Sunshine Request Outs Councilman Tattling On His Own City; Stephens opposed privacy reforms.
Niles Stephens is a Wildwood City Councilman and he is running for Mayor. He also seems to have been seeking sanctions against his own city during an unprecedented crisis.
During the pandemic his opponent, Mayor Jim Bowlin brought high speed internet to remote regions so students can do their schoolwork from home. He has allowed Wildwood City parks to remain open while closing some adjacent parking lots to help keep proper social-distancing.
As Mayors everywhere walk a tightrope of civil liberties and public health concerns, Bowlin's decisions have been under heavy scrutiny. But, councilman Niles Stephens would also strive to have a hand in the city navigating this health crisis, albeit a less traditional one.
-Councilman Tattles on City-
During the pandemic elected officials have often praised the essential worker, while encouraging the public to work together as a community toward a triumphant future. But it appears that Councilman Niles Stephens, whose campaign was having trouble breaking through the pandemic coverage, took a decidedly different tack.
Apparently Niles Stephens filed a complaint against the city of Wildwood on a St. Louis County "Stay at Home Order" tip line to report the city for among other things, not having sufficient hand sanitizer available during its March 23rd council meeting.
A complaint that appears to be from Niles Stephens listing his work email address is included on page 702 of a cache of complaints released by the County as per a sunshine request. The complaints were filed against businesses and neighbors who residents believed were violating the stay at home order. The request was made by Jared Totsch who released it on social media. Totsch has been widely criticized for releasing the data.
-Politicizing the Pandemic-
Around the time of Stephen's complaint, Kevin Dillard a Ward 4 councilman was making statements to the media criticizing the Mayor and how the city handled their first pandemic meeting. Dillard's wife serves as treasure for Niles Stephen's mayoral campaign. At the time other cities were routinely having their regular meetings, and the state and federal legislatures were also meeting.
Controversy about the March 23rd meeting was seen by Joe Garritano as an attempt to politicize the pandemic by those supporting Stephen's campaign.
Garritano, a Council Member from Wildwood's 8th ward, believes the criticism of the March meeting as politically motivated, and sees any attempt by Stephens to make such an allegation to the tip line as cynical gotcha politics during a public health crisis. He does not agree with the claim that the March 23rd meeting was run improperly.
"I heard from a council member who was physically present that social distancing guidelines at the time were followed," stated Garritano, who like most council members opted to join the meeting by video. "Hand sanitizer was on the table with the agenda items, and elsewhere in the room."
Residents were strongly encouraged to watch by livestream, and chairs were removed from the meeting room to increase social distancing in case residents showed up. No residents opted to go to the meeting. For those council members who did attend in person, chairs were removed from the dais to accommodate social distancing requirements.
Council Member participation is now 100 percent online , a policy that was outlined in a resolution passed at the March 23rd meeting.
Garritano also noted that any attempt to run the city afoul with county regulators "demonstrates a lack of understanding that municipal governments were exempt from the stay at home order," said Garritano. "This is just another attempt from a long list of many frivolous complaints against our city."
There have been to date over 30,000 dollars worth of failed ethics complaints filed in Wildwood by anti-mayor activists.
-Sunshine Laws and Resident Data-
Many people are unaware that communications with state and local governments are often public record and subject to sunshine requests.
Recently some elected official including Mayor Bowlin have been working to protect residents private data who communicate with local governments. Ironically, Stephens has opposed attempts to make email information of Wildwood residents more private. Stephens has also been criticized for using emails stored and collected by the city.
(Screen Shot From page 702 of Email Cache From Totsch's Sunshine Request)
The Wildwood municipal election date was extended due to the pandemic and is scheduled for June 2nd.