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Walmart Fight Puts Mayor Against Council

CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) - The ousted mayor of suburban Ellisville sued his city twice this week, once for defamation and once seeking to be returned to office, after being elected on an anti-Walmart platform.

The Ellisville City Council removed Mayor Adam Paul from office on April 8.

In his lawsuit against the City Council, Paul claims he was "elected on April 3, 2012, with 44 percent of the vote. He was elected on an anti-Walmart and anti-Tax Increment Financing (hereinafter 'TIF') for Walmart platform, in contrast to a majority of the council, which was pro-Walmart and supported TIF funding for the multibillion-dollar corporation and its developer, the Sansone Group."

In this complaint, for administrative review of his removal from office, Paul sued the City Council, its five members when he was elected, and the five members on it now, two of them holdovers.

In the claim for defamation, Paul sued City Attorney Paul Martin, Councilman Matt Pirrello, City Manager Kevin Bookout, and Kathryn James, a member of the TIF Commission.

Both lawsuits are in St. Louis County Court. Neither Walmart nor Sansone Group are parties to either complaint.

Paul claims he was removed from office on false charges that he was drinking on the job. He says those charges were reported at least 25 times by various media outlets, damaging his reputation.

In reality, Paul says, he was ousted for his opposition to tax-increment financing for a Walmart in Ellisville.

Walmart has spurred dozens of lawsuits all over the nation, against it and government entities, which offer the world's largest retailer tax breaks to set up shop, and hope to make up the money from local sales taxes.

In his complaint seeking reinstatement, Paul says: "Prior to the Council bringing formal charges against Paul for his removal in February 2013, Councilmember Pirrello conspired with City Attorney Paul Martin ... and upon information and belief other individual councilmembers and staff, to remove Paul from office for political reasons contrary to the will of the voters of Ellisville, who like Paul, opposed a Walmart in Ellisville and the Walmart TIF. TIFs continue to be an issue in Ellisville because the Sansone Group is seeking TIF funding to develop properties in close proximity to the Walmart development. This conspiracy began a few months after Paul took office, when Pirrello, Martin, and upon information and belief other individual councilmember's and staff, began discussing Paul's removal."

Paul claims Martin began keeping notes on him when Martin learned that he planned not to renew his contract as city attorney, to save money.

Martin earned $114,945, the complaint states.

Paul's defamation lawsuit laid out the alleged impeachment plan. He claims Martin advised Pirrello it would be better to find a citizen to file a complaint to remove Paul from office.

Paul claims a Feb. 8 email from Martin to Pirrello outlined the plan: defendant James was to file the complaint against him on Feb. 11; the city Charter Enforcement Commission would recommend that the council proceed against him at its meeting on Feb. 18; the council would then pass a resolution suspending him from office and eventually impeaching him.

"As planned, on February 11, 2013, James filed her complaint against Paul alleging violations of the City Charter. ... This complaint was prepared by Martin and alleged that Paul violated the Charter when he requested police assistance in removing James from a Council meeting shortly after Paul was elected mayor in April 2012 (ten months before the complaint was filed) and in removing an unsuccessful candidate for mayor, who was being disruptive, during a Council meeting on February 6, 2013," the defamation suit states. "James was not even present at the February 6 Council meeting. Ironically, Paul was impeached both because he allegedly failed to control Council meetings and because of his efforts to remove unruly persons from Council meetings, showing that Paul could do nothing right for the conspirators."

Paul claims Martin directed council members and city employees to refuse to answer his questions about the complaint, which prevented him from defending himself.

He claims the original plan was thwarted when the Charter Enforcement Commission voted 3-0 not to proceed on the allegations because he had retained legal counsel.

Martin then prepared a resolution for Paul's impeachment, without the Charter Enforcement Commission's approval, Paul claims. He says the proposal was forwarded to Councilwoman Michelle Murray, who made the resolution.

"At the February 20, 2013 Council meeting, Murray could not explain what she claimed to be her motion or provide any reasons for Paul's removal from office," the defamation suit states. "Nonetheless, five members of the Council voted to proceed with the process of removing Paul without discussion, any investigation, or any reasons for Paul's removal, supporting Paul's claim that other Councilmembers were already part of the plan to remove Paul from office."

Paul seeks actual and punitive damages against Martin, Pirrello, Bookout and James for defamation of character, tortious interference with business expectancy and civil conspiracy. Martin, Pirrello, Bookout and James are named in their individual capacities.

Paul is represented in both lawsuits by C. John Pleban with Pleban & Petruska in St. Louis.

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