By CATHY LENNY
The Chesterfield City Council has taken efforts to ensure that the method for choosing members of the Board of Freeholders – tasked with looking into consolidating St. Louis County and City government – is as transparent as possible.
A petition was circulated to form a Board of Freeholders after the efforts to include a measure on the November 2019 ballot to potentially merge St. Louis City and County failed and the conviction of former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.
Although the Chesterfield council previously had approved a resolution providing for such a board, they now have doubts about how the members will be chosen. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson have each chosen nine nominees. Gov. Mike Parson will appoint the final member of the 19-member body.
Some Chesterfield officials want a more transparent process for selecting members of the board.
The Chesterfield resolution requests that the county council hold public hearings and conduct a public vetting process to ensure that the nominees could lawfully fulfill their duties and conduct themselves in a transparent and ethical way.
Since the Oct. 8 county council meeting, the presiding officer has scheduled a Committee Meeting of the Whole for 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 15 to vet six of the nine nominees and one on Tuesday, Oct. 22 to vet the remaining three nominees. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.
“We will have the opportunity to interview each nominee,” county council member Mark Harder [District 7] said. “We’re going to decide on each nominee on individually rather than approving the entire slat as a whole.”
Another goal of the resolution is to ensure that the nominees chosen have no prior connection to Better Together STL, the organization behind the proposed November 2019 ballot measure, or the initiative petition that would have allowed a statewide vote on the merger, according to city attorney Chris Graville.
Council member Ben Keathley [Ward 2] questioned the timing of the resolution and believed it was more about the nominees chosen than the process itself.
Page’s nominees include Mark Mantovani, who ran for the Democratic nomination for county executive against Steve Stenger in 2018, and former Chesterfield mayor and Bi-State Development Agency CEO John Nations.
While the names were not mentioned during the meeting on Oct. 7, Mayor Bob Nation said he was disappointed with some of the selections made and suggested that Ferguson Mayor James Knowles or Judge Douglas Beach of 21st Judicial Circuit would have been good candidates.
Council member Tom DeCampi [Ward 4] said he is strongly opposed to a proposed St. Louis City-County merger and added that the original resolution the council passed in support of a petition providing for the Board of Freeholders is what happens when you “dance with the devil.”
“We rolled the dice, collectively, when we decided to do that,” DeCampi said, “and it sickens me.”
He also questioned the political affiliation claimed by some nominees. Ten of the 18 board selections can be Democrats and the other eight must be Republicans, independents or members of a third party.
In particular, DeCampi questioned Krewson’s nominee Eddie Roth, who is listed as an independent, after having served as chief of staff under former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Resident Ron Cawood called the nominees for the Board of Freeholders the “last ace in the hole.” He said he believes there are no conservatives on the board and that the “whole thing is a sham.”
The Chesterfield City Council approved the resolution after over an hour of discussion. Council members DeCampi, Keathley and Michelle Ohley [Ward 4] voted against the resolution.