KINLOCH • Betty McCray, Kinloch’s newly elected Mayor, arrived at City Hall on Thursday morning with an entourage and the intention to fire multiple city employees.
But before she could enter the building, McCray was told she was the one who was out of job.
In the parking lot, McCray was met by a half-dozen police officers and City Attorney James Robinson, who held a manila envelope under his arm containing articles of impeachment.
“You can’t come in as mayor,” Robinson said. “You have been suspended.”
McCray refused to take the envelope, saying, “You may be the attorney now, but I promise you, you won’t be later.”
Robinson also told Alderman Eric Petty, an ally of McCray’s, that the board had drafted articles of impeachment against him. Petty, too, refused to accept them.
“We won,” he said. “It’s time for them to move on.”
Kinloch, the first city in Missouri to be incorporated by African-Americans, is situated between Ferguson and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. It once thrived with more than 10,000 residents. Then in the 1980s, the airport began buying homes for a noise-abatement program, purchasing roughly 1,360 properties. The city’s population plummeted, and poverty and blight took hold.
Today, Kinloch, which has fewer than 300 residents, is marked by pilfered coffers, shady land deals and increasingly bitter fights over the last remnants of political power.
During the past five years, the city has seen the imprisonment of a former mayor on federal fraud and theft charges, the hiring of a convicted felon as city manager, the selling of a previous city hall building to an alleged drug dealer and the unseating of at least two aldermen.
Now there are fresh allegations of voter fraud.
On April 7, McCray defeated Mayor Darren Small with 63 votes to his 18. Another candidate, Theda Wilson, received two votes. Petty ran unopposed. After the Board of Aldermen declined to swear them in, the two were sworn in by a St. Louis County circuit court clerk on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Robinson declined to provide copies of impeachment charges. Nor would he reveal who on the Board of Alderman voted to suspend McCray, except to say they voted in a meeting on Monday.
According to documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch through a records request, the city has raised concerns to the St. Louis County Board of Elections and the Missouri Secretary of State about people being registered to vote in Kinloch who no longer live there. On April 2, the city gave the Election Board a list of 27 names of people who it claimed were illegally registered; many of those individual addresses were listed at city-owned apartments.
McCray said that the concerns about people’s being illegally registered were “absurd.”
“It never came up until I ran for mayor,” she said, adding that people were still living at the addresses the city claims are empty.
At least two of the apartments in question on Tuttle Street, where six people are registered to vote, according to the city, appeared this week to have been unoccupied for some time. Both were stripped of furniture and appliances. In one, a jar of pickles and two spent oxygen tanks sat amid other debris on the floor.
Petty said the homes were vacant because the city began evicting people behind on rent shortly before the election because the tenants were supporters of McCray.
But City Manager Justine Blue said that wasn’t true. The only people who the city is evicting still live in their apartments, she said. The city did file lawsuits to evict some residents, but that was on Thursday, court records show. Blue said those residents have yet to be formally served with eviction notices.
“Besides, we would have no idea who would be supporting Ms. McCray,” Blue said.
Blue, Small’s cousin, took over at City Hall just after Small was elected in 2012. The previous city manager, Eric Mason, was a parolee once convicted of writing bad checks.
County Republican Election Director Gary Fuhr said that in response to the city’s complaints, the election board sent four canvassers to Kinloch on Tuesday to verify that voters were registered to correct addresses. He declined to say what canvassers found.
The city also filed a lawsuit in March against McCray, alleging that she fraudulently obtained a house from the city in 2008. The home was one of 17 properties that the airport bought with federal noise abatement money in the 1990s. The airport later determined the noise wasn’t loud enough to prohibit residential development and sold the properties back to the city for $354,000 in 2007.
Property records don’t show how much McCray paid for her home. The sale price wasn’t recorded with the St. Louis County assessor’s office. McCray said that the homes were advertised to everyone and that she paid $9,000 for the four-bedroom, two-bath home.
But the suit alleges that previous mayor Keith Conway — who served time in prison on charges of wire fraud, theft from a federal program and witness tampering — gave McCray the house for free. McCray was serving on the Board of Aldermen at the time.
“I didn’t defraud the city of anything,” McCray said. “They are trying to get those homes back, so they can get the money and put it in their pocket.”
When McCray was at City Hall on Thursday, she announced that she was firing Blue and Court Clerk Bridget Washington; but during the ordeal, she never came within earshot of them.
After Robinson confronted her with impeachment papers, McCray and her supporters gathered in a semi-circle to pray. Then, when it was clear she wouldn’t take office on this day, the mayor-elect said she was heading to Clayton for one purpose:
To find a good lawyer.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated to reflect the correct vote total in the April election for Betty McCray.