HERB DAVIS: TRUSTEE-COUNCILMAN 1955-1959

By Bob Reiss, From the Re-Echo, Spring 2003

Herbert C. Davis was a member of the St. Louis Park City Council from 1954 through 1959. He was first elected as a Village Trustee, and then automatically became a Councilman under the new Home Rule Charter. He ran as Councilman-at-large in 1956 and was elected to a new four-year term.

Davis graduated from St. Louis Park High School in 1942. He served as a Navy pilot during World War II. He attended the University of Minnesota under the GI Bill and graduated with a law degree in 1949. He and his wife Barbara moved into a home built by Adolph Fine in St. Louis Park and began his law practice.

Davis’ first encounter in politics was an attempt by the Village Council to rezone a 75-acre former gravel pit near his home for industrial purposes. The organized the opposition of over 600 neighbors and succeeded in getting the plan rejected.

The Home Rule Charter was scheduled for a vote in the 1953 election. It had already been rejected twice in previous votes. It was not heavily supported by many of the “old guard” that were running St. Louis Park. Davis had his zoning issues, but also had a strong interest in this new, innovative form of city government. He decided to run for Village Trustee against C.R. Middleton.

His issues were good, he campaigned hard, and got his message out. Although only 30 years old, he won the election. The Home Rule Charter also won.

Davis then turned his support to very aggressive action to see that the City Manager received the full authority given to this position under the new charter. The other former trustees found it difficult to give up their administrative control over the City’s departments. They wanted to reinstate the old Village Council committee system that gave each councilman control over one of the departments. It was their contention that the usefulness would outweigh the disadvantages. Davis and the new City Manager, Tom Chenoweth, were able to challenge this by limiting the duties of the committees to presenting written reports on legislative referred to them by the Council. Additionally, committees were designated in broad, general terms such as finance, personnel, etc.

At a late hour of the first meeting of the new City Council, an attempt was made to appoint the two additional members allowed under the new Home Rule Charter. The new Council was to complete the roster by appointing the two new members. Davis strongly opposed the timing of the action and managed to delay this until the second meeting (see below).

At the second meeting, petitions were filed for the appointment of D.C. Messer and Robert Ehrenberg to these two openings. Davis made the nominations. When the vote was taken, former trustees Howard Perkins and C.L. Hurd were selected. After they were seated, Joe Justad resigned from his seat to become City Clerk. D.C. Messer was again nominated by Davis, but this seat was won by another former trustee, C.R. Middleton.

Adapting to the new Home Rule Charter was just one of the many challenges facing Davis and the council. They had to recruit and fill the new City Manager position. A City plan was needed and a planning commission was formed. Contracts had t be let, building permits had to be issued and zoning had to be discussed. All council meetings ran long after midnight. The City was growing by leaps and bounds.

While all of this was happening, Davis took on the additional task of recodifying the City ordinances. Each ordinance had to be reviewed for its relevance and for its current status. Revisions had to be recommended and enacted. Things were changing. In the 1955 election, all of the councilmen had to stand for reelection: half for two year terms and half for four year terms. Davis ran for one of the councilman-at-large seats and received the largest number of votes, winning reelection to the four year term. Ken Wolfe, Robert Ehrenberg, and Gene Schadow replaced Middleton, Hurd, and Perkins.

Liquor licenses were a particularly troublesome problem for the council. Under the new Charter, the City was allowed to issue several new licenses due to the increased population and growing business centers. The Excelsior Blvd. Chicken Shack memory was difficult to overcome. Several members of the Council were prohibitionists who did not see the need for any new licenses. Two new licenses were granted in 1956. One was granted to the Golden Steer, a restaurant in the office complex at Highway 100. A second license was granted to Art and Rudy Ruedlinger for a store at Knollwood Plaza. Based on the applicants’ long residence in the Park and their reputation, the vote was in favor. Future licenses became easier to issue.

When Davis’s term was up in 1959, the new Charter was solidly in place and things were running well. Herb Lefler was the new Mayor and Tex Messer had won a seat on the council. Davis decided to devote his time to his law practice and did not run again.

HERB DAVIS’S OBJECTION TO THE NEW COUNCIL APPOINTING TWO NEW COUNCILMEN AT THE JANUARY 10, 1956 MEETING, AS REPORTED IN THE JANUARY 13, 1955 ST. LOUIS PARK DISPATCH:

I object most strenuously. This not on the agenda and the matter should not be taken until full public notice has been given the people.

I am the youngest member of the Council and maybe your deliberations on the new Council have not reached my ears. This is not my business, but it is my business to see that these people have affair opportunity to present the names of men they would like to have as their aldermen.

I did not feel that the Council would attempt at some quarter to twelve midnight, to undertake such an important task without notice to the people.