Candidates Each Vow to End the Bickering

Mark Wilson (center) answers a question while Patrick Toohey (left) and Chris Thornton listen at the mayoral candidate forum on March 18 at the Brentwood School District's administrative offices. (All photos by Steve Bowman)
Mark Wilson (center) answers a question while Patrick Toohey (left) and Chris Thornton wait their turn at the mayoral candidate forum on March 18. (All photos by Steve Bowman)

Large crowd questions mayoral hopefuls at forum

 
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
email: bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a two-part article reporting on the Brentwood mayoral forum held on March 18.

The three individuals who are running for mayor of Brentwood disagree on a lot of things. But one thing they’re in lockstep about was revealed at the mayoral candidate forum held Wednesday at the Brentwood School District’s administrative offices.

The candidates — Patrick Toohey, Mark Wilson and Chris Thornton — answered questions submitted by the approximately 175 people in the audience. Among the first four questions, which were asked by members of the Brentwood High School speech and debate team, was the one asked by senior Megan Shipley.

“What is one characteristic of Brentwood you would like to change as mayor?” asked Shipley.

Each candidate explained his answer differently, but all three had the same answer: contentiousness among members of the board, including current mayor Pat Kelly. The winner of the April 7 mayoral election will succeed Kelly, who has been in office since 2001.

This article reports on the candidates’ responses to those first four questions, which were asked by junior Seamus Saunders and seniors Shipley, Jonathan Duffe-Holmes and Austin Koster. A forthcoming article will report on how Thornton, Wilson and Toohey answered the remaining questions, which were submitted by other audience members.

Smiling while being thanked by the forum moderator are Brentwood High School speech and debate team members (from left) Megan Shipley, Jonathan Duffe-Holmes, Austin Koster and Seamus Saunders.
Smiling while being thanked by the forum moderator are Brentwood High School speech and debate team members (from left) Megan Shipley, Jonathan Duffe-Holmes, Austin Koster and Seamus Saunders. They wrote and presented the first four questions of the night.

Click here to watch a Youtube video showing each candidate’s two-minute opening speech.

The event was moderated by Carol Portman of the League of Women Voters of St. Louis, which sponsored the event. The forum lasted about 70 minutes. Each candidate was given one minute to answer each question.

Moderating the candidate forum was Carol Portman of the League of Women Voters of St. Louis.
Moderating the candidate forum was Carol Portman of the League of Women Voters of St. Louis.
About 175 people attended the forum at the Brentwood School District's administrative office in the Hanley Industrial Court. Upon entering the room, each attendee was offered a blank note card to submit a question for the candidates.
About 175 people attended the forum at the Brentwood School District’s administrative office in the Hanley Industrial Court. Upon entering the room, each attendee was offered a blank note card to submit a question for the candidates.

Seamus Saunders: How will you take Brentwood’s current state of having a large number of large commercial businesses to having more small businesses?

Toohey responded that he would make sure the city streamlines its processes efficiently so small businesses don’t have to waste time and legal fees getting started.

Wilson said he has been meeting with Brentwood business leaders and officials from surrounding cities and has gotten ideas from them on how to maintain the character of neighborhoods while promoting business. One way, he said, is to work with small business organizations such as the U.S. Small Business Administration. “I’m convinced we don’t need to compromise our residential corridor,” he said.

Thornton said the city needs a combination of small and large businesses and that the mix should be carefully managed. He said large developments like Brentwood Promenade and Brentwood Pointe have “benefitted the community a great deal” but that Hanley Station has a “different character” as does Hanley Industrial Court, which he said has been gaining more small businesses.

Chris Thornton answers a question.
Chris Thornton answers a question.

Austin Koster: How will each of you be able to continue the infrastructural development without exacerbating the already harmed sense of community that some Brentwood residents feel towards the local government?

Wilson pointed out that commercial development has made Brentwood one of the top sales-tax-earning cities in the county. He said that presents the city with opportunities but “we need to be very careful about our growth” and come up with a strategic plan that reflects residents’ wishes.

Thornton said that though the city has gained resources by focusing on bigger developments, “some of the core services that our community expects from government, such as streets and sidewalks, have maybe gone a little bit on the back burner.” He added, “The way to address the infrastructure issues … is to prioritize them.”

Toohey said he would have the Ways and Means Committee allocate funds from the general fund to the capital fund for infrastructure improvements. He said he’d work to keep business development north of Black Creek and along the Manchester Road and Brentwood Boulevard corridors. He said the board of aldermen should monitor the development office to find “unutilized moneys.” He said the best opportunity is looking at development of Hanley Industrial Court, which “I think could be better utilized.”

Patrick Toohey addresses he crowd.
Patrick Toohey addresses the crowd.

Jonathan Duffe-Holmes: There has been a lot of talk recently of stagnation in the local government. How will you address this polarization while also focusing on developing Brentwood as a community?

Said Thornton, “We don’t have to like each other even, but we do have to work together. We need a mayor that sets the tone for professional conduct by example, and insists on the board of aldermen conducting themselves in a professional manner, both in and outside the board meetings.”

Toohey believes the mayor should “let the board actually guide the city” in the direction the board wants to go. He said the mayor should feel free to offer opinions, “but overall let the board reach its own conclusions. I think that will take away the contention and let all the board feel like they’re participating in the future of our city.”

Wilson said he has been employed in the private world making sure groups of people work positively together to push projects forward. The problem, he said, is that the board lacks “the public trust.” To alleviate that, he said he would ensure that board members act professionally and are “honest and open” to make it clear what is trying to be accomplished.

Mark Wilson responds.
Mark Wilson responds.

Megan Shipley: What is one characteristic of Brentwood you would like to change as mayor?

All three candidates said it was contentiousness among members of the board of aldermen, including Mayor Pat Kelly.

Toohey, the only candidate who is on the board of alderman, said he has established “great relationships” with those on the board who have different opinions. “We don’t have to attack the dissenters who have a different opinion,” he said.

Said Wilson, “We can address the issue without attacking the person.”

Thornton said he would lead by example. “The most important part of communication is listening,” he said. “I would meet with every single member of the city government, every single member of the city staff, and I would listen to what they’re telling me what they perceive are the problems.”

Mark Wilson speaks to a Brentwood resident after the forum.
Mark Wilson speaks to a Brentwood resident after the forum.
Patrick Toohey hears a resident's concern afterward.
Patrick Toohey hears a resident’s concern afterward.
Chris Thornton chats with a resident.
Chris Thornton chats with a resident.

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