By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Village Voice Writers
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By Sean Kelley
Hoffmann's strong opinions and poison pen have caused him trouble before.
A native of Webster Groves, Hoffmann says his first foray into journalism came in high school when he founded and edited an "alternative to the alternative" high school paper called News. "Our biggest story came after the principal stated that Webster High didn't have a drug problem," recalls Hoffmann. "We went around campus and bought drugs from three different dealers and then published a story about what kind of drugs you could buy in school and how much they cost."
News would be the beginning of Hoffmann's love affair with both journalism and detective work. After a stint at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, Hoffmann went on to serve as a police officer in the late 1970s in Rock Hill and Manchester before moving west to take a police job in Liberty, Missouri, a city outside of Kansas City.
In the early 1990s, Hoffmann's wife, Diana, took a job as an insurance adjustor that moved the couple to suburban Washington, D.C. There, Hoffmann found work as an assistant chief with the Chevy Chase police department and later switched careers to become the first-ever taxicab commissioner for Montgomery County, Maryland. In his free time, he says he wrote columns and articles as a freelance stringer for the Baltimore Orioles' minor-league system.
The baseball gig abruptly ended in 2005, claims Hoffmann, when he wrote a column critical of cable giant Comcast, which then owned several of the Orioles' farm teams. "I published a piece about how their children's baseball clinics were netting the company $10,000. At the same time, the company was underpaying minor-league players assigned to teach the camps," says Hoffmann. "The next week, I showed up at a game only to find that my press credentials had been denied."
More infamous than that episode was a two-part series Hoffmann wrote decades earlier for St. Louis Magazine. The articles, entitled "How Safe Are You?" appeared in the January and March 1980 issues of the magazine and provided a report card of the region's various municipal police departments.
Hoffmann, then working as a policeman in Manchester, wrote the stories under the pen name Strode Wilder. A grizzled vet still working for the Manchester police department confirms that Hoffmann's magazine piece created quite a stir at the time.
"As I recall, the St. Louis County Police Department was especially upset about the negative marks they got in the article," says the Manchester officer. "I think they even launched an investigation to expose the writer."
Hoffmann was eventually outed by his mother, who let slip to friends that her son was writing freelance pieces for the magazine. Manchester police promptly fired Hoffmann on charges of "conduct unbecoming an officer" and "general disrespect for the Manchester police department."
After he and Diana moved back to St. Louis in 2006, Hoffmann says he applied for jobs with several police departments but never heard back from any of them. "I'm blackballed," he complains. "After I wrote the St. Louis Magazine articles, a friend of mine told me that it would be twenty years before I could get a police job in this town again. Well, it's been nearly 30 years now, and people still haven't forgotten it."
The Hoffmanns' home sits on a generous, acre-plus lot in a leafy neighborhood that's seen many of its original ranch homes replaced with 6,000-square-foot mansions.
"We bought it from a real estate speculator who got into some financial problems and had to sell it cheap," explains Hoffmann. "We had wanted to live in Webster, but we couldn't find anything there we could afford. Town & Country was as far west as we were willing to live."
Hoffmann's work as alderman pays $420 per month, though the scrupulous legislator is sure to refund the city with a personal check whenever he misses a meeting. "When I was elected to office they presented me with a free polo shirt with a Town & Country emblem on it," says Hoffmann. "I cut the city a check for $35. As far as I'm aware, the board of aldermen is not a uniformed position."
Hoffmann makes ends meet working part-time as an afternoon editor for the website traffic.com. The company contracts with the Missouri Department of Transportation to provide accidents and construction updates to local news outlets. "It's pretty boring stuff," says Hoffmann. "It's not creative at all."
His employment as alderman, on the other hand, allows him to both relive his days as a law enforcer and would-be journalist. And few subjects provide him more satisfaction than his dogged pursuit of Brian Marchant-Calsyn.
In late May, Marchant-Calsyn's attorney, John King, sent a letter to an attorney who represents some of the neighbors upset with his client's fence. The two-page note stated that King's client planned to "litigate on every possible front," should the neighbors continue their attempt to revoke the fence permit.
Apprised of the letter, Hoffmann vowed in one of his June newsletters that he'd never forget King's attempt to intimidate his constituents. "Mr. King," warned Hoffmann, "will have to answer for it any time he appears before a board or commission I'm sitting on."