In a vote of 4-3 the City Council approved a resolution Monday night to formally reprimand University City Councilmember Byron Price for his behavior at a February 14, council meeting.
Price called the reprimand "disappointing and outrageous." He told University City Patch he believed it was politically motivated. "They can't get me at the ballot box so they had to think of a way to try and eliminate me," he said.
Councilmembers Michael Glickert, Lynn Ricci, Stephen Kraft and Mayor Shelley Welsch voted aye, in favor of the resolution. Councilmembers Arthur Sharpe, Terry Crow and Byron Price voted nay in opposition of the resolution.
In her letter of reprimand dated February 17, University City Mayor Shelley Welsch stated, "I am writing to express my grave concerns about your bullying and disorderly behavior." The mayor said Price's behavior put the City and himself "at risk for a defamation lawsuit."
The letter accused Price of the following:
- Defamed City Manager Lehman Walker
- Speaking in a bullying fashion to the City Director of Community Development
- Verbally attacked one Councilmember on three separate occasions
- Verbally attacked the Mayor and her office
- Became physically menacing to Council members by rising from his chair and shaking his index finger in their faces.
This is the second letter of reprimand Mayor Welsch has sent councilmember Price concerning his conduct. He received the first in October of 2010.
The resolution of reprimand states that if Price's "disorderly behavior" continues at future council meetings the council will consider additional disciplinary action.
Price vowed that the reprimand would not have a chilling effect on his behavior. "No, I'm going to do the same thing." He said University City residents won't sit by and allow the city council to remove him from office. "It would explode the City," he said.
Price also denied that his behavior at the February 14, council meeting was out of line. "I've been acting the same way for four terms...14 years," he said. "This is a total character assassination and I'm not taking this lightly."
Prior to the vote, there was a motion to amend the mayor's resolution of reprimand, to remove the bullet point that stated Price had been physically menacing to councilmembers by rising from his chair and shaking his index finger in their faces. Price was adamant he did not rise from his seat and shake his finger. The amendment did not pass. Even Price himself voted against it. As Councilmember Terry Crow explained "Once the genie is out of the jar, it doesn’t really matter if you take it back, because the allegation has already been made."
Councilmember Lynn Ricci refused to back down from her description of Price's behavior as "menacing." She said Councilmember Price did everything that was stated in the resolution. And she upset some people in the audience when she said "Would you look at me as I'm talking to you Mr. Price."
Coumcilmemer Stephen Kraft said the reprimand was not about a person, a position or an issue, but a reprimand of actions. "Actions that break the rules. Actions that discredit this council," he said. "Bullying is not free speech. Bullying is meant to inhibit free speech," Kraft added.
More than 100 people packed the Council Chamber Monday night. Many spoke out in support of Price. "The only thing that moved was his lips. He didn’t remove from that seat," said longtime University City resident Richard Dockett. "Anybody that said they saw that are telling a damn lie."
St. Louis County Councilmember Hazel Erby (D) was very disappointed with the reprimand. She said the City Council passed up an opportunity Monday night to show leadership. "This is taking us backwards." She said the council majority's recent actions to reprimand Price "is bordering on insanity." Erby said maybe the problem stemmed from Mayor Welsch.
"If this foolishness continues, maybe we should look at our charter regarding the procedure for recall." Many in the audience gave Erby's comments a standing ovation.
The night took an emotional turn when Councilmember Lynn Ricci's daughter spoke in support of her mother and the council as a whole. She called Councilmember Price a wonderful man and said that her mother was not a racist nor a liar. Ricci swiveled her chair around, with the back facing the audience. Both women were in tears.
And despite Councilmember Ricci's call for five police officers to be at City Council meetings, the number remained at two Monday night. In a letter to the mayor, Ricci had expressed concern that an audience member could use some of their discussions as motive to turn violent.