Meet the City Council Candidates, Part 1

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Elected officials, whether local, state or national, all need to demonstrate accountability. Our council members are responsible for approving the city budget, passing ordinances and their revisions, voting on permits, and much more. In this first part, we review some basic public information sources by focusing on court records and St. Louis County tax records to help inform voters on the background of each of the candidates. The below lists any known court filings, and any known taxes overdue since 2011, as available on the St. Louis County Assessor’s website. In the interest of parity, this longer parameter was determined to give a fair overview of all candidates so that no one would be singled out given the findings. Do note that this summary goes above and beyond the Missouri state law requirements for candidates and elected officials. By state law, taxes must be paid and current for personal property in the name of the person, not family, and real property must be up date on the personal residence, not all property owned.

The next part in the Meet the Candidates series will focus on campaign finance and ethics.

Ward One:

Lawrence Berry

Taxes: Berry has a lengthy record of avoiding paying taxes. Berry is currently behind on his personal property taxes for 2021, has regularly paid late, has had court filings due to non-payment of personal property tax due to the city and county, and liens placed on his home residence for non-payment of federal taxes. In 2015, his real estate license was suspended due to nonpayment of state taxes due.

His currently declared vehicle, a 2017 Chevy Impala, has been late every year since it was first declared. His 2019 and 2020 taxes were both paid on 1/28/21, and his 2018 taxes were paid on 11/15/19. He previously had a 2003 GMC Denali declared and its 2012 and 2013 taxes were paid on 8/10/2017. Curiously, a GMC Denali has been parked in his driveway underneath a tarp despite having no such vehicle declared to the County Assessor since 2013.

His real property taxes are up to date and have never been late since 2011 to present.

Berry also owns two real properties in St. Louis City which are up to date on taxes paid and uses a Florissant PO Box as the owner mailing address. Both are multi-unit homes. 6177-6179 Pershing was purchased in 2006 with a sale price of $290,000 and 3412 Utah purchased in 2005 with a sale price of $154,000.

Court filings: Berry has court cases related both to traffic violations and failure to pay taxes. His most recent court case is the City of Florissant v. Lawrence S. Berry (210147167, charged 11/1/2021) for which he was charged with the failure to register his vehicle. His initial appearance in court is set for 6/22/2022. Berry also has a recent traffic violation from a citation given by a Missouri State Trooper that was closed with a guilty plea in County of St. Charles v. Lawrence S. Berry (703494214, charged 5/27/2021). He was represented by attorney Lorenzo Hester and was plead down to a parking violation charge with a fine of $250.50. Berry was represented previously by the same attorney in 2009 (State v. Lawrence v. Berry 080650949, charged 6/22/2009) in which a guilty plea was plead down to Stopped or Parked Vehicle in Prohibited Area. Berry was also caught speeding in St. Clair County, Illinois by the State Police in 2103. A much earlier speeding ticket from 1993 is also on Case.net.

More troubling are Berry’s court cases related his failure to pay taxes at the city/county, state, and federal levels. In 2013, Berry was sued by the Director of St. Louis County for $1726.65 in personal property taxes and attorney’s fees (12SL-AC36455-01, filed 2/28/2013). That case was a continuation of 12SL-AC36455, filed 10/19/2012 seeking $4,178.15. That case was preceded by the 2011 case of the Department of Revenue v. Lawrence S. Berry (11SL-MC10279) for a Lien of $4,547.85 for states tax, interest and fees due.

A federal tax lien was placed on Berry’s home on 12/6/2016 for unpaid taxes of $5363.25 dating from the tax period of 12/31/2010-12/31/2014. This lien has an extension date of May 18, 2026. And an earlier federal tax lien was placed on Berry’s home on 2/26/2010 for $31,164.92 dating from the tax period 12/31/2004-12/31/2005. This lien had an extension date of June 29, 2015.

The federal tax liens are in addition to liens made through St. Louis City in judgement to the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District made on 1/14/2010 for the tax period of 12/1/2008-12/31/2009 for $402.67, and a second lien made on 1/14/2010 for the tax period of 3/1/2008-11/30/2009 for $1,489.93. and a third lien made 1/14/2010 for the tax period of 8/1/2007-11/30/2009 for $1,252.46.

Regular readers of the Observer will note already that Lawrence S. Berry failed to file a financial disclosure and under state law should have been removed from the ballot, but remained due to the city’s claim that there is no one to enforce the city’s ethics ordinance.

Linda Lipka

Taxes: Personal property is listed as husband and wife and is currently up to date. However, this household has regularly paid this tax late, ranging anywhere from a not-too-late January payment to as late as August. Lipka’s real property taxes are up to date and have never been late since 2011 to present.

Court filings: In 2008, Lipka was a party in a wrongful death suit after the death of her daughter. No other cases were found.

Ward Two:

Heather Robinett

Taxes: No personal property taxes are listed under Robinett’s own name. We looked up her husband’s personal property tax record, and found a good record of on-time payments, save for one late payment for 2017 taxes made on 2/5/18 and 2011 made on 3/6/12. The family real property is up to date, and has been late twice (2017 tax was paid 2/5/18, and 2011 tax was paid 3/6/12).

Court Filings: None found.

Travonne “Von” Walker

Taxes: Personal property tax are up to date for declared vehicles. 2017 and 2018 taxes were overdue when paid up on 3/6/19. Walker does not own real estate and resides with his mother, Sheila Powell-Walker, at her residence.

Court Filings: Between December 3, 2019 and January 13, 2022 Travonne Walker was cited 11 times within St. Louis County for traffic enforcement violations. Violations include Failure to Register Vehicle, Expired Plates, Speeding 31-35 mph over limit, and driving without a valid license or no license. He is noted as failing to appear for court (including some virtual sessions) 15 times when charged as the defendant. Additionally, in 2019 Walker filed a petition against the St. Louis City Parking Violations Bureau and was given a court date, but also failed to appear in his case against them, resulting in a dismissed case.

Two municipalities, Ladue and Hanley Hills, both placed a hold on Walker’s driver’s license because of his failure to appear in court. This appears to have helped finally spur on a response from Walker to attend to the various courts expecting him to appear. He hired lawyer Patrick Joseph Sullivan of Clayton to respond to his two cases in Ladue, one of which was speeding 31-35 mph over the posted limit, and received plea downs in both cases. He also has had two charges dropped from Case.net by Florissant after pleading guilty to two more recent charges. He currently has 3 charges listed as not disposed in Case.net, with 6 settled by guilty pleas.

Additionally, Walker has at least three court cases pending in Illinois in St. Clair County for speeding 35 or more over limit, expired registration, and no valid registration. Currently court dates are scheduled for 3/22/22 and 5/22/24. Because of the extensive recent court history, a separate article was made. See a full summary and links to online records of the 14 cases filed against Walker since 2019 and 1 case filed by Walker here.

Ward Three:

Fran Griffin

Taxes: Griffin is currently up to date. Since taking office in April 2019, she has been late with personal property taxes once, paying her 2019 on 2/5/20. Prior to that, she paid late seven times since 2011, most were paid by the end of January, though her 2012 and 2013 taxes were not paid until 1/31/2014. Her real property taxes are up to date and have never been late since 2011 to present.

Court Filings: Four court filings, three of which are from Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District concern debts owed by Griffin in cases filed in 2014 (14SL-AC07789), 2016 (16SL-AC27664), and in 2020 (20SL-AC23355). The fourth case from Consumer Adjustment Company (16SL-AC27664)  for a debt with a garnishment was resolved and released 8/1/2018.

Griffin also had a court case filed in Madison County, Illinois in 2019 and closed in May, 2021 with the initial charge of Domestic Battery/Bodily Harm which was reduced to Disorderly Conduct with 6 months of supervision. She also later was defendant in a divorce case filed at the same court.

Michael V. Palmer

Taxes: Personal property taxes have a solid record of being paid timely. Palmer currently owns 140 real properties all in Ferguson. We checked many and could not spot a single late real property tax payment. If you spot one, let us know and we will acknowledge it here.

Court Filings: There are 25 court filing with Michael V. Palmer as a plaintiff related to landlord actions, quiet titles, and a case with a large number of plaintiff against St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman et al. (You can find these at this link and by searching for Michael V. Palmer.) There are no cases with Palmer listed as a defendant.