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Liquor commissioner in St. Louis should get his job back, judge says

Liquor commissioner in St. Louis should get his job back, judge says

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ST. LOUIS • A St. Louis Circuit Court judge has determined that former liquor commissioner Robert Kraiberg should get his job back, 19 months after filing a lawsuit alleging he was improperly fired for political reasons.

Kraiberg is to be reinstated with back pay and benefits, according to an order from Circuit Judge Robert Dierker. He’ll be responsible for his own legal fees, Kraiberg said.

“I guess that’s one of the ways City Hall fights you. I wasn’t retired. I lost my health insurance and a good portion of retirement benefits,” he told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday. “A lot of people can’t survive the siege. But I just don’t like bullies. I believe bullies need to be stood up to.”

Kraiberg oversaw the city’s excise office, which is responsible for handling liquor ordinances and issuing or renewing liquor licenses in St. Louis, for more than 30 years before he was fired in March 2016.

He appealed his termination to the Civil Service Commission and later to the courts, alleging he was let go because he refused to issue a 3 a.m. liquor license to a popular bar and concert venue, despite urging from then-Mayor Francis Slay’s office.

According to his lawsuit, public safety officials and aides from Slay’s office admonished him for holding off on his ruling. In February, he’d held a public hearing regarding the liquor license for the Ready Room in the city’s Grove neighborhood, but opted not to make a decision that day, scheduling a second hearing instead.

He was terminated roughly a week later, with a one-sentence letter that listed “no basis or reason for Kraiberg’s removal,” according to the suit.

Officials cited a longtime provision in the city charter allowing the public safety director to dismiss the excise commissioner “with or without cause.” A judge determined this week that more recent civil service requirements were in conflict with the charter provision. As a civil service employee, Kraiberg should have been given a reason for his termination, the judge said.

However, the judge wrote that more recent law does not “strip the mayor or director of public safety from the power to give orders to the excise commissioner,” including the order to “proceed expeditiously in granting or denying liquor licenses.”

But the ruling also states that firing the liquor commission for exercising his licensing authority in a certain way “would not seem to comport with due process.”

“Accordingly, due process surely precludes the mayor or any other city official from dictating the outcome of a particular license application or proceeding, unless, at a minimum, the directive of the mayor or other official is made part of the record for purposes of judicial review,” it reads.

They could have done that by attending the hearing over the license, Kraiberg maintains.

“If the mayor’s office or any other entity had an issue they should have put it on the record, showed up and entered evidence, and not try to control things in the back room, which is what they did,” Kraiberg said.

The judge did not agree that the decision to fire Kraiberg was politically motivated, pointing out the Civil Service Commission found no credible evidence of that.

The next steps are still unclear. Koran Addo, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, said the city counselor’s office was still reviewing the judge’s order.

“I’m just glad it’s over. It’s been a long time,” Kraiberg said. “This is a victory for all government employees who want to do an honest job without meddling from politicians.”

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter.

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