All Politics Is Racial: The tiny north-county hamlet of Vinita Park puts a new spin on the old adage

All Politics Is Racial: The tiny north-county hamlet of Vinita Park puts a new spin on the old adage
Jennifer Silverberg

The first time JaCola Williams saw the mayor was when he drove his golf cart, the one with "City of Vinita Park" painted on the side, up her family's dead-end street. It was a steamy July day in 2010, and Williams, a pretty, slender teenager just a few days shy of her eighteenth birthday, was sitting in her pajamas on the porch with her younger sister, killing time. The girls watched curiously as the man in a suit stopped in front of their house.

"Anybody need a summer job?" he asked.

As it happened, Williams had been struggling to find work. Her mother was sick, she had a toddler of her own, and the family had moved into a relative's house on Monroe Avenue while they tried to get back on their feet. Now here was Mayor James McGee on the lawn, offering Williams a job at city hall. Within two months, she was on staff as the city's interim tax collector.

JaCola Williams believes she was fired for airing Vinita Park’s dirty laundry.
Jennifer Silverberg
JaCola Williams believes she was fired for airing Vinita Park’s dirty laundry.
Vinita Park’s mayor, James McGee.
www.vinitapark.org
Vinita Park’s mayor, James McGee.

"That's how I ended up trapped into Vinita Park," Williams sums up today.

This is what the mayor says he likes to do best: help people.

"If I can do anything to help people, that's what I do," says McGee, the first African American mayor of this tiny town (population 1,880) sandwiched between University City and Overland in north St. Louis County. "You get criticized for helping a lot of people," he adds, "because they feel like you looking for something."

Since taking office, McGee has kept tables in the Vinita Park Board of Aldermen's chamber stacked with free bread, English muffins, Bagel Thins, hamburger buns. He keeps full-size bags of potato chips in his office so he can hand them out to kids as he cruises the streets in his golf cart. When he heard some children in town had to sleep on the floor because their families couldn't afford beds, he wrangled mattresses from local hotels and merchants and sent employees from the department of public works to deliver them.

At a recent board of aldermen meeting, McGee presented a certificate of commendation to an older couple who'd helped catch a burglar and another to a boy who played Buster in Normandy High School's production of The Color Purple.

"Just looking at that," McGee said, smiling down at the young man from the dais, "you thought that was a professional player. Fantastic job!" The roughly twenty residents in attendance clapped and hooted.

When it came time for the "mayor's report," however, the festive air vanished from the small, wood-paneled room.

"I've been getting a lot of threatening letters," McGee glowered. "I been getting them since 2010. But like I said before: If somebody pop at me, you're going to lose your power. You're going to get your lead right back. And I mean that."

Though it wasn't clear whom he was addressing, one thing was plain as day: Not all is well in Vinita Park. A cloud of conspiracy hangs over its civic-minded citizens. They've cleaved themselves into two factions — those who support the mayor and those who do not.

"It's a shame. You don't know who is working for who," says one long-time resident who declined to have her name published. "We didn't have this until he became mayor."

For the past three years, mutterings and misgivings about Mayor McGee were confined within the town's borders, but as he enters the homestretch of his four-year term, the trouble in Vinita Park has oozed out into the open.

The consequences of Vinita Park's fraught race relations are costing the town more than goodwill. Earlier this year city attorneys approved a settlement for hundreds of thousands of dollars to five former white police officers who claim they were fired so African Americans could fill their positions. The former chief of police and director of public works, both white, have sued, leveling similar allegations. A sixth white former officer sued earlier this month.

The mayor continues to assert that his motives have been misinterpreted and that his only intention is to improve the lives of the citizens of Vinita Park.

"They're just trying to destroy the administration, by me being the first black mayor," McGee says. "A lot of people really can't see the big picture. We have to help each other."


A bird's-eye view of Vinita Park depicts a city of industry: Warehouses brick up the west side, built by Vi-Jon (maker of Germ-X hand sanitizer), US Foods and pesticide manufacturer United Industries. Trees and dead-end streets isolate the residential district from the sounds and sights of the bustling factories. Thanks to some prescient city planner, no road traverses the residential area from east to west, leaving the rows of cute two- and three-bedroom houses in relative peace. The industrial park, meanwhile, accounts for the lion's share of the revenue that feeds the Vinita Park's $3.6 million annual budget.

"If we didn't have that, we wouldn't have anything," says Ward 1 alderman Brian Gremaud.

The city gets its name from Vinita Station, a trolley stop on the Creve Coeur Lake Electric Line. In the early 1900s, developers could purchase a plot for just $25 down. St. Rita Catholic Church was established in 1914, and its primary school opened under the watchful eyes of the Sisters of St. Joseph, quickly becoming the anchor of the community.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
11 comments
tdxi
tdxi

So where are the ACLU? and the other do-gooders who would be swinging from the trees if it was all the black officers hat were fired? I guess in Osama's America white do NOT have civil rights.

lesliepatterson6
lesliepatterson6

As being that little girls mom and watching the things he done to her just to keep her job is horrible and the harrassment i went through after this came out because what people dont know is that it has been out in the opening for over a year and Vinita Park has been hiding it we have recorded this man on several occassions and we went to record him on something else and just so happen he started going on and on avoiding what we where talking about and went off onto to racial sayings and it doesnt matter if you are black,white,purple,blue he had no right to do what he did and its way more to this then what you are reading on here he has done worst and i pray for him because my daughter is mentally damaged after this all she wanted to do is work and take care of her son she didnt want to sleep with him and he kept forcing his self on her and when he seen it was working he started questioning her sexuality,really? His wife knows she sent text messages out to some people saying how they have to get rid of JaCola because if it gets out Mayor will be out and that means they will be out and how if another white person get in the city will go down I mean its so much to this that it will piss alot of people off the things this man has done is sad and people actually fear him but I didnt he kept telling me i need to let her grow up she is not my baby anymore I told him anybody that survived inside of me for 9months will always belong to me and be my baby. And to see a innocent girl that didnt want any problems and just wanted to work go through what she did is a pitiful shame. I can recall him kissing her on her forehead and she came home and wouldnt stop scrubbing her face, how she would cry and beg me to go talk to him, how she had to type letters for him firing the white people a month before he actually fired them, and trying to convince her that white people are no good and how the did blacks back in the days now we are talking a century ago and he just trying to get blacks on the same page. The man is really sick in the head.

lesliepatterson6
lesliepatterson6

This is so sad the Mayor needs to be out of office i know some people out there and they are scared of him because if you dont bide by his rules he puts your head on the chopping block and he has a mental problem what Mayor shows off a gun and says if someone pop at him i can only imagine what else comes out his mouth

lynnol
lynnol

I have to agree with dsn9 about retaining police officers that have been well trained. I live in Vinita Park and I am white. I inherited a house there two years ago and did not even see the Mayor 'till last summer when he drove past on his golf cart while I was doing yard work after two weeks of heavy rain. I went inside for a bit and when I came back outside, there was a ticket on my door for the grass. He saw me working in the yard.

What annoys me is that Mr. Mayor propositioned a young woman working at a city job. This is a big no-no in my book. I wonder what his wife thinks of that. Seems the Mayor may be trying to build up the community but is falling short. All I ever hear about is Normandy Schools being so wonderful. I wouldn't send my dog there let alone my kids. I have to drive mine to Maryland Heights to attend parochial school as my community falls short in that department. I have not had issues with police officers, but do strongly question the dismissal of so many that were doing a good job in the first place.

dsn9
dsn9

This Mayor did not think pass his ?? nose.  Does he realize how

fortunate the City  was to have officers that have stayed with Vinita Park for a long time.

I'm talking anywhere from five to almost twenty years, small  municipalities usually see a big turnover of officers in their police departments, plus usually get officers that other cities have gotten rid of because they don't meet the standards, Kind of the bottom of the barrel type of cop. 

The City of Vinita Park sent many of these dismissed officers to various schools over the years to make sure Vinita Park had the best of the best.  So again, this Mayor and board totally disregarded the amount of money the city has paid out over the years to send their police officers to different schools. 

These schools are not free, add the pay for the officer attending the school and the officer covering the first officer's shift.

 I could go on and on about wasted money but the most important problem Vinita Park has, is electing people to a board of aldermen, who actually don't have a background in running a City, never went to a Municipal League Meeting to learn about the position they where elected for or know Roberts Rules of Order, who come in and take well educated, State of Missouri Certified in Law Enforcement Officers and fired them, causing these men to not have medical insurance for themselves and their family.  The hardship financially on these men and their families, dismiss them because of the color of their skin.

 I would like to see each person that voted for dismissal of these officers sued individually . In my opinion I take issue with the Mayor comparing himself to President Obama, unless one of his parents  and his grandparents are Caucasian .

shaneclasby
shaneclasby

as a resident of Vinita Park, I thank you for this article

irockstl
irockstl

Just as nothing should be "all white" nothing should be "all black" either. Missouri needs to stop with the racial crap. It's old and has gotten this state nowhere. Diversity and education is the way to a better state. McGee sounds like he means well, just going about it the wrong way. Then again, St. Louis politicians are rather sneaky!

shaneclasby
shaneclasby

also, there will be a public meeting at the VP city hall on monday at 6:30 pm. I, personally, can't wait to hear the garbage McGee has to spout off

 
Loading...