In the April 2, 2019, O’Fallon municipal election, Dr. Jim Ottomeyer won a Ward 4 city council seat with 479 votes, or 62.7% of the total 764 votes cast. Ward 4 has 11,373 registered voters. Ottomeyer was elected by 4.2% of those voters.
On April 23, 2020, a three-member “petitioner’s committee” headed by Ward 4 resident John Israel submitted a petition to the city clerk to recall Ottomeyer. Their first attempt contained too much information, would not fit onto one page and was rejected. Israel explained that he then filed a second petition.
“The city had designed a specific format for the recall petition and sent one copy to me,” Israel explained. “Then, I duplicated that copy to have copies for the volunteers to get the signatures needed. Since there was room for only five signatures on a single petition, it took over 70 petitions to get the more than 350 signatures we turned in.”
On Aug. 27, Israel submitted the signed and notarized petitions to the city clerk. But those petitions also were rejected.
“After the petitions had been submitted, the petitions were rejected because the official time period of 60 days had been exceeded by three days,” Israel explained. “There was confusion as to when the 60-day clock had started. The committee had started its clock when it received the official petition in the mail.” The city had started its clock when the form was mailed.
Israel said the recall committee accepted the city’s decision and does not plan to appeal. It will now regroup to decide about next steps and timing. He did not indicate what those next steps might be.
Explaining the reasons for the recall effort, Israel said, “O’Fallon’s Code of Ordinances, Chapter 125, Code of Ethics, Section 125.010 requires all public officials be impartial, independent and responsible to the people. One of the official duties of a council member is to comply with the Code of Ethics.”
He does not think Ottomeyer has met that requirement.
“Instead of being responsible to the people of O’Fallon living in Ward 5 during the controversial Flavan Tract development proposal discussions council member Ottomeyer ignored the people’s input from that ward; he ignored the input from two council members from that ward; he ignored the input of the Planning & Zoning Commission; he ignored the input from the city’s planning department; and he ignored the input from the city’s economic development department,” Israel said.
The so-called Flavan Tract is in Ward 5 near the intersection of Bryan Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway. It was comprised of 22 acres zoned C-3/Highway Commercial and was rezoned to R-3/PUD Garden Apartments and Condos district.
“Whose input did he accept? Council member Ottomeyer stated that he wanted to be fair to the developer. This may also be an example of failing to be impartial! Council member Ottomeyer was partial to the developer!” Israel exclaimed.
Ottomeyer sees things differently.
“Mr. Israel and his group of petitioners have been and are being used as pawns in a political battle for the upcoming mayoral race,” Ottomeyer said.
He said that former state representative Tom Green and O’Fallon council member Debbie Cook (Ward 5) have launched a campaign to attempt to get Cook elected as mayor, unseating the current mayor, Bill Hennessey, who is also running for re-election.
Ottomeyer said he believes Cook and Green know that he has been a longtime supporter of Hennessey and all that the mayor has done for the city. He believes Green and Cook have been using Israel as a surrogate to discredit his reputation.
Ottomeyer said he has never been a part of the kind of dirty politics that he believes have been waged against him.
Regarding the Flavan Tract, he said, “These 22 acres had been zoned C3 for a long period of time and no real interest had been shown for commercial development. In the city’s comprehensive plan, which was crafted in 2008, this made sense for using all of this ground for commercial development. No one had imagined how the ‘Amazon Effect’ and online buying would affect the commercial Big Box stores. This area had been laid out to be developed into this type of a commercial setting.”
“O’Fallon is due to completely revamp the Master Plan in 2020,” Ottomeyer said. “Those areas where Big Box stores were planned will be rezoned and re-planned into different uses. Unfortunately, in 2019, when the Flavan Tract issue was being discussed, this had not been done yet. For that reason, because it did not conform to the current Master Plan, it was rejected by planning and zoning and some of the city staff.”
However, he added that the Flavan Tract decision was not the first time the city council had overruled the recommendations of the planning and zoning commission and either approved or disproved a development. He also pointed out that he was only one of five votes to approve of the Flavan Tract development and that the mayor had cast the deciding vote for approval.
“In order to get the support of at least five members of the council, there had to be some kind of merit in the proposed development. And there was, in fact, a great deal of merit,” Ottomeyer said.
Fairways at Turtle Creek
Apart from Flavan Tract, Israel cited another example – Fairways at Turtle Creek – although he said there was no room in the petition for it.
“Concerning the proposal to put rental units on the golf driving range on Mexico Road, instead of being an impartial judge of the merits of the proposal, council member Ottomeyer actively worked with the developer to improve the proposal so it would have a better chance of passage,” Israel asserted. “At one council meeting, the question arose as to whether the owner would go along with what the council was ready to enact. Council member Ottomeyer acted as a spokesperson for the owner and assured the council that the owner was fine with that action. That whole sequence of events was upside down and a failure of being impartial.”
Ottomeyer acknowledged that many residents came forward to voice concerns over both the Flavan Tract and Turtle Creek developments.
“Some of the home owners/residents of both Magnolia and Turtle Creek formed a community committee to fight these developments, and I applaud all of them for getting involved in their community,” he said. “I firmly believe that most of them truly had good intentions.”
However, he said their arguments against these developments were either debunked or proven untrue. He said he believes it really came down to the fact that the residents did not want those areas to be developed.
“They will tell you that they wanted it left to Big Box commercial, but in reality that made no sense,” Ottomeyer said, referring to the Flavan Tract. “What home owner would want a Walmart, Home Depot or Kohl’s in their back yard? I polled many people concerning this, and every single person said that they would rather have condos in their back yard than a big box development. But this group continued to push this as what they wanted.”
Regarding the Fairways at Turtle Creek, Ottomeyer said, “When I was first introduced to the prospect of running for the Ward 4 City Council seat, I had familiarized myself with the issues that were going on in Ward 4. The Fairways development was at the forefront of many in our area.
“When I looked at this development, it was proposed that the developers were going to place two- and three-story apartment buildings where the Falls Driving Range is currently located. I was appalled at this notion. Not only did this not fit the surrounding community, but I am also a golfer and I use this driving range on a weekly basis.
Ottomeyer said when he was elected there was a new development plan version that still required rezoning the front commercial into R3/planned urban development (PUD). The council, he said, was not thrilled about the R3/PUD rezoning and met, either individually or in a group setting, with the developer and told him that this would not work. At this time, the council was not willing to give up that commercial property to residential. The developer went back to the drawing board several more times and ultimately came back with something that was closer to a product the council could accept.
Ottomeyer said he believes it’s the city council’s job to hold developers to city code and community standards, and that it is common practice to meet with developers and make suggestions that the council members feel would improve the development.
“To say that I have not been impartial is far from the truth,” Ottomeyer said of the complaint against him. “Every time I sat down with the developer, the first thing I would tell him is that I would rather this stay as a driving range That being said, I have no right to stop the developer from developing his property as long as it falls within the parameters written in the city codes.”
Israel did agree with Ottomeyer about one thing.
“I have been to and watched enough city council meetings to recognize a trend or pattern,” he said. “In my opinion, council member Ottomeyer is not the only council member who is trying to take O’Fallon in the wrong direction. Bigger is not always better. Adding more housing to our city will increase the population but it will not increase the quality of life. New York City, Chicago and St. Louis are all bigger than O’Fallon, but the quality of life is not better.”