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Political Foes Square Off In Rock Hill Mayor Race

Mayor Julie Morgan & Alderman Daniel DiPlacido are often at odds over city business

Julie Morgan (click for larger version)
March 26, 2010
Rock Hill Mayor Julie Morgan is being challenged by Alderman Daniel DiPlacido in the April 6 election.

Morgan, 41, has been mayor of Rock Hill since 2005. She was elected to the board of aldermen in 2002, and has served on the St. Louis County Municipal League Board of Directors since 2006.

Since 2008 she has served on the St Louis County Economic Development Collaborative Board, was elected last year to vice president of the League of Small Cities, and has been on the Missouri Municipal League Municipal Administration Committee since 2008.

She and her husband, Tyler, have lived in Rock Hill for 12 years. Four years ago the couple started Ecos Materials, a green building supply company. Morgan is also an independent contractor for Where Magazine.

Daniel DiPlacido, 809 N. Rock Hill Road, is a 23-year resident of Rock Hill. He was first elected to the board in 2006. After serving a two-year term, he was off of the board for a year before being re-elected in 2009.

Daniel DiPlacido (click for larger version)
DiPlacido has over 16 years of business managerial and marketing experience. He is a graduate of Washington University School of Medicine and works as a physical therapist.

Dueling Over Developments

It was eight years ago that the city faced division and conflict over the direction of developments to support the city's future.

"My vision was to bring solution-based actions that involved citizen input," Morgan said, noting this led to the first comprehensive city plan in almost 25 years. "By implementing the goals that were set in the comprehensive plan, the city now has over $2 million in reserves."

DiPlacido said the two most pressing issues facing Rock Hill are the ongoing need for rigorous fiscal responsibility and responsible economic development.

"Long before the current national economic crisis, irresponsible decisions by elected officials led the city into its own economic crisis," DiPlacido said.

As mayor, DiPlacido said he would maintain the same unwavering stance on rigorous fiscal responsibility that he has as alderman.

"No funds will ever be squandered by my administration," he said.

According to DiPlacido, his opponent bears responsibility for losing nearly $1 million of "precious public funds on two bad land deals."

He refers to two properties the city had considered for a new city hall. Condominiums were built on the site at McKnight and Old Warson. Arco now owns the second site at Manchester and Rock Hill roads, and plans to build a 60,000-square-foot headquarters building.

"That lost money would have gone far in funding all the street projects that had to be eliminated from this year's budget," DiPlacido said.

Morgan said former mayor, Robert Salamone, was responsible for the land deal on McKnight. But she noted what a fantastic addition the condominium complex is to the city.

Regarding the Arco property, Morgan said before City Administrator George Liyeos was hired the city was not getting accurate information from city staff.

"My first challenge as mayor was to hire top notch staff and city administration to get reliable information so we (the board) could make proper decisions," Morgan said. "I know for certain that the board now gets consistent, proper financial information to insure we do not make the same decisions again.

"We were able to sell those properties and break even on the deal," she said, referring to Arco.

Morgan said that in the last five years the city has made tremendous strides and now has over $2 million in its rainy day fund.

"To ensure that our city maintains this financial security, we will continue to plan properly the street maintenance program, fund the police and fire pensions, increase our park improvements, continue developments that are sensible for the city and follow the ideals set by the citizens in the comprehensive plan," she said.

Target Pulls Out

With the downturn in the economy, Target eventually opted out of plans for a new store at the northwest corner of Rock Hill and Manchester roads.

DiPlacido, who has been an outspoken property rights advocate, introduced a bill in 2008 to restrict eminent domain in Rock Hill, he said.

"Because of the years of attention that the residents and I have focused on the abuse of their property rights, the blight designation that has plagued Rock Hill's RPA2 neighborhood is now being rescinded," he said.

"Responsible development respects the property rights of our residents, as well as the prevailing market forces," he continued. "It does not hold hundreds of our residents hostage, year after year, as the current mayor has done, nor does it take millions of tax dollars, approved by voters for our children's schools, and give that money to wealthy developers instead (TIF)."

Morgan countered that Rock Hill is a point of sale city and needs to seek redevelopment to assure long-term viability of the city as a whole.

"We have always acted in accordance with state law that has allowed us to do such things," she said.

As far as the mayor holding residents' "hostage," Morgan said she has been in constant communication with residents in the buyout area and they have been very gracious and understanding and are now happy to move forward to keep their homes.

Since the Target pullout, the city has been negotiating with developer Hutkins to shrink the redevelopment footprint to 2.5 acres. That area will include two aging strip malls, some rental homes on Charleville, and the gas station. CVS Pharmacy has shown interest in the property, Morgan said. (Rumor has it that CVS is also interested in property at the northeast corner of Manchester and McKnight roads, the site of Rock Hill Presbyterian Church.)

"We are going to remove that blight of all the residential area in the RPA2," Morgan said. "It will take about four months. That is the will of the board as a whole to move forward with that."

Other Issues

Morgan said she will be working with the parks commission, Trailnet and the Webster Groves School District to develop, through grant monies, a walkable/bikeable comprehensive plan for the city.

"I will also continue working with the historical commission to develop awareness of the rich history of Rock Hill, the chamber to promote the great businesses that are in our city, local sustainable organizations to provide our citizens better homes, and neighboring cities to discover opportunities to work together," she said.

DiPlacido said if elected he would concentrate efforts on "revitalizing Rock Hill's long neglected business district, respecting property rights, market forces and the will of the voters in the process."

Other priorities on DiPlacido's agenda are greater governmental transparency and responsiveness. DiPlacido said he would continue to be highly responsive to the needs, issues, and concerns most important to the residents, neighborhoods, and community as a whole.

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