Webster Groves will hold its election for city council April 5. Voters will choose from among five candidates — two of them incumbents — to fill the three open seats.
The candidates include current council members Kathy Hart and Debi Salberg, attorney and Webster Groves Historic Preservation Committee member Frank Janoski, attorney Matt Armstrong, and retired business professor and Webster University adjunct professor Sebastian “Bud” Bellomo.
Armstrong and Bellomo are running their campaigns together under the slogan “OneWebster.” Their campaign focuses around unifying what they see as strained relationships between the Webster Groves city government and local businesses and nonprofits, as well as bringing more small businesses to the area.
Armstrong and Bellomo met last November because they had common goals for Webster Groves. Bellomo said it made sense to run together.
“I got to know him quite well, and feel that he’d be a great asset to the city,” Bellomo said.
Bellomo is an adjunct professor at Webster and Washington University. He moved to Webster Groves six years ago to be closer to work. Armstrong is an attorney whose two children attend Webster Groves public schools.
Armstrong and Bellomo said that they were motivated by the number of empty storefronts they saw in Webster Groves, as well as the possibility of a dropoff in the city’s sales tax revenue.
“There needs to be a backup plan,” Bellomo said.
Their backup plan is hiring an economic development officer for the city, someone who can act as a “matchmaker” to help the owners of empty spaces find the right businesses for their stores. Their goal is to increase the city’s sales tax revenue while bringing in businesses that enhance the character of Webster Groves, rather than large chain retailers.
“Matt and I really want to look and see what we need to do to be more attractive to small business to come here and make it easier for them to stay here, and be successful,” Bellomo said.
Armstrong described the other three candidates in the race as “the status quo slate” who would continue to run Webster Groves without any fresh ideas.
One example of what he sees as a negative trend in the city is Webster University’s 2013 lawsuit against the city over land use. The university sued the city after the Webster Groves City Council voted down the approval of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) that would enable the university to use properties it has leased at Eden Theological Seminaries.
A judge eventually ruled in favor of the university and the city granted the CUP.
“As a lawyer, I know that any time a relationship devolves to litigation, it’s become dysfunctional,” Armstrong said.
“Overall, what we’re about is, we want to figure out how to improve relationships between residents, businesses, and institutions here,” Bellomo said. “How can we improve those relationships and how can we promote collaboration between all three?”
Bellomo said their campaign is based around going door-to-door to talk to voters, and raising money through small donations – one supporter sent him an envelope containing five one-dollar bills.
“I’d love to give back to the community in a positive way,” he said.
Current Council members
Debi Salberg is running for her third term on the city council. Salberg was first elected in 2008 and has a long history of volunteer public service. She been part of the Webster Groves Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment, among other positions, and is currently the vice president of the Missouri Municipal League.
“I think that sets me apart as someone who has volunteered her time and her professional knowledge for a long period of time for the city of Webster Groves,” Salberg said.
Salberg said the city has had some conflict with Webster University over educational zoning, but that she believes the final deal has worked out well.
Salberg said her goal was to give educational institutions guidance so they could plan for their future without having to come back to the city planning commission, and ultimately the city council, every time they wanted to do almost anything.
Salberg differed from Armstrong and Bellomo on the issue of how much the city council should prioritize attracting business and bringing in property taxes, saying that the issue is related to an overabundance of retail in St. Louis as a whole.
“This is region-wide, this is not just Webster Groves,” Salberg said. “You’re not going to get a whole lot of additional tax dollars.”
Salberg also said the process of moving a business into a community could not always be simple, because safety regulations have to be met.
“It is complicated sometimes to open a business,” Salberg said.
Salberg said that if re-elected, she will continue her work on infrastructure and parks in Webster Groves, as well as focusing on safety issues.
“I think that the city and the city council have a commitment to making improvements and continuing to make improvements in this community,” Salberg said. “And if there are problems, we want to fit them. We’re not trying to be static.”
Kathy Hart was elected to the council in 2004 and is a administrative law judge and mediator.
“During my terms on the council, our city has thrived,” Hart said in a Webster-Kirkwood Times article. “Our city council worked as a team to create a fiscally stable environment, strong reserves and balanced budgets for the past 12 years.”
Janoski graduated from the University of Louisville with a law degree and from the West Point military academy. He served as a captain in the U.S. Army and served in the Army Reserves from 1979 until 2004.
Janoski was appointed to Webster’s Historical Preservation Commission in 2012, he currently serves as chair.
“I have regularly attended city council work sessions and meetings for the past five to six years with the thought of perhaps running for city council one day,” Janoski said in a Webster-Kirkwood Times article.
Janoski said he would use social media to communicate with residents and ensure all voices in Webster are heard.