rear.”

St. George sits above where Interstate 55 crosses Reavis Barracks Road. It has a population of around 1,400 and covers only 0.2 square miles. It also has a history of government scandals. The last police chief, Scott Uhrigm, is being tried for sexually assaulting a young girl. The two mayors before Kaufmann both resigned. Harold Goodman did so after he was caught by police with marijuana, and Heather Hediger resigned after she misused the city credit card.

In the wake of the write-in campaign, strong emotions have been flying from both sides of the disincorporation debate. Patch will have more on the election and the disincorporation process as we continue our series on St. George politics next week.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story did not reflect that Shannon Kaltenbronn is Mary Kaufmann's daughter. Kaltenbronn failed to acknowledge this fact when initially asked about her relationship with the mayor and current board of aldermen. Further information was also added about Kaufmann's claims of unethical electioneering by her opponents.

Correction 4/12: An earlier version of this story attributed a comment about campaign literature being placed in mailboxes without postage to Mary Kaufmann. That comment was actually made by Marilyn Schneider.

Thomas True April 09, 2011 at 02:55 AM
Wilkerson has been on the Board of Alderman for at least 6 years. Her failure to list the required "paid for" information isn't due to ignorance. However, I do agree that she is ignorant. Every time a candidate files for election they are handed a booklet of the requirement for their financial disclosures. But she must have done like she has done all the time on the board with the materials that she has been given and simply through it away without looking at it. I would welcome anyone to attend the next meeting of the Board and see first hand how ignorant this long term alderman is of the very processes of government that she has been in charged of for more than six years. Not to mention the idiot Diane Burns that doesn't know a thing about what is going on around her. Her idiot Husband, Bob Burns stick his foot in his mouth while working for Sen Claire McCaskill and was forced to retire. Bob Burns publically spoke in support of the former mayor when she was shown to be spending the cities money almost without hesitation for personal use including having the city phone listed in her husbands name. With people like this you don't need to look for for a fool. I hope that the write in votes fail to support this crew of cretins and the serious business of keeping the city on track can continue. I guarantee that the first meeting of these people will see the most confused and illegitimate excuse for any type of civic governance in American history.
Nelda True April 09, 2011 at 03:11 AM
In reference to the remarks Ms. Wilkerson made about the presentation given to the Board of Alderman by the Police Chief of Charlack. Ms; Wilkerson did not attend the regular Aldermanic Board meeting and only came into the closed session about 5 minutes before the end of the presentation. Ms. Wilkerson has made a habit of missing meetings entirely or coming in late. Every meeting, she asks the same questions. Evidently, she suffers from attention deficit disorder and can't retain facts.
Brian Wilkerson April 09, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Nelda, thanks for confirming that there was an illegal closed meeting with Charlack. Ms. Wilkerson missed a hand full of meetings over the years, mostly due too an extended hospital stay and recovery time. But suggesting it was a 'habit' is just wrong.
Brian Wilkerson April 09, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Thomas, do you really think the unintentional over site of the "paid for" requirement was a sleazy tactic that actually swayed the vote? As soon as she was aware of this accidental omission, Carmen went to the St. Louis County Board of Elections AND the Missouri Ethics Commission, made them aware of the issue immediately and was in compliance from that point forward. The letter in question which was delivered by first class U.S. mail had Carmen's return address on it, referred to herself as Carmen Wilkerson in the content, contained her phone number, email address and it was signed by Carmen Wilkerson. So, can you actually say something intelligent concerning this or only continue with your childish outburst?
Carmen Wilkerson April 11, 2011 at 03:32 AM
Thanks for the clarification about Shannon Kaltenbronn being the daughter of Mary Kauffman, although I have to say her statement is dead on! Sorry your were duped by both of them. I guess that's Mary Kauffman's idea of "keeping my integrity in this."
Thomas True April 11, 2011 at 04:08 AM
Brian thanks for chiming in and joining the choirs of idiots. I don't know what you are referring to as "sleazy tactics", as for as political speech you can pretty much say anything you want. As for as the requirement of the "paid for" issue. When in the history of elections that we have had in America in the life time of anyone currently living has there NOT been a requirement to have that on a political ad? You can say it was an over-site, Brian. But being stupid is not an oversight it is a terminal condition. it is odd that when I called the Missouri Ethics Board the person in charges of dealing with these issues was not aware of them as little as the Monday prior to the election. Granted there may be more than one person that deals with them. But it seemed they were not aware of it. Again I don't really care what sort of lies and unsupported statements you all care to make. That is part of the political process. What I am concerned about is violation of law. I don't care who by or why. This election has had several to be investigated.
Thomas True April 11, 2011 at 04:08 AM
Plus, Brian, WTF is an "illegal closed meeting"? I would suggest you look up a little about meetings procedures and what goes on in them. After all you have only attend one meeting. But don't ask Carmen she had been on the board for more than 6 years and didn't even know that the treasurer writes checks to pay the mayor and alderman. Well at least she asked a question about why they were receiving money. Keep in mind, you desire to reach a goal doesn't mean that anyone else has to support it or even allow it. The bottom line is what is right and what is legal. I find nothing right with this gang of five and I am sure if they end up taking office that either by malice or ignorance that illegal activities will happen. This time I would be happy to see the perpetrators serve jail time.
Andrew Dana Hudson April 11, 2011 at 04:23 AM
Hey everyone, I encourage discourse on the site, and I am glad you guys are using the comments here. But as our terms of use (http://affton.patch.com/terms) say, we need you to “Keep it clean” and “Treat others as you’d like to be treated.” Please avoid name calling and try to stay focused on the issues. Any personal attacks from either side will be taken down. Thanks!
Thomas True April 11, 2011 at 04:27 AM
Not exactly what one would call a free press or a free exchange of ideas.
Carmen Wilkerson April 11, 2011 at 06:11 AM
Actually, Andrew we waited until the week prior to announce so that we would not have to subject ourselves to this type of public debate. Our side is done here. Thanks again for the great coverage!
Brian Wilkerson April 11, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Thomas, any future communication can be directed to me personally. Thanks you for the coverage Andrew.
Thomas True April 11, 2011 at 05:53 PM
I agree waiting until the last week is easier than having to face question about you actual statements. It avoids you having to answer your unsupported statements and accusations. All I can honestly say that if you are so tired of The City of St. George, feel free to move. That goes for the rest of the negative nannies as well.
Kurt Greenbaum April 11, 2011 at 11:12 PM
In what way is it not a free press or a free exchange of ideas to prevent people from posting personal attacks? Sorry, I don't agree. Moderation is not the censorship.
Thomas True April 12, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Kurt, Only the government can censor. So, yes, you are right, this isn't censorship. It has much more pleasant sounding names such as "moderation", "editorializing" or "civil" discourse. Having a degree in journalism, I was educated in the difference between censorship and editorializing and other methods use to restrict and restrain speech either by government, commercial or private entity. If you noticed I didn't mention censorship in my comment. But somehow you drew that conclusion. Now that I have educated you about what censorship is I will now explain what the purpose of personal attacks are in public discourse. Weather based in fact of fiction personal attacks or personal promotions are done to help sway public opinion. To Wit: Charlie Sheen's recent press is indeed a personal attack. It is now against conventional wisdom to speak favorably of him. Even though there is no reason to deem his actions as anything than his desire to be treated in a positive manor. Albeit one that is unconventional. To Wit: The use of strong language to describe the actions and behavior of others is useful to help explain the actions of certain person in a form of shorthand in language instead of having to go through the entire process step by step. [example; Hitler was a genocidal, narcissistic, oppressive tyrant.] Instead of going through all the reason why this is true, a quick summation using descriptive words helps to transfer the idea.
Kurt Greenbaum April 12, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Thanks for the education! I appreciate it. And because you have a degree in journalism, you've heard the adage, "Show, don't tell." So you already know that the best arguments are the ones that address issues, rather than resort to name-calling. But, alas, we have climbed well off-topic. Andrew would be within his mandate to delete our comments as a result because, well, that's what a good moderator does.
dawn May 10, 2011 at 03:28 AM
I never vote and i made a point to vote this time ,I am very pleased with the results.MARY KAUFANN IS NO LONGER MAYOR..... that was the best choice.I dont think that mary performed her duites as mayor......
Carmen Wilkerson May 10, 2011 at 10:49 AM
Thanks for voting, Dawn! Be sure to vote one more time, when the question of disincorporation is on the ballot!
dawn May 10, 2011 at 05:08 PM
You are very welcome!!

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