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Seated in the office of his modest, 1960s-era ranch home, Town & Country alderman John Hoffmann recounts how earlier this year he exposed the "drug dealer" living down the street.
"This guy moves here eighteen months ago and buys a $1.7 million house on 4.9 acres," Hoffmann begins. "He immediately tries to buy out the houses of the people living around him. When he can't do that, he starts building a wrought-iron fence around his entire property. The neighbors are irate about it. They call me asking for help. I tell them I'll see what I can do."
A former police detective with tousled gray hair and a salt-and-pepper mustache, Hoffmann followed up like any good gumshoe. He eased his lumbering, six-foot-three-inch frame into his Camry and drove over to take a firsthand look.
Standing in an adjoining back yard, Hoffmann says he was aghast to see that the fence had come at the cost of several mature trees felled to make room for the boundary. "We like to brag that we're a Tree City USA, but what good is that if we don't enforce their protection?"
Hoffmann snapped a couple photos of the fallen lumber and listened as neighbors complained how the property owner was now applying for a permit to build an electronic gate across his driveway. The neighbors claimed the barrier would infringe on their property easements by forcing vehicles turn around in their lawns if stopped by the gate. Even more alarming was the rumor circulating through the neighborhood that the offending resident — Brian Marchant-Calsyn — also planned to install a laser system atop his fence that would trigger alarms should anyone attempt to scale the structure.
Curious as to why anyone would need so much security, Hoffmann returned home and fired up the Dell desktop on which he spends many late-night hours e-mailing constituents, composing newsletters and drafting ordinances. Hoffmann entered "Brian Marchant-Calsyn" into his computer's search engine and found that the resident owns and operates several online business ventures headquartered in Town & Country.
A bit more cyber-sleuthing revealed that one of those companies — Health Career Agents Inc. — has a dozen unresolved consumer complaints filed against it with the Missouri Attorney General's Office and is the defendant in several pending civil suits in St. Louis County Circuit Court. A record check with the Bureau of Prisons and federal courts shows that Marchant-Calsyn pleaded guilty fourteen years ago to a federal charge of "possession with the intent to distribute LSD" and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Hoffmann has come to refer to Marchant-Calsyn — who declined repeated requests for comment — as the "drug dealer" in public board meetings and in newsletters.
Marchant-Calsyn's real estate attorney, John King, says he is unaware of his client's past but hardly sees how it's relevant in a zoning matter. "I don't know about that other stuff," says the Clayton lawyer. "I was hired to help him get a gate application. Everything else is immaterial."
To Hoffmann, though, the two issues are very much intertwined, especially since Marchant-Calsyn and his neighbors continue to battle it out over his application to install a gate over his driveway.
"He has shown a pattern of either illegal or bad-faith practices," claims Hoffmann. "That waves a red flag in front of me. It also makes me wonder why we are catering to him and his attorney's requests for favors and extensions."
Hoffmann's personal attacks on Marchant-Calsyn add to a growing list of actions that have the swashbuckling alderman at odds with his city hall colleagues. "Are we going to run background checks on everyone applying for a simple zoning permit?" comments a fellow alderman speaking on condition of anonymity. "To me, that's really overstepping the bounds."
As Town & Country's self-appointed watchdog, no issue is too lofty or mundane to escape Hoffmann's scrutiny — including the backyard bickering about a fence.
"With 30 years in law enforcement, I'm thinking to myself, Is he building this fence because he wants to keep bad guys out? Or is it because he wants to keep the police out?" says Hoffmann. "Either way, I say it's curious."
John Hoffmann won election to Town & Country's Board of Alderman in April, squeaking out a victory over incumbent Tim Welby by just three votes — 187 to 184. Hoffmann, 55, likes to boast that he was able to turn out the "Buick vote," Town & Country's blue-hair population who supported his campaign promises to cut the bureaucracy and shed light on city hall.
Once elected, Hoffmann wasted little time asserting himself as a maverick. His first proposed piece of legislation, introduced in May, would have allowed residents to hunt deer on their property with bow and firearms, provided they're in the presence of a law-enforcement official when they make the kill.
Hoffmann wrote the measure without input from the city's "Deer Task Force," a committee of aldermen that had been meeting for months to consider non-lethal means of controlling the deer population, including sterilization and birth control. The bill failed in all of 30 seconds when not a single alderman would second the measure.
Town & Country alderman Fred Meyland-Smith says Hoffmann's "Lone Ranger attitude" continues to frustrate his fellow legislators. "By not collaborating with other boards and commissions, he negatively impacts the quality and usefulness of his efforts," says Meyland-Smith. "This 'ready, fire, then aim' approach of his is a disservice to the citizens."