Monday, September 26, 2016

Former Excise Commissioner Bob Kraiberg: 'I Want My Job Back'

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2016 at 7:01 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/VALERIE
Nearly seven months ago, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay unceremoniously fired the city's excise commissioner, Bob Kraiberg, who for three decades had been charged with supervising the liquor licensing process at City Hall.

Since that time, Kraiberg has been making his case to the city's Civil Service Commission, fighting to get his job back. At a hearing in June, he argued that he was protected by civil service rules, which are designed to shield city employees from the whims of politics. That would mean he could only be fired for cause, which he says Mayor Slay did not have.

A ruling on the case is expected any day. 

Kraiberg tells the RFT that it's imperative that he be reinstated. He believes he was fired for one reason only: "Because they couldn't control me." Without an independent excise commissioner, he says the city would end up with "kangaroo courts to benefit the mayor's friends."

But as intent as Kraiberg is on getting his job back, he believes Mayor Slay's administration is equally determined to block such a move. Kraiberg issued a press release on Thursday, alleging that the city counselor's office has been working behind the scenes to ensure that he is not reinstated.

In a motion filed in St. Louis Circuit Court and attached to the media release, Kraiberg alleges that the hearing officer on his civil service case submitted her recommendations to the commission — and recommended that Kraiberg be given his job back. But, he alleges, someone from the city counselor's office — which represents the mayor's office in civil service proceedings — then contacted the commission and tried to lobby for resolution other than Kraiberg's reinstatement.

That contact, Kraiberg argued in the motion, was "procedurally irregular, legally improper, and calls into question the fairness of the proceedings before the Commission and whether the proceedings constitute an adequate remedy at law."

The city counselor emphatically denied any improper contact to the RFT. In an email, City Counselor Michael Garvin says that he cannot comment on the hearing in Kraiberg's case, since such proceedings are confidential.

However, Garvin writes, "No one in the city counselor's office has seen or reviewed any recommendation by the hearing officer in Mr. Kraiberg's case. The individuals who serve on the Civil Service Commission devote considerable time and effort to their duties. They issue independent decisions, many of which conflict with the positions of attorneys with the city counselor's office.

"The city counselor's office routinely provides legal consultation to the Civil Service Commission and other City boards and commissions. Nothing improper or extraordinary has occurred in Mr. Kraiberg's case."

Cathy Smentkowski, a spokeswoman for the city, also said that the city couldn't comment on the specifics of Kraiberg's allegations. "This is a personnel matter," she said in a prepared statement. "That meeting was closed and we have not heard the results. We never hear what the hearing officer recommends. We only get the final decision."

In his 30 years at City Hall, Kraiberg has worked under four mayors and fourteen public safety directors. He believes the city specifically designed the excise commissioner to be independent, not beholden to either mayor or safety director for his job.

Last year, he began to sense Slay moving to undercut his independence when the mayor tried to move the excise division to police headquarters instead of its long-time home at City Hall. Kraiberg spoke up against the move, which was ultimately scuttled.

When that failed, he believes the mayor decided to fire him — even though he'd faced no discipline or bad performance reviews in all his years working for the city.

Interestingly, after he was fired, Kraiberg says he heard from two different people who hold liquor licenses in the city that they'd been contacted by the FBI, asking if Kraiberg had ever done anything inappropriate — perhaps taken a bribe? "They were shocked," he says, noting that the timing suggested the city was trying to find a reason to justify his termination after the fact.

"I think what they realized, they fired me without cause, but I didn't just roll over and take my retirement and go away," he says. "So they figured, 'Maybe we'd better find something.' Maybe it might be a good idea to go trolling to find something they could hang their hat on.

"You know what they found?" he adds. "Nothing."

In spite of everything, Kraiberg says he still has faith the commission will do the right thing. "I believe in the integrity of the Civil Service Commission," he says. "That they'll see through this blatant witch hunt and restore me to my position."

He adds, "My reputation is worth more to me than money. I don't want to go down in history as someone who got pushed around by a bully. 

"I wouldn't take a settlement. I want my job back. That says to everybody that I didn't do anything wrong."

Kraiberg had previously spoken with Riverfront Times about his handling of a case involving the Ready Room, which he believed was one factor in his termination. The popular club in the Grove had applied for a 3 a.m. license, and while it had obtained the necessary number of signatures from neighbors, others were staunchly opposed. 

Rather than make a recommendation, Kraiberg had granted a lengthy continuance. Mike Cracchiolo, managing partner for the club, confirmed that he grew frustrated dealing with Kraiberg, and had complained to Mayor Slay. But he was as surprised as anyone by Kraiberg's termination — noting it created more problems for him and his partners than it solved.

On June 6, the Ready Room was approved for a 3 a.m. license, Smentkowski says. 

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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