Saturday, November 04, 2006

Councilman Gieseke Declares His Candidacy For Mayor

By Phyllis Schaltenbrand

Councilman John Gieseke (Ward 8) has announced his candidacy for Mayor of Saint Charles. When the new mayor takes office in April of 2007 the government of St. Charles will change from a weak mayor, strong city council, and city administrator form of government to that of a strong mayor. The new mayor will assume many of the powers now granted the City Administrator, including the hiring and firing of department directors and city employees.

John Gieseke has lived in St. Charles for thirty years, since 1976. He is a graduate of St. Charles High School and the University of Missouri, Columbia. Gieseke is serving his second term as the Councilman from the Eighth Ward. He is married and the family lives in New Town. His wife Rhesa is the district manager of White House Black Market. “I am very proud of my wife and her success and appreciate all she does for our two children, Jack and Gillian, who keep her and I both busy.” John Gieseke is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia. After graduating he worked as a respiratory therapist at St. Joseph Heath Center. John then moved to medical supply sales and moved up to a Regional Sales Manager and moved to Milwaukee for 2 years. After the birth of his son he and his wife moved back to St. Charles. John and a life long friend then operated a hotel in Earth City. Currently John is employed as the St. Louis Regional Manager for LandAmerica Commonwealth Land Title Company.

John Gieseke stopped by our office the other day and gave us an opportunity to interview him about this important political decision in his life to seek the Office of Mayor.

First Capitol News: Let’s start with why you are running for Mayor?

JOHN GIESEKE: I think it is time that the City of St. Charles takes a new direction that is positive, not divisive. A direction that allows for strong economic growth without having to depend on gaming revenues as heavily as we have. A direction where the economics of the community will help support our school districts. An economic direction that will give us the resources to improve our infrastructure. One that will make the City of St Charles the true leader we should be in the region.

FCN: You have a diverse employment history how does that prepare you for the job of Mayor?

JG: I have been able to lead in each and every job. I actually started working as a lifeguard, old Blanchette was one of the pools. Cathy who still works at the parks was one of my supervisors. I have been able to adapt and learn new business practices. The one thing that applies to all of them is the customer should be the focus.

FCN: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment as a councilman?

JG: There are quite a few. I guess the big one would be standing up for the residents who live on Elm Street when the city wanted to tear up every yard during the reconstruction of the street. I fought to protect their yards and property. On the more fun side I think just helping with the development in the ward has been incredible. There is so much more to come. Expanding the park system at Fox Hill is high on the list. I guess its hard to pick just one thing.

FCN: What do you see as St. Charles greatest asset?

JG: St. Charles has the most diverse population base in St. Charles. That's what I think makes this city great. People make city's great and our focus should be on the people who live here. When you drive through the city you see new and old, starter homes to cluster homes. Each resident is the best spokesman for the city. I grew up here and remember riding my bike to the Dairy Queen on second street. That area has changed so much in the past thirty years because of the people and the efforts to revitalize their neighborhood. Our future depends on the people of the city.

FCN: As we see from recent political campaigns, candidates have gotten down and dirty. Much of the campaign material is filled with lies and misrepresentations. Are you prepared for a campaign like that?

JG: I can tell you from my campaign’s standpoint that we are taking the harder road and that is the high road. I am not going to get down in the dirt with anybody that runs against me. I am not going to go after families and things that have nothing to do with St. Charles. I have a vision of what I believe is great for St. Charles and if people disagree I am not going to destroy the other candidates just to make myself look good.

FCN: Those are strong words but what happens when the campaign is filled with misrepresentations against you made by the other candidates?

JG: I will respond to any negative or untruth if it is worthy of response. If not worthy I have trust in people to see through that. Any misrepresentation of my record will be met and I will respond with the truth. I am not going to get down in the sand box and do a tit for tat.

FCN: What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the next Mayor of St. Charles?
JG: Of course because we are going to go to a strong mayor system there will be a cultural change within city hall. I think making sure the citizens are not lost in that cultural change is the hardest thing the next mayor will have to deal with. The next mayor will have to make hard decisions because things cannot be done the same way in city hall. The residents cannot be the last thing thought of in city hall. The citizens must be first and then we should work backwards from there.

FCN: We have heard some people remark that a city professional administrator should be in charge of the city rather than someone elected with no experience. Do you think you are qualified to be mayor?

JG: I am a citizen of the City of St. Charles. The current system has no accountability to the residents by the city administrator. Residents can’t fire the city administrator. They can complain to elected officials but if the administrator does not want to listen they can’t make the change and things still stay the same. Under the new system it is the mayor who will be accountable. A mayor will have direct control over getting potholes fixed, sidewalks installed or repaired and sewer backups repaired. With a strong mayor form of government you have an elected official accountable to you and you have a voice in your government.

St Charles is an example of why a city administrator is no good. The administrator is not accountable to the residents. As somebody who has been in the private sector I have been in management positions and have had the ability to grow professionally. That experience translates easily into public life in running an institution like a city. As long as you follow management rules, and people are held accountable, and rules followed, and customers come first, I think it would not be a hard change going from a private to public sector job. Surround yourselves with people who make good decisions and you will always be okay.

FCN: The sales tax in St. Charles is not growing, but it is growing in adjacent cities. What can you do about it?

JG: I can look to the ward I represent and say that the growth of sales tax has grown in our ward. A lot of sales tax revenue for the city is coming from our ward because we are bringing in different business that generates sales tax. Problems come when a city starts asking businesses, “How can we get you here, what do we have to give you to come here?” That then puts more burden on the residents. Instead we should be selling the businesses on the city and on why they should want to come here and how strong our economy is because of our residents discretional spending.

What do we have to do to get you here? Wrong way to go. Identify companies that will not need incentives to come in and go after them. Investment groups, let them run with it. They are the ones that know what to do because they do this for a living. Government is not good at deciding on winners and losers. Investment groups can usually pick a winner because they have the experience and contacts. We have to stop taking prime pieces of real estate and giving them to non-profits. We need non-profits but they do not need to be in high profile locations. Locations that could increase our tax base and provide relief to our taxpayers. We need to be conscious of that and be careful of taking some prime property off the tax rolls.

FCN: What are your feelings about Lindenwood University properties? They have taken about 200 pieces of property off the tax rolls.

JG: Many of the homes purchased by Lindenwood University and taken off our tax rolls were starter homes. Homes that would be available for families to move to St. Charles. I think it is evident that with the decrease in population we do not have enough starter homes available. The population of our schools is decreasing. Take 200 homes, that is a loss of 400 kids who would be going to our schools. We need to look for opportunities to create more starter homes. We just wait for things to happen. We took personal property off our tax rolls so it did have a profound effect on our economics.

FCN: What are your feelings about Lindenwood University?

Lindenwood is one our largest employers and it brings in 12,000 plus people each semester. It does expose the city to families and people from outside the St. Charles area. It is probably one of the best tourism attractions we have. I haven’t agreed with all of the tactics the university has used in securing property and the things they did to grow. They were not as conscious of the city as they should have been and the effect they had on the city. Lindenwood University does have some positive effects for the City of St. Charles. Our children can attend a four-year university without ever having to leave home. A lot of cities can’t say that. While I respect the things that Lindenwood University is attempting to do and the direction they are going, I don’t believe we should place their needs above the needs of the residents of St. Charles.

FCN: Under the current leadership in our city, economic development appears to have stalled. What would you do to jump-start it?
JG: First and foremost I would stop trying to place a square peg in a round hole. I would take my focus from just South Main and tourism and would expand it to go to areas in the core of our city and see what we could do to expand in our city core for the people who live here. It is pretty simple for economic development. We have allowed our infrastructure to deteriorate where investment money no longer comes in. If we take care of sewers, streets and sidewalks and maintain fire and police and do our core job and do it well, the investment will come. We have to understand it is just not tourism. Plenty of people out there, with money in their pockets, are spending in other areas. We don’t have the places for them to spend those dollars. Most people need a place to shop. Current economic development officials in our city would say lets focus on that. How long have they been there? Why did they not focus on it before?

Elm Street is an example. We have let it deteriorate instead of keeping it up. Randolph Street had to be rebuilt instead of keeping it up. If we have problems with our roof at home we patch it. That is what we should do to our streets. We are not doing that and we are not keeping up. People with money looking to invest in our community discover this city does not care about infrastructure. They are not going to invest here. If the city does what it is supposed to do, and does it well, the money will come. Stop thinking we are developers and let the investment groups do what they do best. Invest in our community.

I remember going to St. Charles Dairy. We now have no dairy but St. Peters has two. What happened to our butcher shops? They are in St. Peters. We no longer have a local bakery like Cottage Bakery. What about clothing stores? We just have Thro’s on North Main, where once there were half a dozen clothing stores. We have allowed them to slip away. A lot of things we used to have in our city we have allowed to slip away, replaced with pawnshops and check cashing places that do not lend to the identity of St. Charles.

FCN: If money were no object what would you like to do for the City of St. Charles?

If money was no object I would make sure every single street, sidewalk, sewer, everything in the City of St. Charles, would be at a good standard so people could say I am darn proud to be in the City of St. Charles and look at how good our city is. We consistently and constantly are looking for ways to rebrand the city. The city that works that never sleeps, where history comes alive. If we did what we were supposed to do the civic pride would overwhelm our stores because then people would be telling everyone go to St. Charles. We have had no effort to build city pride. Residents feel a disconnect between the gold building and themselves. If money was no object we could rebuild in a way our civic pride could be rebuilt. Currently we have an administration that believes money is no object when it comes to certain people and special interests. There has been too much of our tax dollars squandered on special interest projects. That money could have paid for so much to help more people in the city or could have decreased the tax burden on the residents.

FNC: If people want to be involved in your campaign how can they reach you?

JG: The best way would be through e-mail Or they can call me at home at 636-946-0877. Please keep in mind that that is my home phone and my kids may answer. I am ready to talk to anyone on a one to one basis. I am also available to meet with any neighborhood group. I am available. If you see me out knocking on doors in your neighborhood please feel free to talk to me.