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St. Louis County Council face off: Stenger says measures approved by council violate county charter

By: Jim Merkel

Two measures approved by opponents of St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger on Oct. 3 have little chance of going into effect, Stenger said.

The St. Louis County Council, on a 4-3 vote, approved a bill calling for the appointment of a council legislative director. But Stenger said he intends to veto and doubted the chance of five councilmembers voting to override. He said the bill violated the county charter, which stipulates that the council must get its legal advice from County Counselor Peter Krane.

“[The bill] is really [the councilmembers] trying to get their own attorney,” Stenger said. “The charter is very clear that they do not have an attorney.”

The county charter stipulates that the county executive appoints the county counselor, and the council approves the appointment.

Stenger also said a resolution passed on Oct. 3 has no teeth. The resolution, which passed 4-1 with one abstention, calls for the council to take legal action to force Stenger to hire more audit staff and other budgeted county council positions. It further calls for the hiring of Clayton-based attorneys James P. Bick and Elkin L. Kistner as special counsels to do the council’s legal work at a rate of $225 per hour.

“The council has no authority to enter a contract with that law firm, whether they passed a resolution or they didn’t,” Stenger said. He said his office would notify the law firm that if it does any work, the county would not pay for its services.

County Council Chair Sam Page [D-District 2] said it was up to Stenger to decide whether he’ll approve the legislative director bill, noting that the county executive vetoed a similar measure earlier this year.

As for the resolution on taking legal action, Page said, “What happens now is the county council is authorized to go to court and answer two questions.” One is whether the court will allow the council to appoint its own legal counsel. If the court does, the next question is whether the council can fill staff positions without being blocked by the county executive. That’s up to a court to decide, he said.

“This is an important issue for everybody, and it’s time to go to court and try to decide it,” Page said. “I would expect that this takes a few weeks to sort out, and as soon as we can have our position drafted, we’ll file it.”

On the auditor position, Stenger said there has long been two auditors, as there are now.

He said that if there is a need for another one, it’s because the present auditor, Mark Tucker, isn’t qualified to do the job. Among other things, Stenger said, Tucker doesn’t meet the county charter’s requirements of having five years of accounting experience.

Voting for the resolution on taking legal action and the bill on the legislative director were the four members of the anti-Stenger faction in the council: Page, Hazel Erby [D-District 1], Rochelle Walton Gray [D-District 4] and Ernie Trakas [R-District 6]. Pat Dolan [D-District 5] voted against the resolution. Colleen Wasinger [R-District 3] and Mark Harder [R-District 7] abstained. Wasinger, Dolan and Harder voted against the legislative director bill.

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