Where's Steve? St. Louis County Council Accuses Stenger of Absenteeism

Michael Calhoun
January 30, 2019 - 5:06 am

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

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CLAYTON (KMOX) -- The man who would be 'Metro Mayor' is being criticized for skipping one of the most public parts of his current job.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has missed nine council meetings in a row, which has council members vowing action.

"I think he needs to show up," councilwoman Hazel Erby declared.

"There's a space in the agenda for the County Executive to give comments. He's not here to do that. He doesn't communicate with us. He doesn't allow the department heads to communicate with us. So when do we communicate with him?"

Erby said she's tired of the council being labeled as the uncooperative side in conflicts with him.

The concern was initially voiced at the end of Tuesday's meeting by councilman Mark Harder, who last year had asked Stenger for a recap of his meeting with Gov. Parson. Harder said he eventually learned what was discussed through news reports.

Specifically, the charter says "the county executive shall ... attend regular meetings of the council and participate in its discussions without vote, and attend such other meetings as the council may require."

Councilman Ernie Trakas told KMOX he believes Stenger is violating the law by playing hooky.

"If you go through the charter and look at every instance where the word 'shall' is used, it is always followed by a mandatory action," he said.

But Stenger tells KMOX that 'shall' doesn't mean 'must' in this case.

"The particular section of the charter deals with whether or not I would be allowed to attend the meetings, and it ensures I'm allowed to attend the meetings, but there is no attendance requirement. Now, there is a requirement for council members," he said in a phone interview as our reporter left the meeting.

Trakas sees that interpretation as inconsistent, saying "the idea that somehow 'shall' has got a different definition as it applies to the County Executive is absurd."

To be clear, any member of the public is allowed to attend council meetings.

Stenger says he usually watches most of the meetings on video later.

He points out that he doesn't have a vote and often decides to just sit "and not really say a word" because he's "entitled to very little input."

"Particularly when I'm there, they (council members) try and make a bit of a show," he said. "It just becomes counterproductive."

FIRST MEETING SINCE BETTER TOGETHER'S PLAN

Still, the County Executive's attendance concerns newly elected councilwoman Lisa Clancy, especially as Stenger would get more power under a city-county merger as 'Metro Mayor.'

"I think at a bare minimum, whoever is the leader in our region needs to be someone that shows up," Clancy told reporters after the meeting. "I don't like seeing an empty seat next to me every week."

She also has concerns about Better Together's proposal giving Stenger an unelected extension on his years in office.

"We have a County Executive who wasn't elected by a mandate, so a lot of people are probably scratching their heads over that one," she said.

The council held-off on advancing a referendum -- essentially a non-binding poll -- that would ask county voters their opinion on Better Together's plan.

This was the first meeting since the merger proposal was released, but it was lightly attended with no public speakers on the issue. Weather was the speculated reason.

Council members did get an update from the Municipal League's Pat Kelly on a potential alternative to a statewide vote for changing regional governance. They asked a few questions about the Board of Freeholders mechanism.

Harder was the second person, behind Kelly, to sign a petition which would jump-start the process.

The council previously passed a resolution calling on any reunification to be decided solely by city and county voters.

POLICE HONOR

First on Tuesday's agenda was presentation of a resolution "honoring Chief Jon Belmar and the men and women of the St. Louis County police department for their investigation and quick arrest of a suspect in the homicide of Jamie Schmidt at the Catholic Supply store in west St. Louis County."