Ballwin’s city attorney refunds money after ethical questions are raised

Matt Conlon went to City Hall seeking answers. Or maybe an act of contrition.

Conlon signed up to address the Board of Aldermen over the city’s handling of an election matter I wrote about last November. In 2022, Major Tim Pogue had visited a new Ballwin resident who signed up to run for an aldermanic seat.

The man, Brennan Redinger, hadn’t lived in the city long enough to run for office, the major told Redinger during the unannounced visit to his apartment. He’d have to withdraw. Redinger did so, but the deadline to remove his name from the ballot had already passed.

The only way to get his name off the ballot would be to file a lawsuit. The city’s attorney, Robert E. Jones, of the Curtis, Heinz, Garrett, & O’Keefe law firm, filed such a lawsuit. But it was rife with problems.

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First, Redinger didn’t know about the suit. The lawyers on the other side of the lawsuit, representing the St. Louis County Board of Elections, worked for the same law firm as Jones. And Ballwin taxpayers paid for the lawsuit, even though the city wasn’t a party to it.

Conlon, a city taxpayer, wasn’t happy about what he read.

“I’ve been here before this board several times in the past, usually when something that happens doesn’t pass the smell test,” Conlon told the aldermen at a January meeting. “This doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Describing what happened in the Redinger case, Conlon asked the board a couple of questions: “Does that sound ethical? Does that sound strange to anyone?”

The major and Jones defended their actions at the meeting. They offered the same distractions that they offered me, such as an email sent to Redinger to alert him a lawsuit was being filed on his behalf. Never mind that Redinger never saw the email (it went to his spam folder) or responded to it. Never mind that he didn’t meet Jones, and that the attorneys obtained his social security number — necessary to file the lawsuit — by emailing the city administrator.

A few days after Conlon’s visit to the board, one Ballwin Alderman decided to do something about it. Chastened by Conlon’s criticism that the board had not publicly addressed the issues, Ward 2 Alderman Kevin Roach filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission. He alleged that taxpayers footing the bill for a lawsuit filed in the name of a candidate would be an improper use of public funds in a campaign.

“That was a turning point,” Roach told me of Conlon’s testimony. “If you know about this and don’t do anything, you are complicated.”

Roach knew about the incident longer than most people. He’s the one who first investigated the matter, he filed a complaint with the Secretary of State and he alerted me to the issue. I wrote about it and uncovered the questionable behavior in a series of Sunshine Law requests.

Roach also filed a complaint against Jones and his colleague, Katherine Henry, with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counselan arm of the Missouri Supreme Court that hears matters about attorney conduct.

“I believe that the City of Ballwin’s expenditures of public funds were in opposition to Brennan Redinger’s candidacy and the Mayor, City Attorney and City Administrator have confirmed as much in public comments and emails,” Roach wrote in his complaints.

At least one of the complaints now has Jones singing a different tune than he did in January. Last month, according to city records, Jones and his law firm reimbursed the city for the $807 they had paid for the work on the Redinger lawsuit.

Asked why he gave the fees back, Jones said he “steadfastly” maintains he did nothing wrong. He told me in an email that the city received an “inquiry about whether the attorney’s fees paid to my firm were an unreported campaign contribution or the use of public funds for a private purpose. … Although not required to do so, I reviewed all of the billing entries for the relevant time period and reimbursed $807 which rendered the inquiry moot.”

Asked whether the inquiry came from the Missouri Ethics Commission, which fined the city last year for its failure to label a mailing with a “paid for by” notice, Jones said he was unable to answer because of confidentiality.

But make no mistake, Roach says, there is an ethics complaint, and he plans to see it through. That’s music to Conlon’s ears. He was disappointed by what he called the acquisition of aldermen in observing questionable behavior and not even discussing it in public.

“I don’t get it. That’s what they’re there for,” Conlon says. “What are we doing, just going in there and rubber-stamping everything and moving on? That’s not OK.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch metro columnist Tony Messenger thanks his readers and explains how to get in contact with him.

A major's visit, a mysterious lawsuit.  How a Ballwin man was removed from the ballot.

City’s law firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of former candidate. He says he never even talked to the attorneys.

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